Everything below is spoiler free!
A year ago, I said Avenger: Infinity War was a glass half full situation. The two and a half hour behemoth predicated itself on a bevy of superficial consequences that had yet to be realized in part because characters who had “died” were inevitably going to get a sequel, but more importantly it was the first half of a two parter.
But now we’re here. We’ve reached the end. The Endgame, and after 21 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is the culmination of an eleven year project that promised to bring Earth’s mightiest heroes — and then some — together to take on the mad titan. The fact that we arrived here, the twenty second film in a superhero franchise, and audiences still come in droves to their releases is pretty remarkable.
The mere fact that this hasn’t imploded in on itself should be some testament to the MCU itself, that Marvel has turned themselves into the dominate comic brand, that they turned a bunch of no-name superheroes into household names, that they sustained interest this long, that they changed the landscape of the blockbuster forever, and did it all to the delight of millions —and my dismay — is not something to write off. But does the final entry live up to the precedent it set for itself, and more importantly, is it any good?
A year after Infinity War with all this forward momentum, cosmic hype, and elevated expectations, Avengers: Endgame fills the rest of the glass and gives a proper send off to the MCU as we know it. By creating a sense of permanence, properly managing tone, and culminating in a satisfying ending, the Russo’s rectify most of the problems with prior MCU entries, and give fans a film they will undoubtedly love, even appeasing a long-time critic like me.
Permanence above all else is what makes this film truly matter. Every MCU film is plagued with the never ending problem inherent to franchise films: ‘X’ character can’t die because we know there’s a sequel down the line. The very notion of consequence was laughable, but with nothing left to service later on, the Russo’s have more narrative freedom than other MCU films simply because they are no longer beholden to future entries. This is the last film in phase three —regardless of what Feige says with regard to Far from Home — so why not go out with a bang? And a bang it was.
Gone is the baggage that everyone will make it out unscathed and in is the palpable sense that things actually matter to very existence of our characters. Granted there are some notable suspicions on who will make it out of this alive —with five to one returns, Disney isn’t going to give up on our these superhero box-office numbers so easily —, but for the overwhelming majority of characters, you’ll be leaning in until the very end as you await the final outcome.
That anticipation is built over the course of a lengthy three hour run time. It’s odd to say, but Infinity War had more active momentum than Endgame. The impending threat of Thanos proves more immediate in the former, but where Endgame lacks it makes up with intimate character moments. For an entire hour, you strictly get characters dealing with the repercussions of the last movie, and for the first time, loss has felt like a real thing.
The film then moves into an unexpected middle act that is structurally the most complex feat in the film. In some ways unexpected, in others convoluted, but evenly managed nonetheless, the film enters into a build up phase, and it’s held together on the back of sufficient writing and editing. It pulls from my point about momentum: this middle segment won’t drop your attention, but it does toss you around in ways that deflates the immediacy of it all. If this sounds unreasonably opaque, I feel you, but in order to avoid spoilers, I’m gonna be light on details. Listen to our podcast for all the spoilers you could want.
The third act though, oh my. . . what a payoff. This is what you’re paying to see this film for, this is what you’ve been waiting eleven years for, and this is everything the fans have been promised. It comes together in a grand conclusion that melds permanent consequence, tonal gravitas, and genuine satisfaction, and for a lack of a better term, feels rather epic. As someone who is not nearly connected to any of these characters as the fans out there, even I was moved by the weight of importance this third act presents. A truly worthy conclusion to the heaps of mediocre films leading up to it.
A prior qualm with Infinity War was how it failed to manage its tone. Humor and comedy ran rampant in a film where elimination on a universal scale was at stake. It posed the question, “Why should I take any of this seriously if our heroes aren’t?” Fortunately, the Russos shift their tone with Endgame. While jokes are sprinkled in throughout, their prominence is heavily dialed back, especially in the first act when the Avengers are dealing with the fact that they just got their asses handed to them and failed everyone. Tone management in hand with tangible stakes are the major efforts made by the directing duo to make this film work as well as it does, and by the time the credits roll, you can’t help but feel as if it has finally earned the emotional goals it wants to achieve.
Is there emotional manipulation? You bet. In fact, I’m sure that if I rewatched Endgame again, I would almost certainly like it less. There is a lot of fan service that is both good and bad. The entire second act in particular really leans into this gimmick, contributing to some of the film’s weakest narrative moments. Other times it pays off well. Many of the third act’s best moments are purely fan service, but in spite of these conflicts, I would say audiences will judge these moments on their own feelings with the franchise rather than from a prominent critic of super hero films in general.
When I was 13 years old at Henry Destruel’s birthday party seeing Iron Man in theaters would I have ever thought that I would see this franchise come this far now when I’m 23? No. Not only because I had little concept of the inner workings of Hollywood, but because something like this just didn’t happen. Now that they’ve made it this far (and continue to go further), you gotta tip your hat no matter how reluctant you may be. Endgame is a proper send off. Despite a clumsy second act and some overt fan service, this film is full of moments that will make audiences glad they stuck around this long, shed a tear knowing it’s over, and appreciate their time with Earth’s mightiest heroes.