Reviewed April 24, 2019
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is massive.
That’s probably the least-spoilery takeaway from Avengers: Endgame, the culminating movie in Marvel’s decade-plus arc of superhero blockbusters.
If the field was starting to seem crowded in last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, Endgame reminds us the stacked Avengers lineup we saw there was really only the tip of the spear. Thanos’ cataclysmic snap at the end of Infinity War was almost necessary to create a workable narrative for the final movie — which still has more plot threads than Game of Thrones at its most convoluted.
Massive isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case, though. Endgame also serves as a commemoration of everything Marvel’s accomplished over the last 11 years. It’s like a family reunion, with Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Hulk as the patriarchs.
Endgame could easily be accused of softballing its plot to cater to fans at the expense of creating a challenging narrative. However, it still manages to hit some poignant emotional beats that show how much its heroes, and their super-community, have grown alongside their audience.
What’s It About?
Endgame picks up immediately after the events of Infinity War, with the Avengers reeling at the loss of their friends. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo make the smart choice of lingering for a bit in the raw emotions of anger and grief that their characters feel, and the consequences those emotions have on them long-term. There is immediate action, but it’s action driven by pain, followed by a long period of introspection.
Eventually, of course, a plan takes shape to defeat Thanos and bring back the disappeared. It involves locating the dispersed members of the team, and bringing the gang — in various states of mental and physical strain — back together in a go-for-broke plot. The stakes are high, but the potential rewards are worth the risk.
Endgame is first and foremost a loving tribute to the characters, stories, and fans that have made Marvel’s powerhouse franchise what it is. The film serves to resolve the multi-movie character arcs for its original set of Avengers, but secondarily to set the stage for its newer additions (Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and the like) to take the spotlight.
There’s a strong love vibe running throughout the movie, with ample time given to delightful character team-ups, revisiting past glories, and a few comic-specific references — one in particular is a sly-but-wonderful bit of fan service.
Endgame also spends a significant amount of time in the post-Thanos world before kicking the plot into gear. It intentionally slows itself down to show what Earth’s Mightiest Heroes do when they aren’t saving us. If you’ve ever wondered what Tony Stark’s domestic life looks like, or what Black Widow eats in between team check-ins, this is your chance to find out.
Some may consider this a pacing issue — it certainly does slow the movie’s momentum quite a bit — but for fans who’ve spent over a decade with these characters, it’s a great opportunity to show them in a different light.
The field may have been culled some in Infinity War, but it’s still a crowded one. The plot splits off into several different directions once the big heroic plan comes together, meaning that we don’t always get to spend as much time as we could digging into each of those characters we’ve grown to love so much.
Occasionally, this makes what could have been more emotionally complex character arcs feel stunted and shallow, and some moments that should carry tectonic emotional weight land with less of an impact.
Because the focus remains on the core Avengers, the movie also shoves some of the more interesting subplots — and characters — into the background. The film’s marketing may have been heavy on Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel, for instance, but don’t expect her to show up too much.
Similarly, anyone curious about the future of Wakanda after its line of succession got snapped out of existence won’t find that explored here.
But perhaps most importantly, the movie also highlights Marvel’s ongoing issue with lasting consequences. Infinity War had this — Thanos’ destruction of half the universe’s population took out a number of beloved characters, and the possibility of that loss being permanent was hard, but also sort of thrilling from a dramatic perspective.
Of course, anyone vaguely familiar with the already-planned Marvel sequels knew immediately that many would be coming right back, which took away much of the sting.
Similarly, Endgame presents a plot with some potential stakes, then finagles its way around those stakes to make sure that our heroes don’t have to sacrifice too much in order to achieve their goal. It’s a down-the-middle approach to what could have been a more complicated story, with a stronger journey for the characters.
The point of Endgame is, of course, not to introduce new conflict, but to wrap up old conflict. However, it feels as if the filmmakers have intentionally chosen the easiest way possible to make that happen, rather than the most interesting. This isn’t necessarily surprising, but it is a little disappointing.
Despite a few shortcomings, Avengers: Endgame is still an affectionate, enjoyable closing chapter for a long-standing series. The movie makes a point of pausing throughout the story to remind audiences of the wide spectrum of characters this series has produced.
While Marvel hasn’t necessarily done as right by some of these characters as the movie wants us to think it has, it’s still pretty great to see them all assembled in one place. There are men, women, aliens, scientists, androids, teenagers, and warriors, a huge community brought together with a selfless cause in common.
That spectrum of heroes is a touching reminder of how far Marvel’s audiences have come along with these characters over the last decade. Endgame is a chance not just for us to think back on the franchise, but on our own relationship to it, to remember where we were the first time we saw Iron Man or Captain America: The First Avenger.
This movie may not be the greatest version of the story it wants to tell, but in terms of finales, it does the job pretty well.