After 11 years and 22 movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is heading towards a conclusion (of some sort). Starting with 2008’s Iron Man, a long cinematic narrative has been unfolding on the big screen, spawning close to a dozen franchises under the umbrella of Marvel in the process. Few could’ve guessed that this would have ever worked out, and many have failed to replicate its success, but even fewer could’ve predicted that the movies would be as good as they are. Now, the saga of the Avengers (at least the original six) is coming to a close. Does Endgame deliver? Let’s find out.
Following the events of Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) catastrophic snap in Infinity War, the surviving Avengers are left to find a way to move on in a universe that has lost half its population. Some thrive, some falter, and others just exist, but they all have to live with their failure. A spark of hope returns when Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is freed from the Quantum Realm, as seen in Ant-Man and the Wasp, and goes to find the Avengers. With the possibility of undoing the snap a reality, the heroes prepare to put it all on the line for the chance at restoring the world.
One of the unique aspects of the MCU is the way Marvel Studios has chosen to tell this story. Rather than just using sequels to their standalones, they chose to connect everything they produced, whether the ties are small or large. It gives the franchise the feel of a TV show, with each movie ending up more like an episode rather than a film on its own. With that in mind it’s important to know two things: Endgame feels like a series finale rather than another continuation, and it totally works.
This film would not work anywhere near as well as it does without the efforts of Joe and Anthony Russo, the directors. I spent the entirety of the film in awe of their talent, from their mastery of the action scenes to the restraint they show in the more dramatic moments. Some scenes in here are pure cinematic poetry, like seeing warp travel in space as a reflection through a character’s eyes or a scene transition happening as Thor’s cape flows over the camera. The movie’s dramatic moments are just beautiful, and surprisingly well-crafted for a franchise that doesn’t really have to put that much effort into anything to get butts in seats.
Speaking of the drama, I can’t stress enough how pleased I was to see a Marvel movie that takes the time to really sit with the characters like this one does. The first part of the film is very somber and has little action, instead showcasing our characters actually discussing what has happened and how it has affected them. And you’re not missing anything by not having big action or having a joke undercutting the pathos every three seconds. This is true drama, and it is compelling, well-written stuff. I hope this encourages Marvel to not be so afraid of doing things like this in the future.
The drama carries as well as it does because the actors are so great, and they all do tremendous work. It’s kind of easy praise to say that Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Hemsworth are great, but the truth is that they are and that this is their best work as the Marvel Trinity to date. The pain of their failure stings in different ways, and they all carry themselves in such a heartbreaking way that it is very affecting. For the first time since he joined the MCU I thought Paul Rudd did a fantastic job as well, not only playing the comedy relief but also the tragedy of the situation. Karen Gillan is also great as Nebula, and while I can’t spoil what happens let’s just say we’re reminded of how far she’s come since the first Guardians, in a good way.
My personal MVPs were Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner, who both brought their A-games to the movie and really won me over on characters that I thought had been handled pretty… lackluster so far. Hawkeye in particular has gotten the shaft (archery puns! I love ‘em!), but I thought Renner really brought it home here. We finally get to see the long-standing friendship between these characters on full display, including the ups and downs, and it is surprisingly moving. One of the scenes between Hawkeye and Black Widow brought me closest to tears because it was so powerful.
Finally, the humor of the movie is really on point, and I actually laughed at most of the jokes here. The film wasn’t bending over backwards to shove quips in like they mostly do, the jokes actually added something to the story. They released the tension in scenes in a natural way, using the right characters (primarily Thor and Ant-Man). Even then, everyone has a good one liner or two and a moment to show their comedy chops, and it just all works.
I know everyone is jumping on the bandwagon of “best superhero movie ever” in regards to this movie, and I certainly see why they might. As the culmination of the entire MCU storyline, it can be very overwhelming and emotional for the fans to see it all end. While I really liked the film, though, I had two big problems that knock it down just a tad. Please put down the pitchforks, folks, I’m not about to rip the movie and it’s still excellent! I promise!
My first complaint is… well, I can’t say any specifics, but let’s just say that the way the Avengers decide to defeat Thanos is a little inconsistent. They spend quite a bit of time setting up the rules of this plan, almost to the point of overkill, and use lots of science jargon that went way over my head. And then the entire movie goes and breaks all of those rules, if nothing else but to get the characters from Point A to B without any concern for the logic of it all. Honestly once I suspected that this was where they were going with the plot, I was afraid that this would be a lazy writer’s tool to skate by writing a real solution, and lo and behold it was. If they hadn’t made such a big deal of it I could’ve let it slide, and it doesn’t completely ruin the fun of the second act, but it is a massive hole in an otherwise tight script.
Second, I was very disappointed with the use of Thanos in this film. After all the great build-up to make him such a compelling character in Infinity War, it’s a little sad to see him reduced to nothing more than a final boss in Endgame. I can’t spoil how he’s used, but I honestly thought it was pretty lame myself, and robbed the final battle against him of a lot of emotional heft. The guy still obviously is a physical threat so the fight is still cool to watch, I just didn’t feel as invested as I think I would have been otherwise.
Despite my complaints, with this film and the franchise in general, Endgame truly is like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. The world’s longest cinematic story has come to an end, and while Marvel is unlikely to reach these heights again (and I honestly think this should be the end of the whole thing), they deserve all the respect in the world for what they’ve accomplished. Endgame is about as perfect a conclusion as you can get for the tale of the Avengers, and a real cinematic miracle in that it not only works, but that it is a fantastic film. Do yourself a favor and see this film, fan or not, because you won’t see anything like it in our lifetime.
My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Avengers: Endgame is in theaters now. Like you didn’t know that already.
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