Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Karen Gillian, Josh Brolin, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Scarlet Johansson, Don Cheadle, Josh Brolin, Brie Larson, Paul Rudd etc.
Release date: April 26, 2019
This review will contain major spoilers. For both it and Infinity War. If you are going to see this movie, do not read this review. It’s a pretty good movie that ends a story that has been built up since Iron Man in 2008.
This is it. Avengers: Endgame is for all intents and purposes, the grand finale of this era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There will be more movies after this, but for the MCU as we have known it since 2008: this is the end.
Avengers: Endgame continues fairly soon after Infinity War. Thanos succeeded in wiping out half of all life in the universe, the casualties including members of the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. Those who survived: Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, War Machine, Nebula, Thor, Rocket Racoon, Ant Man, Black Widow, Captain Marvel, and Hawkeye are left to deal with the fallout. The movie’s entire plot is about them trying to bring back everyone that was lost by Thanos’ snap, which involves more than a little time travel and characters giving their lives. Permanently.
I put up the spoiler warning before the review proper because I think this movie is impossible to review adequately without spoilers. The Avengers “defeat” Thanos very early in the movie. They find him on the planet he retired to, cut off his hand and try to use the Infinity Stones to reverse what he did. Unfortunately, Thanos used the stones to erase themselves from existence, meaning that what he did is permanent. Thor kills Thanos via decapitation in a venegful rage. It sets up a depressing future for our heroes. They have to live with the fact that they could not stop Thanos, and in the end he won. Chris Hemsworth does a brilliant job of channeling Thor’s utter despair and self blame.
The movie then jumps five years, and we see what the world is like in the aftermath of Infinity War. Everyone is trying to process not just losing family and friends, but how the entire world has been changed. Even Captain America goes to grief counseling sessions. Hawkeye has now become a murdering vigilante, unable to cope with his family being turned into dust. Thor has been reduced to an overweight, depressed drunk who negelects his duties as King of Asgard. Not everyone is wallowing however. Tony Stark, in one of his most dramatic leaps in character development, becomes a father; and Bruce Banner has finally reconciled with the Hulk, and can now be the Hulk without losing his personality and intelligence. The film excellently portrays how the characters deal with their failure. I especially loved Thor’s character arc. It’s the most interesting depiction of Thor in this entire franchise. While his new appearance and personality is played for comedy at times, it is mostly a moving tale of a man bouncing back from failure, and discovering that failing does not make him any less of a hero.
When Ant Man comes back into the picture, I was surprised that this movie actually made me interested in Ant Man. I did not find his movie to be particularly good, and I didn’t care enough to see the sequel. In Endgame however, Ant Man actually becomes an interesting character. When he meets his daughter, who has aged five years since he last saw her, it’s more emotional than any of their interactions in his own movie.
So the first hour of Endgame is all set up. It’s effective set up, but it should be noted that this is the slowest part of the movie. The movie just moves along, one character at a time. Even after Ant Man makes his reappearance and the heroes discover time travel can help them bring everyone back, the plot still takes a while to get moving. The movie only really gets exciting by the second act.
The second act is entirely the Avengers going through time to steal the Infinity Stones, bring them back to their time, and use them to bring everyone back. The times and places they go back to are previous Marvel movies. The movie just embraces the loose logic of its time travel mechanics, so its really best not to dwell too much on them. We go back to The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even Thor: The Dark World. We scenarios play out that should be stupid and pandering in practice, but actually work incredibly well, like Captain America fighting himself over the Tesseract. This movie manages to get something actually emotional out of the events of Thor: The Dark World. Thor takes the opportunity to have one last conversation with his mother Frigga before she is killed. It’s the first time that we have ever gotten a reason to care about Frigga in these movies. We finally see an actual relationship between mother and son, and it makes it all the more tragic when Thor tries in vain to warn her about her impending death, but she stops him.
Endgame’s second act is kind of a mess due to its inclusion of time travel. The mechanics themselves are extremely confusing and as mentioned before: loose. It moves much faster than the first act, but it can also be a bit jumpy. Also Black Widow dies, and it honestly felt wasted. She didn’t do much of anything before she dies in this movie, and Johansson gave a very good last performances as the character, so it’s a shame.
Throughout the time travel adventures, Nebula really shines as a character and Karen Gillian as an actress. Gillian has to do double duty as two versions of Nebula: one from the past and the present one. The past Nebula is still under Thanos’ thumb, desperately trying to gain his approval at all costs. The present Nebula is captured by Thanos from the past, upon discovering she is from another timeline. Karen Gillian completely disappears into both roles, finally having a chance to shine again like she did in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. They are so different in personality and motivation, and it paints a clear picture of what Nebula would have been like if it weren’t for her bond with Gamora.
In the third act, after Bruce Banner successfully uses the Infinity Stones to bring back everyone that was killed, Thanos comes back. He is going to make another go at the Infinity Stones, only this time, he’s not going to stop at half of all life. He’s going to wipe out all life in the universe, because he feels that a brand new universe would be more “grateful” for his salvation. This leads into the biggest problem I have with the movie: Thanos. In Infinity War, he was genuinely well intentioned and saw himself as the good guy, even if his method to “save” the universe was horrific. Endgame forgets his previous complexity. Even worse, Thanos does not survive this movie. He could’ve easily served the MCU for years to come as the recurring villain/anti-hero that Loki was before.
The climax of Endgame is one of the most epic, long thought impossible in a superhero movie. It is spectacle and fanservice that would’ve been impossible without the serialized style of storytelling that the MCU follows. Captain America wields Mjolnir, Pepper Potts shows up in an Iron Man suit, all the snapped characters come back to fight. It’s a cascade of action that feels like it’s from the pages of a massive crossover event comic.
If you want to get off the ride here, this is the perfect place to do so. Endgame is truly the finale of a saga that has been in the works since Iron Man, and most fittingly, this is the end of Tony Stark’s journey as well as Captain America’s. Tony Stark dies, using the Infinity Stones to snap Thanos and his forces into dust. Robert Downey Jr. has embodied the character of Iron Man like very few other actors have embodied a character before. He gives one of his best performances as the character ever in this movie, and it is truly sad to see him gone. Chris Evans likewise will be missed as Captain America, but he gets to quietly retire. He lived out the life he should have in an alternate timeline, finally getting together with Peggy Carter, and he passes the mantle of Captain America onto Sam Wilson. One last mark I will make against the movie is that Bucky’s relationship with Steve Rogers was sidelined, and had been sidelined since Civil War. There was no reason for Steve not to have one last conversation with Bucky.
The score from Alan Silvestri brought more top notch work from him. This is definitely one of the MCU’s better scores. His reworking of the original Avengers score was especially good. The cinematography was also quite well done, and there is an excellent long take of Hawkeye in a sword fight in the first act.
Endgame, for all its frustrating missteps, is the event of a generation. The fact that this movie even exists is an achievement in and of itself. If you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you have probably already seen it. If you’re not, then nothing I say will make you see it. Endgame may not be the end of the entire MCU, but is for the MCU as we know it, and it was a beautiful thing to know.