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Saturday, Oct 19, 2019

With Endgame, it’s a return to the safe superhero formula for Marvel

In the way it tells its story, Avengers: Endgame doesn’t move forward with the momentum directors like Ryan Coogler and Taika Waititi established.

mumbai Updated: Apr 27, 2019 23:39 IST
Deepanjana Pal
Deepanjana Pal
Hindustan Times
Forget all the rumours about twists in the tales of beloved Avengers. The missing beard of Captain America is the real shocker.
Forget all the rumours about twists in the tales of beloved Avengers. The missing beard of Captain America is the real shocker.(AP)
         

Brace yourself, dear reader. One of the best things in Avengers: Infinity War has not survived into the sequel, Avengers: Endgame. Steve Rogers’s beard – a thing of glossy, manly, follicular beauty that even Thanos couldn’t bear to snap out of existence – is gone. Early on in Endgame, we see Steve Rogers, wearing a white vest, standing in front of a mirror, clean-shaven. And unless you’re part of Lux Cozi and VIP’s marketing team, you mourn. Because not only is the beard gone, but baniyan-clad Captain America (Chris Evans) is now one Photoshop away from having something in common with the likes of Sunny Deol and Varun Dhawan, who appear as innerwear models in their spare time.

Forget all the rumours about twists in the tales of beloved Avengers. The missing beard of Captain America is the real shocker. The beard was new, it was male, it was hot, it had a fan following, it looked as good in fight scenes as it did in emotional moments; and still it didn’t survive. What chances of survival do characters played by ‘older’ actors – one of them in their 50s – have under the circumstances?

If films were judged by their box office numbers, then Endgame would be one of the most brilliant films of all time. In reality, however, it isn’t even the best film in the Infinity Saga, which began in 2008 with the first Iron Man. This is not to suggest directors Anthony and Joe Russo have made a bad film. Endgame is respectable enough, has some great fight scenes and even though the logic of the winning solution doesn’t quite hold, it doesn’t bore you. The problem is that coming after films like Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Thor: Ragnarok, which rejigged the superhero formula with wit and imagination, Endgame feels underwhelming. Worse, it’s predictable because it marks a return to the formula of hero worshipping the White alpha male.

Pay attention to how the plot unfolds in Endgame and you’ll realise the film has two agendas – defeat Thanos and sideline the fantastic women characters so that the boys and their toys can bask in the limelight. In Endgame, the Avengers have Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Black Widow (Scarlet Johannson), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Shuri (Letitia Wright). Thanos would be toast if just Captain Marvel and Scarlet Witch joined hands, given their immense superpowers. But if they did that, they’d be the real heroes instead of the men and we can’t have that (especially since the producers are likely to have paid the actors significantly more than they paid the actresses. Heroes saving the day are basically return on that investment).

And so Captain America and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) do the heavy lifting as they carry out a master plan devised by Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Helping them out are Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). What a shocker.

Meanwhile, Captain Marvel keeps disappearing from Endgame for no good reason and at a crucial moment is knocked out using an infinity stone (an improvement upon being knocked up, which is the traditional strategy deployed to keep women away from the action, but still lame as dismissals go). Black Widow has to exit left via a heroic sacrifice. Nebula, burdened with being female and a cyborg, is the one who compromises the Avengers and has to commit a murder/ suicide to redeem herself. The others get blink-and-miss-it roles.

It’s worth pointing out that even this much feminine agency and dynamism on screen is remarkable for male-obsessed Hollywood. The Infinity Saga has given us better women characters than we’ve ever seen in superhero films, which is why Endgame feels faintly disappointing. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely try to give the women their turns in the spotlight, but this just highlights how their characters are being short-changed. And all because the formula requires men to save the day.

Going back in time is a critical part of Endgame, but it’s more than a worn-out plot device. In the way it tells its story, Endgame doesn’t move forward with the momentum directors like Ryan Coogler and Taika Waititi established. Instead, Endgame is oddly old-fashioned, as though the writers and directors are rewinding to a time before Marvel Studios decided to take a few risks with its phenomenally successful franchise.

First Published: Apr 27, 2019 23:39 IST

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