Avengers: Endgame is a massively satisfying capper to a series that contains twenty-one previous entries. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is far from over, of course, but this movie does represent the end of an era. We are left with the impression that the MCU will be very different going forward. The financial success of the franchise is well-documented. Artistically, though, it has never looked as impressive as it does here. Superhero adventures are the predominant films of our time, and this one easily stands as the most significant.
There is no need for a plot synopsis. You know what happens. Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) band together to foil Thanos (Josh Brolin) and find a way to bring back the 50% of the population he wiped out, which includes many of their esteemed colleagues. Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) lends a hand.
As an action picture featuring superheroes, Endgame delivers. There are multiple thrilling sequences, including one in which Captain America fights the least likely adversary he could ever encounter, as well as a colossal final battle against Thanos. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo bring great style to these scenes. Whereas some movies get a little rote with their action, this one clearly has genuine enthusiasm to show the Avengers making use of their particular skills.
While action is a primary selling point, it's not the distinguishing feature. Not by a long shot. Avengers: Endgame works so beautifully because it has an abundance of emotional content. At the end of Infinity War, billions of people vanish, including more than a few notable superheroes. That's a tragedy the story takes seriously. September 11th is never mentioned, yet the film certainly taps into our feelings about the monumental loss America suffered that day. Part of the reason the MCU has been so phenomenally popular is that its entries tap into the fantasy that some specially-abled hero(es) will come and protect us, keep us safe, and right all the world’s wrongs. They hit us on a psychological level.
The subject of loss consequently runs throughout the film. The surviving heroes mourn those who are gone. They are in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's “denial” stage of grief – struggling to accept that the loss is real. Endgame has weight because of that. When we see these powerful characters in such a vulnerable state, we can't help but empathize. Superhero movies are often dismissed as fluff. This one is substantive, especially in the last few minutes, which contain an ingeniously-composed shot that drives home the theme. Who'd have guessed that an Avengers flick would be one of the most poignant explorations of mourning to grace the screen in recent times?
The biggest heroes are not seen on camera. They're the screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Together, these gentlemen have taken elements from twenty-one separate movies – often penned by other writers – and woven them all together into a coherent whole. Endgame brings back characters and scenarios from the previous MCU installments, sometimes for comedic purposes, sometimes for meaningful ones. None of them feel forced; they weave naturally into the plot, and none of the heroes get short-changed. The result is a work that perfectly pays off the connection audiences have made to the material over the past eleven years.
Avengers: Endgame runs three hours, yet feels half that length. Given that the MCU is about to evolve, an epic approach is totally apt. The movie is funny, exciting, thoughtful, and rewarding. I'm glad Marvel will continue making films. That said, even if they stopped right here, it would be a glorious way to go out.
out of four
Avengers: Endgame is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language. The running time is 3 hours and 1 minute.