Caveat: Mild Spoilers for Infinity War and Endgame. Let’s be honest: if you’re reading this review, you’ve likely already seen both of them by now.
Avengers: Endgame is a satisfying season finale to this 22-episode-and-counting TV series known as the MCU. Note that I didn’t say “conclusion.” While Endgame offers closure of sorts, there’ll be another Marvel film out this summer (Spider-Man is back!), and certainly plenty of other episodes for the new Disney+ platform. If the queue outside my local indie cinema waiting to fill the already-packed theatre is any indication, this comic book mythos isn’t going away any time soon.
Endgame is just So Much Motion Picture. The story picks up mere days after The Snap of Avengers: Infinity War, with the universe still emotionally reeling from the devastation wreaked by Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his bejeweled glove. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is lost in space with Nebula (Karen Gillan) as his sole companion while he slowly slips towards death. On Earth, the remaining Avengers are led and consoled in their grief by Steve Rogers (Chris Evans); he, along with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) plan a counterattack to get the Infinity Stones back from Thanos and kill him, a plan which only goes half right, and leaves the cosmos still distraught in their collective trauma.
In this, Endgame is all about grief following suffering; it’s a 3-hour Kubler-Ross model in blockbuster form, a constant spiral between denial, anger, bargaining, depression and (ultimately) acceptance and closure. It’s this latter word–closure–which feels like an appropriate descriptor, as Endgame attempts to wrap up narrative loose ties and offer a sort of collective catharsis after more than a decade of these films. It does this via two comfortable narrative forms: Time Travel and Get The Band Back Together. When Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) reemerges from the quantum realm five years later after a coincidental rat encounter, he arrives with a possible solution: go back in time and get the Infinity Stones before Thanos does. Simple enough. With strong parallels to the plot of X-Men: Days of Future Past (a film I found much more conceptually interesting, albeit not as amusing–Endgame is often genuinely hilarious), Endgame dives into the realm of the time loops, butterfly effects, and huge emotional stakes with verve and gusto. It also ends up being a great work of nostalgia, allowing our heroes to reenter the narratives we’ve all watched since 2008, chock full of cameos and familiar faces; the cast for Endgame is an enormous list of the major movie stars of our era, a reminder of how many incredibly talented actors have come and gone through the MCU. When the expected final showdown with Thanos finally arrives after 2+ hours of buildup, it feels genuinely thrilling.
Endgame‘s strengths are its balance of so many divergent characters and narrative threads, as well as its strong dedication to fan service. For the former, it’s especially satisfying to see the narrative arcs of Tony and Steve come to a satisfying and understandable resolution. The film also elevates some previously secondary characters–notably Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Nebula–to key roles in the story, giving them some well-deserved attention. Gillan’s performance as Nebula is noteworthy here, as she takes what could be an unlikeable or one-note character and really generates some emotional complexity, especially regarding her experience of trauma. For the latter (fan service), Endgame is understandably successful. My packed theatre was fully engaged for the entire three hours: we applauded, cheered, cried, laughed, and applauded some more. I say “we” because I, too, was caught up in the MCU fervor that such an environment generates. For better and for worse, this the major mythology that contemporary Western culture (and perhaps the globe) has embraced for itself. The Superhero film has truly become our Western.
IMDB Listing: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4154796/