Okay, let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way right up front. Avengers: Endgame is, quite possibly, the biggest piece of event cinema in the history of the medium. It carries with it the unprecedented burden of needing to provide not only a satisfactory epitaph to more than 20 wildly popular films, but also serve as a launchpad for the next phase of the franchise. Beyond this, Endgame needs to put bows on innumerable subplots and character arcs (some of which have been in progress for over a decade), justify a three-hour runtime, and somehow carve out its own identity as a unique, enjoyable movie.
The fact that the franchise has made it this far is nothing short of incredible. What’s even more incredible is that, against all odds, Avengers: Endgame succeeds at just about everything it sets out to achieve. It is unquestionably the best Avengers movie, and arguably the best film in the MCU.
It is also, it should be noted, essentially a three-hour monument to itself. Anyone who has read any of my previous Marvel reviews (or has ever engaged in passing conversation with me) knows that I share a difficult relationship with the series. I’ve always been impressed by its ambitious structure and consistent level of quality, but also aggravated by each installment’s manufactured feeling and general homogeny. Endgame isn’t necessarily exempt from these complaints, but I will say this: I was having such a phenomenal time watching the movie that I just didn’t care.
In this sense, the film’s self-referential (or self-indulgent, depending on your perspective) nature never left a sour taste in my mouth. Instead, it reminded me that somewhere beneath the highly corporate system that powered these movies to stardom, there is a loud, beating heart. Perhaps for the first time, I felt what it was like to just be a fully committed, totally enraptured fan. This is why there is no differentiation between Disney’s Marvel’s MCU rating and my own personal score this time around. Endgame worked well enough that, for once, there might as well have been no difference.
Discussing this film without spoiling anything is extraordinarily challenging because even talking about why the story was so fun and engaging would ruin some of its best moments. When I reviewed Infinity War, my chief complaint was that the “Thanos Snap” moment was effective in a vacuum, but was ultimately a cheap, emotionally manipulative trick. The film has a plot-vital object called the Time Stone, which is used to hijack the flow of time during the third act, so how were audience members supposed to buy into any of the established stakes or consequences?
Within the first 20 minutes of Endgame, it became apparent that the filmmakers were aware of this issue, and made some extremely clever choices to subvert audience expectations. The plot veers off in unexpected directions, with conflict coming from where I least expected. Again, I can’t spoil anything (lest the internet crucify me), but the way that my complaint vis-a-vis time manipulation is ultimately resolved is teetering dangerously close to brilliance.
Additionally, the film makes extraordinary use of its ample runtime to really dig into the minds and emotions of the main characters. This is particularly evident in the arcs of two individuals: Captain America and Hawkeye. I don’t care about Hawkeye. I have never cared about Hawkeye. He’s boring, underwritten or overwritten depending on the film, and brings absolutely nothing of value to his fictional team or the stories he’s included in. Endgame made me care about Hawkeye.
I also, I’m sorry to say, don’t care about good ol’ Cap. He’s the same kind of dull, cookie-cutter always-good all-American Boy Scout as Superman, and there’s just not a lot there for me to get into. Endgame made me root for Captain America, laugh alongside Captain America, cheer for Captain America, and eventually shed one manly tear in regards to Captain America’s story. I’m not proud, but it’s the truth.
Honorable mention goes out to Thor’s arc in this movie as well. I certainly didn’t see it coming, but holy hell was it a riot.
One of the best things about Infinity War was the dynamic introduced through unexpected pairings of characters. Iron Man and Starlord; Rocket and Bucky, Thor and literally everyone. It was pure gold. That idea is replicated in Endgame to slightly less compelling effect. Then again, with so many characters missing (having been dustified and all) most of the heavy lifting fell on the core cast, all of whom are quite familiar with one another by this point.
In retrospect, what strikes me most about Avengers: Endgame is how virtually every significant moment feels deserved. When hurtling towards a conclusion, stories have a nasty tendency to rush straight for the biggest moments, making the last season/final installment feel like a rapidly progressing series of payoffs rather than the natural conclusion to a story. I recently wrote about this regarding the final season of Game of Thrones.
If you had told me even two days ago that I would be criticizing the writing of GOT in the same paragraph as I praise the writing of a film in the MCU, I’d probably have fallen over laughing. And yet, here we are.
Endgame begins quietly and ends perfectly. Everything that happens in between is admittedly drenched in fan service, but never once does it feel unearned. Some of this can be credited to the film’s bladder-testing length, and even more to the extraordinary history that led audiences to this moment. Marvel movies weren’t always the behemoth they are today, and the MCU was hardly more than a pipedream when Iron Man was released all the way back in 2008.
Its growth and success have changed the face of cinema as we know it, both for better and for worse. Avengers films have set records, broken them, and then done it all again. Endgame is poised to crush dozens of global box office records this weekend alone, and the MCU is the biggest entertainment franchise in the world, surpassing even Star Wars. It’s made missteps along the way and even produced a few legitimate stinkers. Through all of this, it can be hard to remember that it all started with a down on his luck Robert Downey Jr. hammering away at some metal in a cave. Ever since then, astronomical success has turned the MCU into a household name, a global brand, and a conquering force.
But Endgame remembers how it all began. It reminds and rewards fans in the best way possible, and provides a truly spectacular conclusion to one of the most ambitious experiments in film history.