After an unprecedented 21-film lead-up, Avengers: Endgame, the culminating moment in what’s now been dubbed “The Infinity Saga,” is finally here. Audiences are coming to this film with a hope of closure after an emotionally devastating end to 2018’s Anthony and Joe Russo-directed Avengers: Infinity War left audiences wondering what would come of their heroes. Considering the public knowledge of upcoming sequels and the end of some cast members’ contracts, there’s a certain amount of foreknowledge which breeds expectation. That said, it still didn’t stop audiences from feeling the gut-punch as Thanos (John Brolin) decimated half the population of universe with a snap of his fingers in Infinity War. For those who’ve been with the Marvel Cinematic Universe since 2008, Endgame represents the accumulative passion, imagination, and time-tested will to do something never seen before. It doesn’t matter who lives or dies, we’re all in the endgame now.
In the wake of Thanos’ destructive blast, the Universe’s mightiest heroes are scattered and in tatters. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are stuck floating through space in Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) ship, the Benatar, while Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) try to make sense of things on Earth all while completely unaware that Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is stuck in the Quantum Realm, that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) sent Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) a distress call, or of what has become of Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). With so little go on, but determined to find a way, a plan is devised to set right their failure. Whatever it takes.
As much as this sounds like hyperbole, Endgame is more than a film. It’s a representation of the totality of the entire MCU. Its highs, its lows, and everything in-between are gathered together and presented for audiences in of their glory. Unlike other films which can be judged on the merits of their singularity, Endgame functions as both a direct sequel to Infinity War while also representing the end of a story begun in 2008. Audiences didn’t know, any more than Tony Stark, what they were in for when he said “I am Iron Man” or when the first end credit sequence began and Nick Fury told Tony he was part of a bigger universe. In that moment, though, audiences knew that they were witnessing something that was only beginning. But all journeys must end and, as we discovered in 2012’s The Avengers, all roads lead to Thanos. In this regard, Endgame is the kind of cinematic event which other films aspire to be, yet few achieve. Much of this is due to the script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, both of whom have worked on Marvel projects like Captain America: First Avenger, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, ABC’s Agent Carter, and last year’s Avengers: Infinity War. Their collective knowledge of the MCU combined with the Russo brothers’ deft ability to tackle enormous action sequences and quiet character moments, makes Endgame as much of a love letter to the fans as it is a comic book fan’s dream.
As promised by the Russos, those who were not featured as much in Infinity War are given plenty to do in Endgame. In particular, what will likely please audiences most is how Endgame treats Steve and Natasha, but especially the absent Clint and Scott. Mainstays Steven and Natasha are given beautiful individual arcs which manage to fully satisfy the film’s needs, while also closing up open-ended aspects of their stories going back to their origins. Even Clint, the much maligned Hawkeye, who is frequently talked of as the most out of his depth on the cinematic Avengers, ends up being possibly the most critical. Unlike those who’ve received solo outings, Clint’s story, like Natasha’s and Bruce’s, has been woven into the MCU, primarily through the Avengers films, and desperately needed to feel complete. While other big budget films might see the comparatively diminutive Clint as unimportant, special care is made to ensure that he, and the other members of the Avengers, are not just pushed aside to give more screen time to Downey, Jr., Evans, and Hemsworth. Credit, by the way, not just to the screenwriters for daring to share the emotional core of Endgame with multiple characters (including Nebula, whose storylines typically reduce her to acts of violence), but also for recognizing that where the audience feels the joys and sorrows most is all connected to how the audience feels about these characters. Yes, they are fictional characters. Yes, audiences can go pick up comics at their local stores (shout out to Rebel Base Comics in Charlotte, NC). However, Endgame represents an ending, one which hits as hard as it does because audiences have embraced these characters and the actors whom portray them. In recognizing this, the script offers treat after treat to longtime MCU fans, many of which will inspire rewatch after rewatch just to enjoy them over and gain.
For many, watching the Marvel films felt like opening doors into new worlds. These films aren’t challenging anyone on an intellectual level, nor are they meant to, but they do inspire. Children see an example of doing what’s right in Captain America, the infinite possibilities of engineering in Tony, the wonder of magic in Thor, and the brilliance of science in Bruce. More importantly, they see the strength of Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Natasha, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), Nebula, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Carol Danvers, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Shuri (Letitia Wright), and the many women who are incredible forces, equal to, if not stronger than, the men within the MCU. Representation matters and, while not perfect, Marvel’s films have never presented or projected any gender or race as less than. In fact, as the films have embraced their celestial side, they’ve only become more bold, more brazen in presenting a world where it doesn’t matter if you’re a talking raccoon, a sentient tree, a Terran, God, or half-God, it only matters that you stand for those who can’t stand for themselves, which is why there are several moments throughout Endgame which will not only cause the most engaged audiences to hoot and holler, but to also scream with the kind of delight that only a true connection can inspire. Considering what’s at stake within Endgame for the characters, to say that there’s only one such moment would be disingenuous. Thanks again to Markus and McFeely’s deep-well knowledge of the MCU, the ways in which representation, fan service, gut-busting laughter, and jaw-dropping amazement collide.
In truth, there is no way to prepare yourself for Avengers: Endgame. If Marvel ended Phase 3 here and never released another movie, there’s no doubt that audiences would leave the theater satisfied with what happens to each of their beloved characters. While not as much time is spent with some and new questions are introduced, as a finale, it does not get any better. Tears will be shed, but fear not, true believers, for even though The Infinity Saga has reached its natural conclusion, our heroes are never far from our hearts. Or our DVD shelves.
In theaters now.
Final Score: 5 out of 5.