I have now seen Avengers End Game twice. The first time was immediately after rewatching Infinity War in a double screening. It suffered from the comparison. In hindsight, it was always going to.
End Game has to serve many, many functions in a way that Inifnity War didn’t have to: it has to be a sequel, it has to satisfyingly resolve a huge cliffhanger, it is a capstone to a decade’s worth of plot threads and character arcs and it has to function as a narrative in its own right. It manages most of these feats to a greater or lesser extent, as well as subverting the self same expectation and doing several things that are unexpected, but it feels very much like several films stitched together as one.
Inifnity War was largely assembling people and setting a scenario in motion. It had a momentum and told one story. It also cemented a villain and his actions together. Stopping the villain and his scheme were one and the same. As the film ends the heroes face their own failure and, for many, their own mortality. End Game picks up with them at their lowest ebb, having suffered massive loss, and an the extrapolation of this loss provides the backdrop for at least two of the threads of the film. But there is also an unpicking of the combination of antagonist and his actions, as stopping one doesn’t necessarily mean stopping the other.
The opening is breakneck and ultimately subversive and anti climatic. It serves to change our expectation of what the film must be about and to suggest a greater complexity and necessary change in thinking. The next phase of the film is about these differing priorities and is very focused on the core characters at the heart of the story, the new stakes of the film and their own individual stories and characters. In many ways it looks back much more than it seems to advance the overreaching plot. As the film moves to the eventual climax we face the heroes in an arguable greater position of strength than the previous film and facing a subtly different challenge than we would have expected.
The first film is thrilling and largely upbeat and treads a very familiar path, but somehow feels largely upbeat with an absolutely shocking ending. The second film opens in a downbeat way and shows a level of desperation and bleakness you don’t normally associate with successful films before going on a far less predictable route full of character moments and genuine sadness and culminates in a way that seems true to the first film but somehow at odds with the one of the second film. Emotionally End Game affected me much more than Infinity War but I definitely prefer Infinity War. And I can’t even begin to process where the Marvel films may go from here.
Avengers: Infinity War, at the time of writing, is the fastest grossing film of all time and has surpassed the total box office take of Justice League. Justice League, according to which figures you believe, cost the same as Infinity War and is largely comparable and shares some of the same DNA. As someone who favours Marvel over DC, this gives me a sense of gloating satisfaction. There is a tribalism at play that sports fans can probably relate to.
One of the interesting things about the two films is how they sit within their respective franchises and their relative trajectories. Infinity War is the umpteenth Marvel film and could yet become the most successful. Seemingly the brand is now strong enough to launch unknown or unheralded concepts and they perform respectably to spectacularly at the box office. The previous Marvel film, Black Panther, is still out on general release, still making money, and has a huge cumulative take.
Justice League, by comparison, seemed to be an attempt to run before the films could walk, is the least successful film in the franchise, and a sign of how the brand is becoming toxic. Even well-known characters portrayed by a famous cast have been unable to save the film from being viewed as a flop.
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