I ❤️ Everything: Avengers Endgame

A while ago, I somehow stumbled across a delightful blog post by a young woman called Emily who lives in Texas, exhorting us all to 'Like What You Like'. I read a bit more of her wonderful blog, and saw she has a series called Emily Likes Everything, named after the fact that she wanted to review a few movies she had really enjoyed that summer. That idea has been tickling my brain ever since because I often find myself wanting to write about stuff with no more of a reason than I just really liked it, so with a large hat tip to Emily, here's the first post in my series (of maybe just one?), I ❤️ Everything.

Yes, that says £16 - London is a hellscape.
Oh, and #spoilers, obviously.

Last Sunday I found myself cheering in a sold-out cinema, sharing a truly profound experience with hundreds of strangers. It was a thrilling and emotional afternoon spent watching Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk, Hawkeye and literally dozens of other heroes save the world (if you see it that way).

When Avengers Assemble came out in 2012, I knew it was a big deal, but one I had little to no interest in. I hadn't seen any of the previous films, and I felt like superhero stuff just wasn't 'for me'. I was an artsy Classics graduate who'd loved Smallville and the first Spider-Man movie back in the day but I had ignored the X-Men movies altogether, found Christopher Nolan's Batman boring and saw nothing compelling about Iron Man, who just seemed to be yet another rich white dude with an unearned god complex smashing stuff up.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I happened to watch Thor: The Dark World, the worst-reviewed of all 22 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was wholly won over and here we are.

Avengers: Endgame was so good precisely because there are 21 other films that came before it. Bizarrely, improbably, the 22nd attempt was maybe the best of the lot. To even write that seems laughable - what other entertainment franchise actually gets better as it goes along? For over a decade, the MCU has been building and building, branching out into new styles and timelines, telling one giant story from different angles and lenses, and while the quality certainly hasn't been entirely consistent throughout, the general trajectory has been up. 

Black Panther was an undisputed masterpiece, winning three Oscars and nominated for Best Picture. Thor: Ragnarok put the quirky antipodean comedic genius of Taika Waititi on the grandest of stages and a superhero movie became one of the most interesting comedies in years. Spider-Man: Homecoming took an iconic standalone character who had been wrung somewhat dry by Sony (in five movies in twelve years, four of which I actually really liked but I understand that's not the general consensus) and placed him firmly back where he belongs, among the Avengers, in the form of the cutest little cinnamon roll to ever cinnamon roll, injecting the universe with youthful exuberance and a borderline painful amount of heart. Plus they added Paul Rudd, which has never not been a brilliant decision.

So often in popular entertainment, the longer a story goes on, the clearer it becomes that there was never any grand plan after all. I'm obviously looking at you, Lost, but I'm also looking at things like The O.C. and Spooks and, to be brutally honest, even Harry Potter if we're including The Cursed Child. I really, really hope I'm not looking at Game of Thrones but that's a conversation for another time (approximately 3 weeks?). With the MCU, and with Endgame specifically, it feels like everything that came before happened for a reason. When Guardians of the Galaxy was dismissed as a fun space caper, and it felt like Doctor Strange simply didn't need to exist (it doesn't, tbh), and Black Panther seemed too good to even be involved with this series, it was hard to see how it was all going to come together in a way that felt authentic and fulfilling. Looking at the character lists for Infinity War and Endgame, with dozens of big-name actors and superheroes crammed in, it seemed so obvious that these were going to be bloated, unwatchable, self-congratulatory cash grabs. And, well, they just aren't.

Avengers: Endgame is a beautiful film: at times sombre and contemplative, at times wildly exciting and celebratory. It deservedly elicits real emotion in audiences. It's a meditation on loss and grief, inside the biggest action movie of all time. It asks interesting and important questions about action versus inaction, our place in the universe, and the moral obligations we all have to each other and to our world. 

What made it such a perfect end to this enormous set of films is that it allowed us to feel like watching them was worthwhile. I haven’t seen every film in the MCU, but when Captain America picked up Mjolnir and the cinema erupted, I knew what a powerful moment that was, and why. We all felt Iron Man’s pain when he told the others that he “lost the kid”. We were there when little baby Spider-Man turned to dust and blew away in the middle of nowhere in space, and so his triumphant return later was that much more meaningful (although with another Spider-Man film coming later this summer, perhaps not altogether surprising...). 

