11 years and 22 feature length films and it has come down to this.
Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe film to out-marvel them all, and the fourth Avengers film (or fifth if you count the unofficial Captain America: Civil War) that assembles the biggest and mightiest superheroes in the galaxy, arrives amidst the kind of intensity and expectation that is seen perhaps once in a lifetime.
The prequel, Avengers: Infinity War, released a year ago powered to an unusual ending, the now famous Thanos snap that launched a wipeout of half of the planet’s human inhabitants. We watched in horror as many of our favorites went with the wind, unsure if there was a corrective that would bring them back and confident only in the fact that some of them had movies lined up in the future. As it turns out, there is no safety even in this knowledge.
For the first hour or so, Avengers: Endgame could almost pass for a modest drama making a play for the festival circuit. It features the still traumatized survivors of the Thanos snap, hollowed out, sulking and unsure of how to move on with their lives. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, the visionary team behind some of the MCU’s finest outings (Captain America: Winter Soldier and Avengers: Infinity War,) Endgame is a potent, intoxicating reflection on loss and sacrifice and the extent human beings- and deities- are willing to go.
Thor has been hit pretty bad by the loss of his beloved home and the defeat to super villain/Malthusian environmentalist, Thanos (Josh Brolin). Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark/Iron Man, stopped in his tracks for perhaps the first time in his fabulously wealthy life, has resigned into a comfortable life of domesticity with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is still Steve Rogers, which is to say, still haunted by memories of the past and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye- who wasn’t in the last film- appears to have taken up street fighting, looking to take out minor characters who were complicit in helping Thanos achieve success.
It falls then to Scarlett Johanson’s Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow to pull together what remains of the original Avengers team even while meditating on the ones she lost herself. There is also Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/The Hulk who has settled in quite nicely into body positivity and a winking love for the cameras.
The team is triggered when Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang/Antman returns from some cosmic time purgatory and brings with him fresh hope that Thanos’ evil can be undone.
As expected, the writing team’s decision to go in this direction leads to some dodgy science but it is hard to fault the sentimentality and fan service that this enables. The screenplay leads to thrilling easter eggs and strategic throwbacks to some of the earlier films in the series. Hardcore fans will surely relish the opportunity to meet up with characters they never thought they would see again. In this regard, Avengers: Endgame is a love letter to the MCU, put together by a team that has genuine love for the comic books and characters that inspired the series.
While Infinity War often felt like a series of rapid-fire action films, the Russo brothers save most of the action in the three-hour long Endgame for the lavish, spectacular finale that thrills and satisfies on every level. Comic lovers, action fanboys and regular filmgoers will find themselves yelling in solidarity as the Russo brothers and their CGI team serve up a visual feast that will surely be referenced for many years to come.
But beyond the adrenalin rush, Endgame takes its responsibility quite seriously and goes on to map the emotional beats that the end of this phase of the MCU represents. Some characters must take their bow, never to be seen again, while some merely transition into the next phase of their journey. Endgame is less concerned with the newer members of team and saves most of its energy for the older team members, giving most of them, emotional showcases that are worthy of their characters. The ending is at once bittersweet, satisfying and a fitting closure for all that has come before.
It took 11 years, 22 films and millions of fans amassed with every film to make the Endgame possible. The MCU team can either choose to take comfort in the record-breaking gazillions that Endgame is sure to mint. Or they can commend themselves for changing the film business irrevocably. Either way, a win is a win.