Not since The Crying Game have countless moviegoers shown as much restraint as the recent #DontSpoilTheEndgame campaign. I agree that Avengers: Endgame deserves to be experienced fresh, with little to no knowledge of its details. I will, however, spoil this much: The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) does not, in fact, end afterwards. Yet it probably should, simply because there is no conceivable way the Marvel/Disney trust (even with Sony and Fox on board) can top themselves afterwards.
In order to conclude their 22-movie magnum opus, Marvel Studios has thrown everything AND the kitchen sink out of some theoretical wormhole that is the drain of some cosmic kitchen sink in an feedback-looped high-wire juggling feat of quantum kitchen sinks. You may or may not like Avengers: Endgame, but the experience it represents has never been achieved before in cinema. There is a chance that it will never again be duplicated.
Avengers: Endgame in a Nutshell
Again, I tread lightly through a minefield of spoilers given that, conceivably, some of you might yet have not seen The Empire Strikes Ba… sorry… Avengers: Infinity War. So here goes: Earth’s mightiest heroes failed to stop big purple space meanie Thanos (Josh Brolin) last time and now deal with the consequences of their actions.
Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are stranded in space. Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce “Hulk” Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper/Sean Gunn) attempt to move on, with varying degrees of success. Clint “Hawkeye” Barton (Jeremy Renner) has gone rogue, unable to cope.
The arrival of a new ally – Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers (Brie Larson) – brings a sliver of hope. Then Scott “Ant-Man” Lang (Paul Rudd) seemingly returns from among the fallen with a strategy. This new ragtag team of Avengers bands together in a last-ditch effort to defeat Thanos and save the universe. Yet some of them have more to lose now and might not be ready, or willing, to set things right.
Straighter to the Point
Last year I praised how Avengers: Infinity War doesn’t waste a second of its two-and-a-half-hours. Endgame clocks in at more than THREE hours and, judging by my first viewing, I wouldn’t cut a single scene. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, together with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, basically created the briskest blockbuster in history. Just like its predecessor, Avengers: Endgame is the right amount of morbid in tone and then just plain fun the rest of the way through. Casual viewers of superhero flicks will surely find something to latch onto, even though they are not the target audience. That Venn diagram encompasses the fans who’ve stuck around for 11 years and watched all 22 MCU movies about witty, colorful, powerful girls and boys.
And wow, do producer Kevin Feige and his team over at Marvel Studios love their fans. If you’ve ever watched one of their motion pictures, you will find a callback to it in Endgame, none of which are gratuitous. Furthermore, if you have any investment in the MCU, you’re painfully aware that this may be the last rodeo for some of its longest-running characters. You can be sure they all get an appropriately emotional send-off here.
Mind you, I don’t mean these heroes cannot – or will not – come back in another Marvel movie. I’m saying they won’t get a better curtain call than the one they get here. Besides, anybody can “wear the mask” as we learned on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. They’re all ideals, anyway, and the MCU has plenty of faces to fill any void. (An old comic book adage reads: “Nobody stays dead in comics apart from Bucky Barnes, Uncle Ben and Jason Todd.” At least two of those came back eventually.)
Let me take a moment to highlight some of the players both in front of and behind the scenes. Brie Larson, as Captain Marvel, gets to be cool without getting overused. Paul Rudd is a treasure as the always-in-over-his-head Ant-Man. It’s beautiful to see Mark Ruffalo ease into his dual role. His
Hulk/Banner performance in Endgame leaps past what he does in Thor: Ragnarok and the original Avengers.
Speaking of Thor, we should all thank the MCU overlords that they’ve let Chris Hemsworth loosen up as the God of Thunder. Hemsworth has a preternatural charm and charisma. Here he relies on those to the fullest, playing against type to show Thor hide insecurities he never thought he could have.
Again, Josh Brolin knocks it out of the park as Thanos, the antago-nastiest of antagonists. Every single nuance of his performance is captured in his CGI rendering. You never doubt throughout the film that Thanos is there, a sentient, deeply flawed being. If there’s any difference between Brolin’s role in Infinity War and Endgame it’s that here he seems to enjoy the part more, dialing the Evil up to 11.
Sound and Fury
The rest of the cast is also top notch here, especially Johansson and Barton. Both Oscar-caliber actors finally get to “emote” in their über-spy roles. Yet, in case there was any doubt, Avengers: Endgame belongs to both Robert Downey Jr. as Tony and Chris Evans as Steve. They are the heart and soul of the Marvel Studios film lineup and they can play each part in their sleep.
Also, a round of applause to composer Alan Silvestri, whose bombastic themes have accompanied many an MCU joint. (Including two out of three Avengers films.) Here he juggles countless motifs for different superheroes masterfully – many of which he did not compose himself. During the more heartfelt story beats, Silvestri’s score channels emotions without calling attention to itself. Easily his best work since the Back to the Future trilogy. Appropriate for Avengers: Endgame, if you think about it. (Hush, you’ve said too much!)
Whether Avengers: Endgame works as a standalone movie is almost irrelevant, for it works on a different level. As I said speaking of Infinity War, Feige’s gambit has been to produce a four-season big-screen TV show. In this context, Endgame is the season finale that also works as a series finale. Just in case the “show” doesn’t get renewed. Which of course it will, possibly with some cast tweaking.
Spectacle aside, Avengers: Endgame succeeds because it ultimately deals with loss and learning to move on. The film almost functions as an AA serenity prayer for kids, focusing just as much on the heroics as it does on failure and how to cope. Endgame, like Game of Thrones or other climate change allegories, celebrates life by punctuating both on its fleeting nature and on what we can do to preserve it. An impressive achievement in current-day family entertainment, quite frankly.
I suspect even those who seldom follow MCU films will dig the sheer epic overload of this whole enterprise. Viewers might get confused (I got tangled up a bit myself). Some might straight up not care at all when it’s over. But nobody will be bored by this massive roller coaster. After experiencing Avengers: Endgame, I predict many will shed a tear.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Avengers: Endgame features the last cameo ever from the late Stan Lee. I cannot think of a fonder farewell for the man behind Marvel than a literal ride into the sunset with one of his famous catchphrases written rather than spoken.
Now showing only in theaters.
Movie title: Avengers: Endgame
Movie description: An impressive achievement in blockbuster storytelling, 11 years in the making, that may never occur again in cinema.
Date published: 2019-04-29
Director(s): Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Actor(s): Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Don Cheadle, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn, Zoë Saldaña
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy