“Avengers: Endgame” is a masterful, legacy-affirming finale to Marvel’s Infinity Saga

Last year Avengers: Infinity War delivered on a decade of filmmaking and world-building and unleashed the mighty Thanos on our favorite Marvel heroes, only to win and end the movie on the most depressing note any blockbuster had the right to. Now it’s a year later and the next half of the story, Avengers: Endgame, has some serious explaining to do, on top of wrapping up a story that’s lasted 11 years across 21 movies, and in a manner that lives up to the word “epic” in every way. Yes, this movie could’ve failed spectacularly, but like a lone hero facing down a monstrous villain, the movie takes these odds and pulls out a triumphant, inspiring win that will leave you cheering and perhaps wiping away a stream of tears. Endgame lives up to everything it needed to and is nothing short of an awe-inspiring superhero epic the likes of which we should not expect to see again.

After Infinity War spectacularly proved just how far the term “superhero blockbuster” could be stretched by including virtually every character with superpowers of any sort in the fight against Thanos (Josh Brolin), Endgame brings things back down to a handful of survivors, focusing on the original six Avengers: Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). Most of these people have been here since the very beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Downey kicking things off with Iron Man), and in the years since joining the Avenging game have gone through serious highs and lows that culminate here after suffering their biggest failure.

Every single one of them is giving the best performance of their MCU careers, especially Downey and Evans. Most of all they play their parts as if reflecting on their whole time with these characters, which helps in conveying the immense stakes of the situation, knowing full well they may not survive the perilous journey. These two – as well as everyone else – have been embodying these characters for years, but here they pull out all the stops and will you give more reasons than ever to cheer at the screen.

While they all have their unique arcs that are perfectly developed here, the biggest credit to longtime MCU scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s work is how all of their personal journeys fall under the same themes of morality, martyrdom and acceptance. For all the spectacle and humor, what will make this outing such a rewarding experience for audiences is that after years of filmmaking, these characters – each of whom have been built upon through years of filmmaking – are given more than a few moments that explore who they are, what they stand for, what their lives have been leading to and what they have to do to save the world. While this is indeed a superhero movie fit with all the big set pieces and gags Marvel fans have come to expect over the years, Endgame works best as an engaging and emotionally resonant character study of superheroes many have grown up watching.

Other characters are in the mix too, including Nebula (Karen Gillan), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper), Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and the newest member of the series, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). They all get their time to shine, too, but this is really the main six’s story. The character with the most to do, surprisingly, is Nebula, who after being introduced as a baddie in Guardians of the Galaxy, has become a compelling, complex hero in her own right. Gillan has made this character her own over the last few years, and she turns in her best work here.  As for the big bad of the last movie, Thanos, this time around it’s not really his journey we get to follow. The last movie essentially made him the lead character, but here he takes a back seat in ways I cannot divulge without breaking my moral compass and spoiling the whole show. As much as I love Brolin and want to see him as much as we did in the last movie, the reason why we don’t is understandable, and this time around it’s the heroes who go on the journey we strap in for.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) records a message for his lady love while lost in space.

But of course, for all the great character work at the core of the movie, stuff needs to blow up and someone needs to crack wise every now and again, and as for the latter, it’s perfectly acceptable to walk out of Endgame thinking it’s the funniest entry in the series. Given how morose the circumstances are, it’s all the more welcome to watch Tony Stark banter with the CGI Rocket, or for Rudd’s Ant-Man to take any scene and slap on some levity and charm by basically being, well, Paul Rudd. Thor, as he did in the reinvention of the character, Thor: Ragnarok is the absolute scene-stealer in ways I cannot express without giving everything away. I will just say his running gag had my whole theater hallowing from start to finish, and while it may cause some dissension in the fan community, this bit gets bonus points for doubling as a fascinating, deceptively tragic way to explore the legendary hero. Mostly, it’s just hilarious.

As for the explosive stuff, Infinity War was a cavalcade of explosive set pieces that took the level of spectacle beyond what any comic book movie had done before it, each having about a dozen superheroes in the mix. Endgame is, by those standards, a bit more subtle. The set pieces are smaller and the sheer amount of glorious chaos isn’t as bountiful as the last movie, but the miraculous thing about Endgame is that nothing about it feels any less epic than its predecessor. There’s a clearer, more compelling narrative drive, and the lengths the heroes have to go to fight back against Thanos means throwing them into the wild unknown in unpredictable ways, making for a ridiculous, character-driven adventure story that will have *huge* impacts on the MCU moving forward. In this way Endgame manages to be endlessly entertaining, a bit confusing, maybe a little logic-defying but always massive in scope, and all not by delivering on visually arresting set piece after set piece, but by blending the exploration of these characters we know and love with a thrilling, propulsive story that takes them places that are both unexpected, meaningful and all manner of awesome, all the while acting like a big love letter to the series as a whole. And that’s not to say there isn’t some destruction on an absurd scale. A movie called Endgame sort of has to deliver on the action goods, and the ultimate finale is, in of itself, more mind-boggling than anything seen we’re ever likely to see ever again from this franchise. Expect to be left shaking from sheer amazement.

Along with Markus and McFeely, an immense round of applause and endless tossing of roses need to be bestowed on directors Anthony and Joe Russo. Starting with the MCU with the game-changing Winter Soldier, these two have proven time and again how masterful they are at blending grounded character work and stories with unparalleled comic book thrills. In Endgame they have delivered a masterwork, seamlessly blending compelling character arcs, and moments ranging between cheer-worthy and heartbreaking with a movie that is no less epic than Infinity War – which is astounding. This movie feels so different from its predecessor when it could have easily felt like a “Part 2” that feels only like half of a movie. They have assembled not one, but two massive superhero epics that stand on their own two feet and yet are paired so perfectly back to back. They showcase everything that makes the series and the best movies in it work so beautifully, and through a compassionate, visionary lens that respects the characters and the fans. They know how to make a blockbuster, to boot, and along with crafting a final action scene for the ages, have a strength for framing smaller moments that give them both visual and emotional heft, making for some of the finest standalone shots in the series.

Talking about Endgame is a fruitless task. Just when you think Marvel has done everything in the book and delivered moments too epic, too cheer-worthy or too emotionally gut-punching to top, this movie comes and tops them all. If you’re even a casual fan of the series, Endgame must be experienced, and like me, will leave you speechless long after the credits roll. As a fan of the series, I felt respected and seen and as a movie fan, I was endlessly blown away. Yes, this is the end of a long saga of movies and culminates in a way that unfathomably balances scope with thought-provoking themes, but while it may leave you weeping in the aisles you may also find yourself excited and hopeful about what will come next. After 22 movies one chapter has closed, but a new one is about to begin, and god only knows where it will take us next.

Grade: A

 

 

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