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Avengers: Endgame (2019) starring Robert Downey Jr.

Can the Avengers change the past?

This latest entry in the long-running Marvel Comics Universe saga picks up some time after Thanos has used the Infinity Gauntlet to wipe out half of the Universe’s population, including a number of the heroic Avengers.

Survivors Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are left floating through space in Star-Lord’s spaceship and seemingly headed for a certain death due to a shortage of oxygen. Just in the nick of time, however, they are rescued by Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) who brings them back safely back to an Earth which is still mourning the sudden loss of so many loved ones. They reconvene with the other remaining Avengers, who include Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper). The reassembled group manages to trace Thanos and heads out with the intention of killing him, seizing the Infinity Stones and using them to put everything back to rights. However, once they catch up with him, they discover that he has made the stones destroy themselves. Thor decapitates him out of anger and they regretfully try to move on with their lives.

Robert Downey Jr. in Avengers: Endgame

Five years later, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) escapes from being trapped in the Quantum Realm and finds out what has happened to the Earth. After tearfully reuniting with his now-grown daughter, he decides to track down the other superheroes with a revelation to share with them: since time flows differently in the Quantum Realm, the five years he missed on Earth passed in just five hours for him. By extension, he theorises that it can be used as a time machine and thus allow them to go back and find all of the Infinity Stones before Thanos can get his oversized hands on them.

Watch a trailer:

A triumphant climactic episode

The previous entry in the MCU Avengers series - Avengers: Infinity War - may have taken over $2 billion worldwide in ticket receipts, thus putting it in the top five highest grossing cinema releases of all time. Nonetheless (and let’s be honest here), that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a great movie. Yes, it pleased long-running fans of the series all around the globe and certainly ended with one of the most strikingly downbeat conclusions of any blockbuster in recent memory. At the same time, however, it felt so incredibly overstuffed with characters and CGI-fuelled showdowns that it gave very little room to things like storyline, plot development, or even the chance for the audience to catch a breath and experience something other than a load of colourfully elaborate visual excess.

As such, I went into Avengers: Endgame with the weary expectation that it would just be another cinematic equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet that left me walking out feeling like I’ve had both a bit too much simple tastiness and too little real nourishment. In the end, what I received left me pleasantly fulfilled. It’s a true slow-burner which devotes (give or take) the first third of its three-hour running time to catching up on both the surviving superheroes and wider humanity licking their wounds and trying to move on from their loss of both the battle and their loved ones. This overriding theme of the true value of family (real or surrogate) is something that the film never loses sight of and helps provide a genuine heart to the story.

The plot fully kicks in during the second act but, once again, it doesn’t go anywhere near as CGI-orgy-crazy as Infinity War did. Instead, it plays out more in the manner of what Scott Lang describes as a “time heist”: a classic time travel flick meets an equally classic heist movie. The surviving Avengers break up into three mini-groups, each one visiting various time zones and events from their collective past in order to bring back the Infinity Stones. It’s an inventive, touching, funny and suspenseful affair which, surprisingly, consciously breaks a few of the usual Back to the Future rules of time travel logic (yes, that film and several others in the genre are repeatedly referenced in dialogue here). In this universe, meeting, getting into fights with and even killing your past selves don’t affect your future selves whatsoever. While the explanation for all of this (provided by Bruce Banner/The Hulk) is somewhat suspect, it’s better to just go with it and enjoy Captain America beating himself up. On the more poignant side of things, there are nice moments such as Tony Stark and Thor meeting their parents at particularly fateful junctures.

Less is more here

While these first and second acts still offer numerous action sequences, they are mostly relatively low-key in nature while still offering enough in the way of imagination. One of the most interesting of these involves the introduction of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) into the story. It’s a stylish mini-escapade involving him dispatching a number of Yakuza members which is mostly filmed from outside the building in which the mayhem is taking place.

The fact that the story focuses on fewer characters than the previous Avengers entry did, and does so over a runtime that is half an hour longer, helps a lot. Okay, so that’s not quite true: pretty much everyone from the previous entry (and a few others from the rest of the MCU) pops up here. However, a large number of them are worked in as little more than cameos (sometimes only appearing on screen for mere seconds), with the main storyline being based around only a dozen or so. This allows for the audience to breathe, enjoying their onscreen relationships and generally becoming fully invested in them.

Of course, the third act inevitably has to explode into one huge all-out battle that (bar a few details) feels practically interchangeable with that in the last Avengers or, for that matter, any number of other MCU films. It’s the weakest part of the whole and ultimately feels like little more than an extravagant box-ticker. Nonetheless, it would be churlish to deny this sort of tentpole movie some sort of bedrock of predictability - and that includes the equally inevitable Stan Lee cameo to boot.

Avengers: Endgame is a triumph for the series and recommended viewing even for those (like myself) who are typically lukewarm about all things MCU.

Runtime: 181 mins

Dir: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Script: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, based on a comic book by Jim Starlin and Marvel comics characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Tilda Swinton, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert Redford, Chris Pratt

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

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