For some 11 years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building up to this Endgame. From Iron Man in 2008 through to movies about interstellar pirates, ants and arachnids, Scandinavian gods, Eastern European killers, prestigiditational physicians, and many more, a veritable galaxy of characters has been summoned for this moment.
The last Avengers film, Infinity War, saw battles over the MacGuffin puzzle pieces that tie many of these mythologies together, the Infinity Stones wielded in a gauntlet held by Josh Brolin’s CGI avatar, Thanos. That movie ended on a bum note, resulting in the destruction of huge swaths of the pantheon fading into dust.
Endgame starts off with the ramifications of that event. Our usually gallant heroes are made miserable by the catastrophe and impotent in their response. A five-year ellipsis finds even less hope, as all but a few are coming to terms with the new normal. Some that survived the cull include the newly introduced Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Scott “Ant-Man” Lang (Paul Rudd), whose return is welcome both narratively and tonally. Lang’s sardonic asides provide an antidote to some of the somber musings of his colleagues.
A grand plan is constructed to re-assemble what had been torn asunder, using a variety of means that can probably be suspected but I’ll leave to the imagination for fear of dreaded spoilers. At three hours long, Endgame is granted the rare privilege of giving a wide variety of characters their moments to shine, yet even then some get short shrift as mere cameos, some even unspoken. The film explicitly revisits the franchise’s greatest hits, and those who have gone along for the ride through these almost two dozen movies will be rewarded for their efforts. The film will probably feel like a nonsensical mess for those not initiated, but fans who have delved into the minutiae of these narratives are sure to be satisfied with the degree to which this film allows for ret-conning without sacrificing what came before. It creates an ending quite suitable to all that has been laid down to this point.
Like any end to an epic, some things in the movie are far too convenient for comfort. Part of that has to do with characters who go beyond even the power of gods, including Thor. Captain Marvel needs to go off and wander lest she take all the credit. This balance isn’t new, nor unique for this storyline, but it feels awkward to wait around for things to be tidied up as we all know they inevitably will be. The film owes considerably to epics like Lord of the Rings, a franchise that begs the question as to why the damn eagles didn’t just fly everyone where they needed to go. This is something that simply has to be accepted, like people bursting into song in musicals. If the Danvers ex machina is going to bother you, you’ve probably already checked out long before.
The Russo brothers shoot Endgame with a suitably somber palette, even as they revisit elements drawn from other aspects of the franchise. If anything, this film does more to cohere all that’s come before than any of the previous entries, since it has less to set up and can revel in knocking things down or building them up in unexpected ways.
A poignancy to the performances also feels earned, as any end-of-the-marathon allows for moments of reflection and catharsis. This is the first of these movies to not need an end credit sequence to tease something else to come, given that we’re finally at the place long promised.
So, was it worth the journey? Sure. This is a better Avengers movie than at least two of them, and while it doesn’t quite make enough space for all the participants, it does give enough to the core characters to make this feel more than worthwhile. There’s a moment when Thanos asks “Who are you?” – a sentiment that general audiences will likely share as people from scattered narratives all come from out of the woodwork. Yet none of that really matters, as spectacle gives way to heroic journeys fulfilled, quests finally culminating and closure finally reached.
This of course doesn’t spell the demise of this type of storytelling, but Endgame surely has to be seen as the success that Kevin Feige and the rest of the Marvel army dreamed of when looking for a comic book-style megaverse of blockbuster movies to interconnect. It all leads here (even if the next Spider-Man technically ends Phase III). I still prefer the individual films to these greatest hits assemblages, but the Avengers movies allow for the greatest resets in the shortest period of time, and allow certain characters (like Hawkeye and Hulk, to name two) to excel in ways that a dedicated film simply does not.
The end is here with Avengers: Endgame, and it’ll surely gain all the riches it’s promised to reap. There are surprises but no shocks, revelations and resets that allow the next phases of this journey to take place. Some heroes will be left behind or at least transformed, while other things will thrive in different ways. The collection of these five stones and their meaning is over, and now all that’s left is to mine one of the millions of other storylines one can draw from these sources. Yet take a moment for a bit of nostalgia for this project alone. Whatever comes next won’t quite be this, won’t quite be what Marvel has built up to this point.
Well played, Endgame. You made it to the finale after all.