This is my Spoiler-Free Review
Let’s all take a moment and appreciate Marvel’s accomplishments. Eleven years ago, they took characters once thought of as cinematic nonstarters and used them to create a cinematic dynasty. Across twenty-one films, all with fresh Rotten Tomatoes scores, they’ve constructed a universe of inter-connected movies and team-ups that transcended the comic book nerd audience and became a mainstream phenomenon.
These movies are box-office sure things now, but remember what a gamble Iron Man seemed to be? Who would have guessed we’d be at this point ten years later. The films demonstrate a faith in Marvel’s narrative skill, coupled with a cast of charismatic, capable performers, and that faith paid office in box office smash after box office smash. This kind of rippling across multiple films narrative has never succeeded, and Marvel made it appear effortless.
Avengers: Endgame feels like the pinnacle of the Russo Brothers’ involvement with the MCU, creating a film in which the humor rests comfortably next to the film’s solemnity and lingering heartbreak. Like Infinity War, it unites Earth’s Avengers with the galactic MCU, but it does so more effectively. The unifying feels character-driven, rather than plot-driven.
The film opens with a grim reminder of Infinity War’s closing moments before flashing forward to show us how those left behind (which pointedly includes all of the original Avengers) are trying to handle the loss. Whether it’s burying themselves in a rage-induced abyss, working to build a new life from the ashes, or searching for a way to save everyone that died (with a little help from Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel), the film focuses on its characters in a way Infinity War never got around to doing.
This carries with it a sense of closure, while Infinity War was comprised solely of a plot that would inevitably be undone.
By contrast, Endgame is a film about grief and mourning, as well as a willingness to risk everything to rectify past mistakes and resurrect what was lost. Actually, Endgame shines brightest when it reminds us how much these characters have lost, even before the snap felt throughout the universe. After all, this isn’t the first time they’ve had to deal with grief. They’ve lost parents, loved ones, and friends along their narrative journeys. There’s a massive amount of trauma and emotional baggage resting on those well-sculpted shoulders. Of course they’d work to reverse Thanos’s actions.
How much more death can their psyches stand? The movie is about the inability to move on and accept an ending, while reminding audiences that, even if the characters don’t, they have to accept an ending has happened.
The Russo Brothers, as they have done throughout their Marvel careers, have made a film in which narrative boxes have to be ticked but manage to do so in a way that never feels by the numbers and never loses sight of the characters at its center. It balances humor, sentiment, action, and spectacle without losing its way. It’s easy to take this kind of success for granted, writing it as off as “that’s just what the Russo Brothers do,” but this kind of cinematic magic tragic is difficult to accomplish, much less excel at. Endgame is over three hours long, but you never feel the time. It zips along with a sense of elation that a multi-film arc is finally coming together.
Cleverly calling back to previous franchise installments, with a few comic book-exclusive allusions thrown in for good measure, Endgame pulls together narrative threads from twenty-one previous films, crafting a beautiful, intricately planned tapestry, with a few unexpected cameos thrown in for good measure. We see how many narrative breadcrumbs have been scattered throughout the MCU in a way that makes Endgame feel like a narratively and emotionally well-strategized series finale to a television show we’ve been watching for over a decade. There’s even a subtle, poignant callback to Iron Man 3 if you know to look for it.
The cast is uniformly strong, with everyone doing franchise-best work. Renner is finally given material that made me care about Hawkeye, and his emotional arc feels especially poignant. Scarlet Johansson finds the appropriate balance between grief and steely resolve for Black Widow’s plight to feel poignant.
Karen Gillan’s Nebula is also finally given a chance to show what a compelling screen presence she can be. Mark Ruffalo finds the perfect balance between Bruce Banner and the Hulk, while Chris Hemsworth leans into his own unique brand of goofy charm, while also showing us he’s hiding immense angst. Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang remains as delightful and charming as ever.
Really, though, the film’s heart belongs to Chris Evan’s Steve Rogers and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. Captain America shouldn’t work as a character. He should feel out of place and unbearably hokey in the Avengers’ world. He’s literally a man from a bygone era. Instead, Evans imbued the character with a poignantly defined sense of decency, optimism, and sincerity, standing in opposition to a world that rolls its eyes at such traits. He became the necessary heart of the Avengers ensemble.
Meanwhile, Robert Downey Jr.’s quick-witted, manic, hyper-verbal, idiosyncratic performance remains the franchise’s best. He grieves, rages, and quips, while also being given several warm, familial moments, and he makes them all look effortless. He took Tony Stark, a role that fits him as snugly as one of his metallic suits, and made him not only bearable but created a character you loved, because you saw the decent core beneath his superficial bravado. We’re probably not at a point where they award non-posthumous Oscars for acting in a superhero film, but it would be nice to see Downey Jr. break through that barrier.
I went into this film with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety, confident that Marvel would be able to pull off this grand experiment while worrying that if they didn’t, it would diminish my enjoyment of the MCU’s prior installments. When it ended, I heaved a sigh of relief, finally letting go of a breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding for as long as I had. It didn’t let me down. It does exactly what it needs and is the perfect embodiment of everything it’s trying to be.
Ludicrous and sweeping, epic and intimate, it ends with a mixture of tears and applause. Endgame is a love letter to these characters and to those who have followed them for the past decade.
It’s unlikely to win any new converts, but it doesn’t need to. At this point, you’re either on board or you’re waiting for the superhero trend to die out (which will happen someday but probably not someday soon). When the credits rolled, my heart was pounding, and I was smiling like a nerd. Endgame is a triumph, and that is a minor miracle.
I have no idea what Marvel’s future holds, give or take a Far From Home, but I’m hopeful their future is bright. Endgame closes the door on a few characters while teasing exciting new paths for others. However, Endgame resolves with a sense of finality and completion, giving both those onscreen and those in front of it the chance to say both goodbye and thank you. Knowing Marvel managed to pull off this decade-long, twenty-two film journey feels as emotionally satisfying as the film itself. It’s a fitting end to all that came before it, while serving as a reminder that sometimes we do have to move on, no matter how difficult that it. To quote a certain Endgame character, I think, “We’ll be alright.”