Offering up any kind of critique or commentary of this latest Marvel enterprise is, by and large, an exercise in futility because audiences are flocking to it in their millions with little regard for whether it is any good or not. With the Marvel marketing machine in overdrive, and abetted by those media outlets who seem more interested in pandering to the comic book studio than supporting those filmmakers who do not have a $100 million budget at their disposal, Avengers: End Game is destined for success regardless of what anybody else thinks. Of course, that is not to say that this isn’t a film of some merit, but the sad reality is that it doesn’t matter because films such us as this exist only for one reason; to make as much money as possible. Anybody who has seen the previous film (and probably plenty who haven’t) will know that things ended with naughty boy Thanos (Josh Brolin) having secured the full set of infinity stones and used their power to vanish half of the world’s population, including several franchise favourites. Of course it’s a nonsensical premise and even though it was an absolute certainty that all of the vanquished superheroes would be returned, viewers still engaged in all manner of emotional outpourings over these ‘deaths.’
So, how are our heroes (and the rest of those who disappeared) returned to the world? Through dodgy science of course. The nerdiest of the group in Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr) and Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) are tasked with developing a method by which the remaining Avengers can travel back in time to prevent Thanos from unleashing the power of the stones. Needless to say, despite a few setbacks along the way, their mission is accomplished and the band get back together, only for directors Joe and Anthony Russo to dish up the same trick here (albeit on a smaller scale) by trying to have us believe that at least two key characters meet their demise. It goes without saying that the digital effects are terrific, albeit not as overwhelming in their audacity as they might have once seemed. This, of course, is not the fault of the digital artists responsible but rather the fact that we have come to take such technical wizardry for granted.
The one thing that becomes more apparent in the wake of being less overwhelmed by the spectacle is just how uninteresting the characters are when not bedecked in their superhero clobber. These are boring people and other than having acquired enhanced abilities, whether through science, inter-galactic forces or simply having access to an unlimited amount of money as is the case of Tony Stark, they possess no other qualities that make them remotely interesting. Furthermore, despite the best efforts of Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Antman, the one element that has often proven the difference between the best and worst of the Marvel output – humour – is largely absent in this instance and generally misfires when it is attempted. So, is End Game any good? Well, yes, in the same way that a roller coaster is enjoyable. It starts off slow before launching into a series of thrilling moments, only to lull again momentarily before setting forth on a final series of excitements that are plenty of fun at the time; although with a running time of three hours, this a particularly long ride and one that is unlikely to change your life in any meaningful way.
All of the Marvel heroes – Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), Spiderman (Tom Holland), The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Space Lord (Chris Pratt), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and newest recruit Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) are back for End Game, along with myriad supporting players such as Zoe Saldana, Tilda Swinton, Linda Cardellini, John Slattery, Rene Russo and many more, yet it is the unheralded Karen Gillan who upstages her big name teammates to deliver the standout performance as Nebula. With countless other characters who have featured in one or more of the previous 21 films in the series also back for the final fling, the assemblage of talent here is unprecedented, even if many big names, such as Samuel L Jackson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Marissa Tomei for example, appear for mere seconds and literally have nothing to say, while the likes of Michael Douglas are confined to a single line of dialogue. The sheer scale of the cast is something to behold and it will take familiarity with the previous films to even understand why some of the people appear and what their role has been in the course of events.
As to whether we have really lost two of the key members of the Avengers squad will, I guess, depend on contract negotiations between the actors and the studio, but it seems unlikely that they will be gone for good. Those who have been on the Avengers journey from the outset may well be satisfied with how it all ends, but there is nothing here for anybody who is not familiar with the world of the MCU and/or expects their film viewing experience to serve up something profound and emotionally engaging.