The original Avengers go out with a bang (or a snap) in a bloated but largely satisfying adventure.
Where do I start with this, dear reader? How do I even describe the events of the three-hour opus that is Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of eleven years and nearly two dozen films’ worth of synergistic superhero storytelling, without spoiling anything? I might as well draw big black bars through half of this review and write [HARM TO ONGOING MATTER] on top; that might be the safest bet. Try as I might to avoid even the barest of plot details, the basest structure must be explored, so I’ll try to restrict it to what you can reasonably glean from the trailers.
Then again, it’s not about the destination, is it? It’s about the journey, which is something that Endgame takes very seriously.
Independent of its explorations of life after Thanos (Josh Brolin) snapped half the universe away in Infinity War, whether or not the remaining Avengers can get back at him and reverse the Snappening, Endgame shines best when it’s a somber, fully-focused retrospective on the franchise whose culmination this film serves. It’s no wonder that the original core Avengers crew survived the Snap – Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, reappearing in this film after being absent from the last one) and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) – as Joe and Anthony Russo‘s film focuses tightly on them, their wants, needs and desires.
A good deal of Endgame sees Earth’s mightiest heroes in mourning, scrambling to find meaning and purpose in the wake of failure; there’s a weariness to the film’s first act, in particular, that the Russos treat with remarkable commitment. These are people for whom the effects of the Snap have had great consequences, and similarly great cause for reflection; in the wake of half the universe being destroyed, some lose themselves in their work, others lose themselves entirely and become something else. Others, some unexpected, find a measure of equilibrium after these events, thus making the possibility of getting back at Thanos and fixing what’s happened – thanks to the timely arrival of Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) – much more complicated.
Much like Infinity War, Endgame has to be a lot of things at once – it’s a superhero blockbuster that’s also an ensemble drama that’s also a season finale that’s also a retrospective on the films that have come before it. Thankfully, the Snap makes the character parts a bit easier, paring down the cast to the original Avengers, a few remaining stragglers in Nebula (Karen Gillan), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Rhodey/War Machine (Don Cheadle), as well as new arrival Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), all of whom make small but vital contributions to the drama in various ways.
Visually, the Russos still have the same problems they’ve always had – a comparatively bland color palette, a workmanlike sense of action spectacle that can make some fights feel muddled, etc. But they’re great with humor and character, which is nifty because there’s not as much action in Endgame as you’d think. So much of the film’s three-hour runtime lets its characters sit, breathe, talk, and mull over the cosmic, existential stakes of everything they do. Tony, Cap and (surprisingly enough) Nebula get the brunt of this – their adventures throughout space (and, if you can believe it, time) allowing them to see the people they’ve become through glimpses of the people they used to be. The second act offers our characters – and us – the opportunity to revisit some of the most important moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; they certainly play the hits, and even some deeper cuts are given a context that lends them greater value. (Perhaps Endgame‘s strangest victory will be encouraging people to revisit one of the most lukewarmly-received MCU movies; I’ll leave you to guess which one that is.)
“Everybody fails at being who they’re supposed to be,” says one character in the middle of Endgame‘s deceptively-inventive scheme to recover the Infinity Stones and reverse the Snap – one dead mentor of many that may run across our heroes’ paths before the end. “The true sign of a hero is succeeding at being who they are.” Nearly every major player in Endgame is fighting against their destiny – Thor as King of Asgard, Tony as his father’s son, Cap as a man forever out of his own time, even Nebula as the daughter of Thanos – and their own personal journeys are elegantly woven into the fabric of Endgame‘s grander scope.
Endgame is the best possible love letter to the Marvel Cinematic Universe one could muster, a big, sloppy kiss to its fans and the game cast of characters that made these movies so appealing.
Inasmuch as Endgame surprises by being at least mostly a big-budget character piece, its final act is the big, messy spectacle you’ve been waiting for – a show-stopping, overstuffed climax whose fist-pumping superhero appeal is almost eclipsed by its overwhelming scale. Nearly everyone gets something to do, even if it’s just in the background, a melee that’d put The Battle of Helm’s Deep to shame at least in terms of sheer size. (One particular moment of girl-power solidarity is sure to send a flight of Extremely Angry Online men straight to Twitter to complain about the feminist agenda; to them I say fie, it’s fun as hell.)
Once all the dust settles, though, it’s refreshing to see Endgame stick to its guns and commit to some truly universe-changing circumstances for its characters and the world they inhabit. Despite the circumstances of the Avengers’ plan, there are fewer reset buttons to be found than one might think – make no mistake, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be forever changed after this one.
Endgame absolutely has its flaws – some of its pacing in its first and third acts are wonky as hell, some characters (like, unfortunately, Captain Marvel herself) aren’t as well-integrated into the larger story as one would like, and there are some questionable choices with how the film treats some of Marvel’s women. Hawkeye’s journey, in particular, is weighed down by a baffling character rebrand, Last Samurai-style, and an even more ridiculous haircut. But all in all, it’s just a miracle that we’ve reached this point, the end of a road that started all the way back in 2008 when Tony Stark banged out a metal suit in Afghanistan.
While this is by no means the end of the MCU – hell, we’ve got a Spider-Man movie to contend with in a matter of weeks, which just goes to show how much Marvel’s marketing team wants you to know about what happens here – this feels like the definitive closing of a chapter, especially for some of the MCU’s founding members. Endgame is the best possible love letter to the Marvel Cinematic Universe one could muster, a big, sloppy kiss to its fans and the game cast of characters that made these movies so appealing in the first place. Where the MCU goes from here, few can say beyond Spidey’s upcoming adventures in Europe. but Endgame leaves them in a pretty good place, leaving room for our new crop of heroes to make their mark while putting the old crew satisfying out to pasture in various ways.