We know these characters; they feel real and lived-in in a way that is rare in the world of film, where the space for storytelling is so much smaller than in literature or television. They might be somewhat otherworldly, with their superhuman abilities and technology - and some of them literally are from other worlds - but the careful character development woven into the fabric of these films has been truly masterful and has made it easy to imagine our heroes as complex beings, worth rooting for and mourning and cheering on, even from a soulless multiplex in south London (a cool 2.2 miles from where Thor's big battle happened in The Dark World, which admittedly goes approx 95% towards explaining my love for that movie).

And yet, despite knowing the characters like old friends, and despite it being the 22nd outing in the MCU, Endgame still manages to be narratively surprising, never quite going the way you're expecting. Thanos, the big bad, is killed off in the first act (or is he?), leaving our remaining heroes to navigate the world they've been left behind in. Even when my beloved Ant-Man miraculously returns to save the day, the film takes a beat to explore whether saving the world is even the right thing to do. Personally, I'm actually not entirely convinced it was, and I feel like there must have been some compelling and timely environmental arguments that could have been made about the impact of losing half of all life in the universe, but I can appreciate that my climate change proclivities might not make for a very fun blockbuster - indeed, they're already kind of ruining this post...

This is not a perfect film. The treatment of Thor's journey after the loss of his homeland and his brother and, y'know, half of all life in the universe was at times a little too close to mockery in a way that felt cruel and unhelpful. The tone deaf jokes were particularly clunky because the story did sort of try to explore his guilt and trauma, but each time ended up poking fun at him, for gaining weight (hilarious!) or for drinking too much (lmao!) or for generally being laid low in a depressed state (megalolz!). For me, it was wince-inducing to imagine anyone watching who might identify with what he was going through (and a quick google shows it's not no-one) having to see that. Also, in 2019, can we just, like, cancel all fat suits?

Unsurprisingly, Endgame has not unilaterally solved the MCU's perennial issues with representation. After Natasha's death, which itself was arguably understated for one of the original Avengers, the remaining team members are standing by the lake looking sad, and I remember thinking to myself, "there are so many men in this movie". And there are, it's true. But there are also women! And it may be 'forced' and 'fanservice' but the moment when Brie Larson as Captain Marvel,  Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, Evangeline Lily as Wasp, Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlett Witch, Danai Gurira’s Okoye, Pom Klementieff’s Mantis, Letitia Wright’s Shuri, Karen Gillan’s Nebula and Zoe Saldana’s Gamora team up on the battlefield is important. The first Avengers ensemble film didn't even pass the Bechdel test, and here are ten female characters, with known names and back stories kicking ass. I (internally) whooped!

It's not nothing, but it's also not enough. In 22 films there is just one that's about a woman and one that's about a person of colour. The much-vaunted 'first out LGBTQ character' turned out to be an unnamed man making a passing reference to his male partner, and although there is undeniable power in the casual normalising of queer relationships... Valkyrie is right there. And Captain Marvel with her new hair. It's not like they didn't have options.

Despite its shortcomings, of which there are probably many more that other people could list, I really loved this film. Watching it felt thrillingly close to going to live theatre. One of the things I like most about theatre is that you can have a common experience with a small group of individuals, performers and audience alike, crafting the story together in a way that can never quite be replicated. For those three hours in that dark room in South London, I was with hundreds of people who have presumably collectively spent several thousand hours watching these movies. We were watching some of the biggest movie stars of our time in the culmination of many thousands of hours of work by probably hundreds of thousands of people over the years. The palpable excitement of everyone in the room combined with the dedication of the storytellers to create something unique. We went through Endgame together, just like countless other groups of people across the globe on that record-breaking weekend.

Maybe I'll feel differently if I watch it again in a less busy screening, or I'll catch it on television in a few years and have forgotten all the in-jokes and references and why it meant so much to me. But for now I'm happy to declare that I loved Avengers: Endgame, and, in the spirit of Emily from Texas's inspirational post, I'm not going to couch that with jokes about how that makes me basic or caveats about how I'm sure I'm probably wrong because I haven't read the comics or studied film theory. I loved it, and I'm excited for whatever comes next after The Infinity Saga.

As fulfilling endings for wildly popular franchises go, this was wonderful... Your move, Game of Thrones. Don't let me down!


Credit: https://geektyrant.com/news/incredible-fan-art-shows-almost-all-mcu-characters-in-one-piece

Comments

  1. I really enjoy the amount of critical appreciation on your blog, tbh. Like with your Greatest Showman post - you're just honest about how things are imperfect but you love them anyway. I feel like it's important to remember not to beat ourselves up for loving something and taking meaning from it in spite of its flaws.

    ALSO YES ENDGAME WAS A BLAST and it was exactly what I go to the movies for <3

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