Avengers: Endgame – The death, and rise, of the MCU – No Spoilers

Culture Screen

N.B-Nothing more spoilery than what was in the trailers

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry” – Adapted from Robert Burns’ To a Mouse

Now 3 films bigger, and one year later, than when I last reviewed it, the MCU has reached a turning point in its life. It’s already a cinematic titan, hoovering up money, critical praise and fans like nobody’s business. For some, this would be the point to stop, go out on a high. For the more cynically minded, this is the time to dial up the money making, drain as much loose change as possible before cutting and running. As has been shown by the announcement of Spider-Man: Far From Home, death is clearly not the end for the MCU. Avengers: Endgame is certainly an end, but the moment has been prepared for…

While watching through the MCU’s back catalogue in order to prepare for Endgame, I looked again at Avengers: Age of Ultron. I described the film as having lots of good moments, but together with the rest of the film, it didn’t form a cohesive whole. One friend, and former OxStu writer, described these moments as ‘Cornellian’. For those who don’t know Paul Cornell, he is a writer who you’re most likely to have heard of from Doctor Who, specifically Series 1’s Father’s Day, and Series 3’s Human Nature/The Family of Blood. And to be honest, I think there is no better way of describing the film than thus. In his writing, there is a juxtaposition of the mundane and the extraordinary. In Human Nature, for example, the hero of the tale is not the Doctor, but a schoolteacher by the name of John Smith, who forgoes everything he is for the sake of others. Meanwhile, the horrors of WW1 are all too present, but schoolchildren lay down their lives against the stuff of fairy tales and nightmares. So what does this have to do with a multi-million dollar film? Quite simply, that Endgame isn’t interested in the overall plot, but the characters that populate it.

Don’t worry, there’s plenty of film to go around – a whole three hours and one minute. That means there’s plenty of time for fights, explosions, glowing lights in the sky, and all the other things that have become associated with the superhero genre. But for a large chunk of that time, the film chooses to present vignettes of characters, dividing them up in ways that allow for them to simply have a conversation. Again, the focus is not on the superheroics, but extraordinary people having a chat. This works particularly well given the film’s focus on the original Avengers, with a few extras (Rocket, Nebula and Ant-Man) along for the ride. The majority of these characters, therefore, have had numerous films through which to grow, in Tony Stark’s case, a staggering ten. So when 50% of the population is removed, they all react in different ways, and all require something different to get them back. Thanos may have killed half the Universe, but he destroyed the Avengers utterly. They may have been heroes once, but without regaining themselves, they haven’t a hope of saving everyone else.

But the film isn’t just an exploration of these core characters. It’s also a celebration of eleven years of film-making, decades worth of in-house continuity, and a wide array of creative talents. As such, no one will be surprised to see that there will be plenty of callbacks. Some of these are obvious, such as the appearance of side characters from both film and TV. Some are more subtle, such as the recreation of specific scenes, or details from the comics making their way onscreen for the first time. There’s also the return of Alan Silvestri to the composer’s chair, so it’s not particularly surprising that a few old favourites will be played again, with some stirring new entries as well.

One throwback that was not as satisfying was, unfortunately, Marvel’s continuing issue with representation, as I have described before. While there are notable exceptions within the film itself, it still remains that the core cast are overwhelmingly white and/or male. Certainly, the focus on the original characters was always going to make this problematic, as there have certainly been improvements on that score since then, but the fact remains – different decisions could’ve been made within this film that could’ve improved the situation, regardless of previous MCU decisions. It may not hurt the film on an aesthetic level, as the cast are entirely committed, but serves as a reminder that there is still work to do.

Endgame, as you will no doubt have guessed, provides a variety of conclusions for characters, arcs and plot points. Some of its decisions also open up a lot more, and while I don’t think all of them will be receiving answers, it provides a multitude of new paths. The MCU has come full circle, and everyone in it has found themselves returned to the beginning. It wants to be all things to all people, and it is largely successful in doing so. Endgame demands your attention, and I’m more than happy to give it.

Image Credit : AntMan3001 – Flickr