NME's resident columnist Mark Beaumont is approaching his final battle with convoluted superhero franchises
Okay, so a dozen or so Americans, a Russian, a Chinese person, a Wakandan, an Asgardian, several Earth/alien hybrids, an android created by Ultron – stop me if you’ve heard it – a Zen-Whoberi, a bunch of intergalactic freaks based out of Knowhere, a Vietnamese martial arts expert, Ming The Cumberbatch, a talking raccoon, a sentient twig and some others I’ve forgotten, all of whom have numerous special powers and elaborate back-stories I’ll assume you’re familiar with, walk into a bar.
What do you mean I’ve lost you already? Then you’ll know how I feel about The Avengers: Endgame. No, I haven’t watched it, and yes, of course I will. I am in metallic codpieces stepped in so far that, should I de-Netflix, returning were as tedious as go o’er. But once I do, I’m done with superhero films. Finished. Enough. I don’t care who lives or dies, I just want it over. Smashed into infinity shards with a massive thunder-hammer and shoved so far up Thanos’s arse it gives him a 38th chin. And no amount of ‘leaked’ new Joker shots or Margot Robbie done up like It’s cheerleader will be drawing me back in.
My problem – like it’s my problem – is that I simply don’t care enough. I know you all do. I get it – you’re engaged in the fates of Captain Rohypnol, The Felch, Blindlinesman or whoever. You’re not bothered that with the time and effort you’ve put into studying the convolutions of the various ‘universes’ you could be a poker high roller or self-made cryptocurrency billionaire by now. Superhero movies are your ‘thing’, like other people have Star Trek, Harry Potter or human sexual relations.
“Around Infinity War, it all went Les Miserables. Who the hell were all these characters? What are all these back stories they’re referring to? What do you mean there was a pivotal mid-credits scene in Age Of Ultron? If it was so pivotal, why wasn’t it in the fucking film?”
But for me superhero movies were always supposed to be nothing more than a distraction, a couple of hours’ colourful, CGI-blitzed pizza accompaniment to help me survive my more savage hangovers. I’d watch them when there were still four hours of a flight to waste, or I found myself at a particularly racist Christmas. They were comfortingly formulaic. A supervillain arrives looking like the match of our hero. Hero almost dies, but ultimately pumps up their powers to beat the foe. And meantime, they fail to hook up with the partner of their dreams, presumably worried that they’ll strap them to the ceiling with Spidey-semen or discover, with their secret psychic abilities, that their partner spends the whole time thinking about Magic Mike Live.
So sure, I watched an Iron Man or two, a couple of Hulks and the cool ones where they all got together, like a Gorillaz gig with the budget of a Spice Girls reunion. I even braved Dr Strange, which was basically a load of inadvisable town planning. Of the 21 Marvel universe films feeding into Endgame, I saw about ten – I mean, I’m sure Captain America becomes a Nazi at some point so I’m not getting emotionally involved in him, Guardians Of The Galaxy just looked like someone had crossed Blake’s Seven with Springwatch, and Ant-Man? Ant-Man? Seriously? When Dave has all those Taskmasters on? I was never warned that missing a single spin-off instalment would make me lose the plot as badly as Donald Trump faced with a particularly knotty Kimmy Schmidt.
All 10 I watched, I appreciated for getting me two precious hours closer to pub and instantly forgot. No-one told me I was supposed to be concentrating. Then, around Infinity War, it all went Les Miserables. Who the hell were all these characters? What are all these vaguely identical laser-beam powers they’re using? What are all these back stories they’re referring to? What do you mean there was a pivotal mid-credits scene in Age Of Ultron? If it was so pivotal, why wasn’t it in the fucking film?
I see the point of making the franchises reflect the sprawling, interconnected morass of the comic book world they sprang from. But I prefer books without pictures thanks, and suddenly superhero films were demanding more of me than I was willing to give. At the same time, an era of critics dumbing down and cosying up to mainstream trash culture meant that I was obliged to see Black Panther and Wonder Woman (DC, I know) by reams of write-ups making out they were the Deer Hunters and Taxi Drivers of their age. Turns out they were just more of the same, but ‘woker’.
Clearly out of my depth, I’d vowed to give up after Infinity War, my interest in the whole genre dissolving into dust alongside that weird walking shrubbery. But discovering late that Thor: Ragnarok was basically an all-out comedy film – Carry On Odin, if you will – convinced me to limp on to my own personal superhero Endgame. I’m already feeling daunted by the prospect – looking at the poster doesn’t make me think, ‘Wow, so many superheroes, this will be beyond awesome’, but, ‘Where’s SuperWally?’
But I’ll watch it, I’ll doubtless enjoy it, and then I’ll pack away my Incredulity Stone and hang up my cartoon culture cape for good. In future I’ll be hunting out less convoluted and demanding distractions when I’m hungover. Twin Peaks: The Return, perhaps, or tracing the funding of Change UK.