AVENGERS: ENDGAME Review: The Marvel Experiment Pays Off Massively
Disclaimer: Though I have kept this piece as free of spoilers as possible, there are specific events that occur early in the film that make it impossible to discuss without the context those events provide. These events pertain exclusively to setting up the plot and narrative, but since these details were not featured in any marketing materials for the film, I will consider them MILD SPOILERS and encourage you to come back once you’ve seen the film if you do not want to know about them ahead of time.
When Avengers: Infinity War was released last year, the sense of a bittersweet ending to Marvel’s decade-long experiment was obvious to expect. But few could’ve imagined a conclusion so devastating and downbeat as our heroes failing, and that failure meaning the genocide of half the universe - and half of the franchise’s cast with it. The grand scope of the narrative and its consequences delivered a punch of such magnitude it was difficult to see where this story could go after.
Marvel left plenty of guesswork for fans and cynics alike, keeping even so much as a basic plot for the follow-up, Endgame, tightly under wraps. The expected route for the sequel to go would be a revenge mission, taking the fight back to the Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) and reverse what he did. Assumptions of this reversal, according to many skeptics, robbed Infinity War's cliffhanger of any substantial meaning. What’s the point of getting upset if everyone is just gonna come back in the next film? What catharsis lay in such a weightless resolution?
Endgame goes about the business of refuting such skepticism immediately, seeing the surviving Avengers off on their revenge mission within the first ten minutes. Upon finding Thanos, they find a wounded creature, his strength given up to destroy the Infinity Stones that he used for his mission. By the fifteen minute mark, Thanos is dead, the team even more adrift than before. Their revenge is empty, their mission impossible, their grief all-consuming. This won’t be undone so easily.
A significant time jump later and the film proper begins on what equates to Marvel’s version of The Leftovers. The world is having trouble moving on, and each of our heroes is struggling in their own way. The first act devotes a refreshing amount of time to showing where each member of the team is as they try to pick up their broken pieces. The trauma is real, and the film forces them to sit with it, sorting it out for themselves - or, in some cases, not. This section serves as an opportunity to show the actors stepping into the torn psychology of the characters they’ve spent ten years bringing to vibrant life. The transformations are endlessly surprising, most significantly that of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, demonstrating a wonderful balancing act of comedic and dramatic chops for an affectingly damaged version of his character. Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk has gone the opposite direction in what may become the definitive incarnation of the monster on screen. And of course, Captain America (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), the long-time core of the team, still have their own interpersonal issues to resolve in ways both lovely and heart-breaking.
Robert Downey, Jr.
Christopher Markus &
The drama of the first act is serious and mournful, but never dour, before transforming into something unbelievably hopeful and endlessly delightful in the second act. The reappearance of Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) ushers the film into what is best described as a Greatest Hits reel of the franchise before an epic climax unlike anything seen in a comic book film before. There’s a lot of movie to parse through on the way, and the film moves at such a rapid clip that there’s little time to dwell on potentially confusing mechanics or reminiscences of lesser loved moments. There’s always something even wilder and more fun right around the corner, and being able to keep up is a paramount joy. That doing so is so easy is a credit not just to writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for balancing the insane number of moving parts, but the ridiculous task of laying the groundwork to get here done by producer Kevin Feige and all the various filmmakers who came before.
Those who haven’t already bought wholesale into the Marvel experiment won’t see far beyond the naked fan service that Endgame indulges in, and there’s certainly a surplus of cheer-worthy moments. But if the box office projections are any indication, most of us bought in long ago as we watched this epic saga grow into the unthinkable. What Marvel has accomplished is nothing short of monumental. Many imitators have come, and all have failed spectacularly. A film like Endgame should not be possible: a capper to ten years of films with a cast of dozens, concluding each of their stories with satisfactorily flying colors, and dropping thrillingly Big Idea weirdness, humor, and spectacle all along the way as it does it while expecting audiences to just roll with it. That such a film consistently remains grounded in emotional truth, and happens to also be the best of such films, is even more incredible. It will never be topped, if replicated at all. Given the circumstances, massive indulgence is more than warranted.
Avengers: Endgame is currently playing in theaters everywhere