October 17, 2019

The MCU Project: Avengers Endgame [2019]

Well, here we are, we’ve reached the endgame. Which is a huge misnomer, as for most of the parties involved, it’s just more game.

As has already been revealed, Thanos’ plan in the previous film was to use the incredibly-credibly powerful Infinity Stones to automagickally cull half of the universe’s population, not because he’s a bad guy but because he knows that the universe is overcrowded and the solution to n billion people living in squalor is to just eliminate half of them so that the available resources can stretch further. He’s done this on a smaller scale in the past, a sort of trial run on individual planets, and apparently with proven success. Which raises the question – would those planets have been exempt from having their populations halved second time round? I suspect not. 

Anyway, I question whether Thanos ever actually went back to check on the results of his previous trials. Because he’s clearly not considered the following:

  1. With half the people available, communities have half the capacity to produce resources.
  2. Key knowledge will be lost, causing civilisation to take a step backwards
  3. Unless there’s any system in place to combat wealth inequality, such a catastrophe would impact the wealthiest top 5% much less than everyone else. It’s just another opportunity for the rich arses to widen their lead.
  4. The 50% population drop will soon snowball to much more, both as a consequence of immediate accidents (bus drivers disappearing out of existence etc) and medium term effects (disruption of health services etc)

But we’ll get to this in a minute.

At the end of the previous film, as Thanos clicks his fingers, we see moments all around the globe as half of the population crumble into dust before our eyes. I’ll not mince words, it’s bloody haunting. They’re clearly not in any pain, just experiencing a sensation of discombobulation. In my opinion it’s such a disturbing sequence that it really pushes the limits of the 12A rating, though I can think of plenty of brilliant ways that it could have been even more gut-wrenching, ways which I think were probably discussed around the writers’ table but rejected for going too far. As the perspective switches to each little cluster of our protagonists, you hold your breath as you wait to discover which ones will make the cut, and which won’t.

At the start of Endgame, the earth is in a bad way. The remaining Avengers are struggling to whip up the enthusiasm to do much avenging. Five years after The Event, humanity is failing to thrive, apparently not because of any of the good reasons I listed above that might explain it, but because Thanos underestimated our capacity for self-pity. We’re still moping about the place, and our remaining bin men apparently are unable to get out of bed in the mornings, as the garbage bags piled up in the street testify. Thanos is long-dead, having been killed in the aftermath of The Event by a vengeful Thor (who has since really let himself go). The Infinity Stones have also been destroyed.

This impasse is broken by the abrupt appearance of Ant-Man. He’s been missing for the last five years, presumed dead, but in fact was in the quantum realm the whole time experiencing weird time dilation nonsense. For him, the event is still fresh, and rather than being weighed down by the oppressive burden of despair, he’s got oodles of moxie and the kernel of an idea that involves using the quantum realm to time travel back, grab the Infinity Stones, and do their own finger-snap. “Can’t we just go back and kill Thanos as a baby” suggests one of the Avengers, quite reasonably, but apparently time travel doesn’t work that way, and the laws of physics prevent you from modifying the present by making a change in the past. Having established this rule, the writers then proceed to cheekily ignore it about eighty-five times during the remainder of the film.

Eventually the feasibility of this plan is established, and thus begins the second act of the film, and the remaining Avengers split into three teams to travel back in time and retrieve the stones. This nicely solves one of the problems that affected Infinity War, where having dozens of superheroes whistling about all over the place made it hard to keep track. Here, it’s all divided into bite-sized portions.

The quests for the stones don’t all go exactly according to plan, of course. One of the main hitches involves Nebula, Thanos’ daughter. Her proximity to past-timeline Nebula allows past-timeline Thanos to become aware of the current-timeline Avengers’ plans, and he does everything in his power to banjax them. Everything kinda spirals from there.

Now, let’s move onto something I really want to rant about. Bringing people back from death in film/TV/stories is a bit of a bugbear of mine. It’s a Pandora’s Box that can’t be closed. Once you’ve brought a character back from the dead once, it’s a plot device that will show its shadow again and again. From then on, whenever a character dies, the question automatically arises: “what about if we just bring them back, the way we did that one time?” To quote Red Dwarf, “death is no longer the handicap it once was” and it loses all of its impact.

The reason I mention this is that one of the main emotional hooks in this film is utterly annihilated by this reasoning. Venturing into spoiler territory now, there are two deaths of principal characters in Endgame, one of which occurs in very similar circumstances to the death of one of the principal characters in Infinity War. These circumstances are explicitly described as being irreversible – a sacrifice that can never be undone, intoned with gravitas by Hugo Weaving, so you know that it’s the real shit. Buuuuut… the character who died in Infinity War gets brought back through time, so is now alive somewhere in the universe. There’s a huge paradox here, of course, in that they are now no longer present on the original timeline to sacrifice themselves in Infinity War, but this sort of stuff is hard to reconcile so the writers don’t even try. This is one example of the 85 ways in which this film’s attempt to handle the big time travel challenge exhibits as much competence as a baby with a full nappy. More to the point, it contradicts the promise that the sacrifice is irreversible, and so while all the characters are bawling their eyes out over the parallel death in Endgame, I’m just thinking “yeah, nothing that a spot of time travel can’t fix”.

There’s one other scene that I’d briefly like to rant about, and that is one mind-blowingly cheesy scene in the final battle where all of the female superheroes coincidentally find themselves in the same place at the same time, and perform a synchronised charge in slow-motion. Now, if you know me, you know that I’m of a fairly feminist leaning, but this was one of the most cringeworthy things I’ve ever seen. I’m sure it was a well-meaning attempt to celebrate the strength of these female characters, but it’s awfully executed and serves no plot purpose. If anything it just reminds you how male-centric the rest of the series has been, that something like this brief scene has to be forced instead of happening organically.

Karen mentioned, at the start of her review of Infinity War, how she and Bernard saw Endgame in the cinema and felt like they weren’t getting the most out of it, because everyone else in the auditorium had all this background knowledge and they had very little. She confirmed to me, while watching Endgame this second time, how yes things make a lot more sense this time round. To be honest I’m amazed that they managed to make any sense of it whatsoever before, because the amount of assumed knowledge is astronomical. If I try to imagine watching this “blind”, so to speak, I feel like almost every single line of dialogue would have you scratching your head in puzzlement and looking for a nearby expert to help you out.

As I said at the start of the review, this is in no way an endgame. Nothing has happened in this film that can’t be undone with one lazy writer and one sloppy time travel plotline. The huge dramatic moment at the end of the previous film has been annulled. The MCU wheel continues to turn. More films are in the works for 2020 and beyond. But before we wrap this film review project up, there is one more film in the saga, and that is Spider Man: Far From Home.

Pete

3 thoughts on “The MCU Project: Avengers Endgame [2019]

  1. Some of the timeline McGuffin made me very cross as the scriptwriters are trying to have their cake and eat it. It was a bit less annoying when I watched it second time around, but after going to great lengths to say that the rules around this are different to those in, say, Back to the Future or Bill & Ted, the film then basically shows that it isn’t really any different at all. Still, I do now like to think that, once Thanos snaps his fingers, half the population of the universe disappears and some guy who cycled into a bus discovers that he’s the only person in the universe who can remember the music of the Beatles, and much hilarity ensues.

  2. Yep, I agree with everything you’ve written here, swisslet. And nice nod to “Yesterday” – we watched that last night. Had some cute moments!

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