It has been a few days since the event that was Avengers: Endgame happened. The media; newspapers, television, internet, have all covered the film extensively, both in reviewing it and discussing various aspects of the whole MCU now that this chapter of the cinematic story has been resolved.
There have been, in some quarters, talk of Endgame being the best superhero film ever made. At three hours long, concluding a chapter that has been building over a decade, it is indeed a great cinematic achievement.
It ties up threads from many of the previous films, whilst giving fitting, in some cases surprising, send-offs to characters that have been ever-present in the MCU. It does, of course, leave the ever-baffling conundrum of time travel, but as time travel does not exist, as far as we know, no one can, definitively, rebut its explanation in film.
The question of whether it is the greatest superhero film ever made, however, is up for debate. There is a definite argument for it to be proclaimed the greatest conclusion of a story told over several films. Even some of the best-known film franchise series in cinema have suffered from not knowing when to end the story.
The Matrix was two films too long. The Terminator should have stopped at two, yet still hobbles on. The Godfather, as a duo, was near perfect until Coppola needed a big payday. As for the increasing awfulness of the Die Hard franchise, that is a separate blog!
In terms of costume wearing hero films, the MCU does not have a great deal of competition. Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is probably the standard bearer, even if in truth it’s the late Heath Ledger’s Joker that defines and elevates the series.
Christopher Reeve’s beloved Superman went awry after his second outing, the third installment, though entertaining, was weak and the fourth plain silly. Superman or the Man of Steel has not fared so well on screen since that last Reeves outing.
The Fantastic Four, known as the first family of Marvel, have suffered the most in cinema. Brilliant on the page, Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm, found a place in comic folklore on the page. On celluloid, or digital now, not so much. The infamous 1994 version is entertainingly terrible, looking more 1984 than 94. The makeup is garish and it uses the comics as a template, with costumes lifted directly from pages.
The two mid-noughties versions are okay. Hated by the fans, they were also Chris Evans’ introduction to the life of a lycra-clad super-being. Not bad films, the problem with the mid-noughties films was they did not get the tone right. Neither comedy or drama, the films straddle an uncomfortable limbo between the genres.
Josh Trank’s infamous Fantastic Four effort, rumoured to have been wrecked by studio interference, was an absolute train-wreck of a film. Dark of tone, it was a sombre, meandering film, where nothing vaguely super or fantastical happens for most of the film.
Before being absorbed into the MCU, Spider-Man was under the Sony pictures banner. A trilogy of films was produced starring Toby McGuire as the erstwhile web-slinger. I personally, thought them all to be quite good films. Even the loathed third installment, which admittedly overdid it with the villains, was entertaining.
The Andrew Garfield reboot started off well. Garfield seemed to nail the Peter Parker character perfectly. Unfortunately, the follow up was woeful, with Jamie Foxx’s Electro villain bringing back memories of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze abomination.
When 2008’s Iron Man kicked off the MCU charge to world and cinematic screen domination, the superhero movie was still viewed as pop-culture fare, not particularly serious cinema. Iron Man, not the most popular character in comics, proved a hit, with the charismatic Robert Downey Jr. giving life to a character that would become the foundation of the MCU.
Chris Evans return to the world of super-beings would come in 2011 when he would take on the iconic role of Captain America. With the lukewarm reception to Evans first outing, no one could have anticipated how impressive his next outing in the red, white and blue would be.
The first of the four films helmed by the Russo brothers, The Winter Soldier was masterful. It was a noticeable step up in the MCU, raising the standard of story and action in one fell swoop. Following on from Joss Whedon’s 2012 Avengers Assemble, The Winter Soldier continued to lay the groundwork for the Infinity War saga, the Infinity stones becoming much more of a focal point within the MCU.
Civil War, the third outing for Captain America was the Russo brothers second stint behind the cameras. It was also much more of a prelude to the Infinity War films than it was a Captain America film, feeling, due to the presence of so many of the Marvel characters, like an Avengers film.
Away from the MCU, Fox was trying to build some sort of momentum with the X-Men films. The Bryan Singer efforts, X-Men and X2, proved very popular coming, as they did, some eight and five years before the MCU kicked off with Iron Man.
Singer then jumped ship and went off to make the Brandon Routh starring Superman Returns. With that decision, Singer derailed both Marvel and DC, with his Superman project proving underwhelming and Fox allowing the X-Men franchise to bounce from director to director, with no one taking overall creative control.
After the truly terrible Last Stand, Fox put their hopes in the most popular character of the franchise; Wolverine. Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine was the only thing that carried the Origins story in the 2009 film. The follow-up, The Wolverine in 2013 is trash. Awful on every level, the most shocking thing about this film, besides everything, is that it is helmed by James Mangold.
Mangold is also the director behind the final film in the loose trilogy, Logan. Had I known, before seeing the film, that Mangold was responsible for The Wolverine, I probably would not have watched Logan. Thankfully, ignorance is bliss. Logan is a masterpiece.
I would argue, had it been part of the MCU – though given its level of violence, that would not be possible in the house of the Mouse – it would be much more revered. Everything about the film is right. The music, the editing, the emotional pull and impact, the pacing, everything.
As a trilogy, the Wolverine films are barely worth a mention. The question of the best superhero film ever made is different. I would argue that, as good as Endgame is, Infinity War is better as a stand-alone film. Endgame does not work without Infinity War. Endgame is possibly the best conclusion of a superhero film story. It is definitely better than the end to the Dark Knight trilogy. I won’t even mention the Matrix…
But even in the MCU, Endgame is probably only in the top five. I would argue that, as well as Infinity War, The Winter Soldier is also a better film. As a stand-alone, impactful story, it can be watched independently of all the other films and feel complete.
The Dark Knight definitely makes a case for the best superhero film ever, with the late Ledger’s performance the benchmark by which every Joker is measured. The entire film is driven by his performance, his character.
In terms of the best superhero film ever made, like any media content – music, art, books – the opinion is personal and will always be disputed. For myself, it is, up to this point, Logan. By no means a conventional superhero film – he wears no costume, there is no world-ending disaster – Logan is an exceptional piece of filmmaking, almost defying a genre definition.
Endgame is, no doubt, an excellent film, and a perfect ending to the Infinity Saga. As good a film as it is, it is not quite the best superhero film ever made, that is, for me, Logan.