The Marvel Cinematic Universe began in earnest when Tony Stark proclaimed, “I am Iron Man.” Then Nick Fury stepped out of the shadows and assembled a team. The movie industry shook. It was the beginning of something new; an unchartered holistic approach to franchise filmmaking and the genesis of a box office monolith unlike any to have ever proceeded it. Over the course of 21 films, the MCU has become the equivalent of global Saturday morning cartoons; serialized superhero adventure stories that somehow most of the world has bought into. And all that comes to a head in Avengers: Endgame, a movie that is so momentous, it’s difficult to classify in and amongst other general releases. Empty out your pockets now folks, cuz you’re gonna need to strap into this ride a few times.
Avengers: Endgame feels simply massive. In scale. In scope. In story. In cast list. Even the big battle sequences feel on a grander scale than anything we’ve seen from the MCU before, reaching towards Helm’s Deep levels of grandiose majesty. The amount of talent attached to the project is quite simply mind-boggling, with a cast that seemingly includes anyone and everyone who has in some shape or form lent their personage to Marvel productions before. But what makes Endgame such a fitting conclusion that works as well as it does is that for perhaps the first time in Marvel’s history, Endgame manages to throw the viewer off the scent, to buck traditional three-act structure and leave the majority of its story a big question mark…for most of its bladder-testing run-time.
After the events of Infinity Wars, the world is reeling. Stadiums lay empty. Trash bags line the streets. Support groups lament. Revenge is hot on the minds of super survivors Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and a few others who survived Thanos’ snap and have gone about trying to make sense in a world put over a denominator of two. The group plots to put the “avenge” into the Avengers and lay waste to a Mad Titan (Josh Brolin) who wants nothing more than to slink into the sunset sipping Pina Coladas and listening to Jimmy Buffet tracks. Everything changes when Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is jailbroken from the quantum realm and cooks up a scheme wherein the remaining Avengers might be able to right the ultimate wrong and set things right once and for all. Brothers in arms Anthony and Joe Russo, who also directed Winter Solider, Civil War and last year’s Infinity War for Marvel, had a massive undertaking in Endgame and aided by a take-no-prisoners script from MCU veterans Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, manage to check just about all the boxes. Stripping down the rogue’s gallery of Avengers to the main attraction of OG supers (plus Rocket, Ant-Man, and Nebula), the Russo Brothers fulfill the promise of bringing everything that came before them to a fitting close while also leaving the door open to a post-Endgame world. And in doing so, they charter a fitting tribute to the first dozen years of Marvel stories that leaves viewers with the series emotional high water marks as well of its most spectacular set pieces and story design to date.
In Infinity War, Doctor Strange postulated that there was but one in 14 million possible outcomes that would break the Avengers’ way and though Endgame ultimately brings us to a destination few will find actually surprising, the journey there is wild, hugely unexpected, and a totally imagination-run-amok blast. There’s so much of the nuts and bolts, and cross-pollination of this movie that must have been a total logistic nightmare but seeing it play out is the kind of bonkers superhero hi-jinx that make the genre so joyously livening, so lean-forward-into-the-screen captivating. I can’t imagine any studio taking such creative risks twelve years ago but with such a devoted fanbase, Marvel is able to take some pretty massive risks and play off their collective history in such a way that few movies can even dream of ever weaving into their storytelling structure. Basically, if you’ve been along for the ride this long, the dividends are pretty huge and any devoted fan is going to find themselves enrapt in what can only be described as a virtual Marvel attraction.
There’s plenty of humor to be found in Endgame, especially at the meaty hands of Thor, especially now that the Marvel writing room has discovered in Hemsworth a mighty comedic presence and carved him into their drop-dead deadpan ham, but the conclusion to the Infinity Saga is also riddled with pathos. There are emotionally charged reunions here that reveal a delicateness not typically associated with the Marvel brand and as the story moves some of its key characters towards their own endgame, moments carry with them the weight of a decade-plus of character investment. And fortunately, the Russos invest a large chunk of their runtime to character work.
Ever since Iron Man and Captain America threw in the towel on their relationship, fans have been awaited the proverbial burying of the hatchet and Endgame smartly pairs the two together no longer as ideological adversaries in supersuits but as men trying to preserve what stock they’ve carved out on this earth and how what’s worth fighting for for each of them may be at odds. Back in Iron Man, Stark changed the landscape of the known superhero universe which, in cinematic terms, had always driven a wedge between superhero and alter ego, by announcing his true identity. The Peter Parkers and the Spider-Mans, the Bruce Waynes and the Batmen; they have always been masked, lonely, splintered. With Tony Stark, we see a man whose divided self is actualized through his relationship with another: Steve Rogers, and Endgame finally seems to take the weighty moralizing that has fractured these two to task.
Throughout 21 feature films, Marvel has grappled with ideas of consequence, collateral damage, greater good, traumatic stress, and personal sacrifice, but it’s always come up somewhat short in the face of an Earth-shattering universal threat that leaves the team shaken but never really down in numbers, the only serious deaths taking place offscreen. The emotional stakes feel as real as ever here because of the Russos smart decision to champion character over action set pieces. In doing so, our heroes are as convincingly sketched as they have ever been in their epic 3-hour conclusion, perhaps their most earnest attempt yet to scratch at the humanity beneath the suits of iron and shields of steel. The Russos genuinely distress the chinks in the armor and show that despite superheroism fundamentally being about wish-fulfillment from an audience perspective, at the end of the day, being encased in armor or swinging a magical hammer or shrinking to the size of an ant is about sacrifice and sometimes that means taking one for the team.
CONCLUSION: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ accomplishes the magical task of wrapping up 12-years of storytelling while leaving the future bright and full of possibility and doing so in a nostalgic, self-referential, character-driven, technically-dazzling whirlwind that no other studio could really even dream of pulling off. It is the best Marvel movie to date.
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