Avengers: Endgame Cert: 12A, 3hrs
Amazingly, it’s only 11 years since a motor-mouthed Robert Downey Jr took on the part of Iron Man and almost overnight transformed our cinematic appetite for Marvel superheroes. Suddenly they could be cool and funny as well as all-powerful.
Crucially, they became so just as digital visual effects finally caught up with what the old comic-book artists could hint at but only our imaginations could complete. Now, an astonishing 21 films later, it all comes to an end with Avengers: Endgame.
It’s not quite perfect – there’s a long section in the middle where we’re jumping back and forth in Avengers time that is very much for hard-core fans only – but, my goodness, it brings this particular franchise arc to a quite brilliant and highly emotional close.
Amazingly, it’s only 11 years since a motor-mouthed Robert Downey Jr took on the part of Iron Man and almost overnight transformed our cinematic appetite for Marvel superheroes
Assuming, of course, that you like this sort of thing in the first place.
For the past year or so, Marvel films have been ending with chilling end-credit sequences in which characters suddenly disappear, floating away in a cloud of ashy dust.
The explanation came in Avengers: Infinity War and is reprised here in a bravely downbeat opening that not only seizes our attention but reminds us why we’re here.
Thanos has carried through his threat to wipe out 50 per cent of all living creatures in the universe and only a depleted team of superheroes, including Thor (Chris Hemsworth), is left
The all-powerful Thanos – superbly played by a much-modified Josh Brolin – now in possession of all six destiny-defining infinity stones, has carried through on his threat to wipe out 50 per cent of all living creatures in the universe – superheroes and all.
So it’s a depleted team who are left to work out what they can do about it: Iron Man (Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and, oh yes, Nebula (Karen Gillan), the cyborg who, as we get properly under way, seems to be the only surviving crossover from the hitherto separate Guardians Of The Galaxy franchise.
In due course, Ant Man joins the team, his presence not only proving pivotal in terms of plot advancement and quasi-quantum physics but, because he’s played by the amiable and reliably funny Paul Rudd, ensuring the comedy quotient stays high too.
Nebula (Karen Gillan), the cyborg who, as we get properly under way, seems to be the only surviving crossover from the hitherto separate Guardians Of The Galaxy franchise
This is a big, epic, franchise-closing picture, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo know the importance of allowing it to laugh both at itself and, indeed, at some of its iconic sci-fi predecessors.
Back To The Future comes in for a particularly hard but very funny time.
With flashbacks and other creative devices reintroducing us to some old faces – some familiar, some less so – it’s clear that harnessing such a big number of characters was never going to be easy.
The emotional range of the film is huge from Hemsworth playing it for laughs as Thor to touching scenes when lost loves rekindled with Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Iron Man
There’s a lovely moment when the big-baddie-of-the-moment is confronted with yet another, inevitably avenging superhero and merely shrugs and says, ‘I don’t even know who you are.’ More than once I knew how he felt.
The emotional range of the film is huge – from Hemsworth playing it for laughs as a boozy, paunchy, disillusioned Thor to touching scenes when pasts are revisited, lost loves rekindled, family bonds renewed.
I hope I give nothing away when I say that, even if you’ve only bought halfway into the whole Marvel superhero thing, you might want to bring tissues.
With Brie Larson whizzing in and out of the story as Captain Marvel, it’s good to see the female side of the superhero universe getting a decent, sisters-together share of the action
With Brie Larson whizzing in and out of the story as Captain Marvel, it’s good to see the female side of the superhero universe getting a decent, sisters-together share of the action.
But then this is the superhero film – the mother of all superhero films, if you like – that serves up pretty much everything, including a marathon, three-hour running time.
But if, like me, you’ve seen all 21 films that precede it, you won’t begrudge it a single second. Definitely worth assembling for.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
Eighth Grade (15)
Kayla Day is an awkward 13-year-old struggling to grow up in today’s materialistic and social-media-obsessed America. She’s painfully shy, prone to spots and the boys she’s just beginning to notice conspicuously fail to notice her.
But gamely, endearingly and somewhat heartbreakingly too, she never gives up, perkily recording a regular video blog embracing such subjects as ‘being yourself’, ‘putting yourself out there’ and ‘having more confidence’.
Almost nobody watches them.
But, like it or not, a big change is on its way as Kayla nears the end of middle school and prepares to embrace high school. Uh-oh, hasn’t she seen Mean Girls?
Elsie Fisher is a naturalistic joy in the central role of Kayla Day and there’s an underlying and eventually rather touching optimism to what unfolds
At times, this is painful to watch – particularly during a scene where an older boy tries to pressure her into sex – but Elsie Fisher is a naturalistic joy in the central role and there’s an underlying and eventually rather touching optimism to what unfolds.
But what do I know, I’m a bloke – and so is 28-year-old YouTube polymath Bo Burnham (he’s a comedian, musician, actor and now film-maker), who writes, directs and uses music quite brilliantly.
And now he’s ‘mansplained’ the insecurities of female puberty too. Brave chap.
Bel Canto (15)
Stockholm Syndrome describes the strange bond that can form between captors and captives, normally during a siege or hostage situation. And it’s at the heart of this cinematic oddity from Paul Weitz (yes, he of American Pie and About A Boy fame) about a world-famous American opera singer (Julianne Moore) who is taken hostage when armed guerrillas raid a South American government building.
Bel Canto is about a world-famous American opera singer (Julianne Moore) who is taken hostage when armed guerrillas raid a South American government building
At first, the hostages naturally fear for their lives but, as the days pass, language lessons begin, football matches kick off and love affairs blossom, both between hostage and hostage, and even between hostage and captor.
Well acted but lacking substance.
Pond Life (15)
Set in South Yorkshire in the early Nineties, this is a meandering, sort-of-coming-of-age film about poverty, puberty and, er, carp fishing. It’s Trevor (Tom Varey) who does most of the fishing, while the eccentric, not-quite-all-there teenager Pogo (Esme Creed-Miles) helps mix the bait.
It’s touching – in parts – but a tad self-conscious and uneven.