Quantifying the significance of Avengers: Endgame is a lofty task. For some, the 22-film collection Marvel Studios crafted is an exercise in inconsequential extravagance which has shifted how studios make movies for the worse. These films have even been described as nothing more than promotional material for the next film on the Marvel slate. It’s harsh criticism with a pinch of merit, yet, even with these considerations, there’s no denying that there’s nothing like this in the history of cinema. There’ve been superhero stories and sequels. There’s been space odysseys, crime thrillers, and capers. There’ve been tales of futuristic tech, alien races, and the angst of growing up. What Marvel Studios did was take them all, piece by piece, film by film, from 2008’s Iron Man all the way to the theatrical release of Avengers: Endgame in April 2019 to craft an exceptional feat of cinema unimaginable and likely never to be felt so strongly again.
If you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame and wish to remain spoiler-free, stop reading now. There’s always the spoiler-free theatrical review available if you want to get a sense of the film before digging into the home release details.
At the end of Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos (Josh Brolin) succeeded in blinking out of existence half the population of the universe before teleporting himself off Earth and out of the heroes’ grasps. Left helpless and hopeless, the remaining heroes do what they can to move on. Or, at least, some of them do. Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) deals with her grief by running Avengers HQ, organizing Earth-bound and cosmos-traveling heroes to protect what’s left; Thor (Chris Hemsworth) denies his by pulling himself inward, hiding away in New Asgard; and Clint (Jeremy Renner) refocuses his by turning his anger and frustration on the remaining criminals that continue to plague Earth. All of this changes when Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) emerges from the Quantum Realm, bringing with him what everyone lost the day of the snap: hope. Gathering as many team members as they can, the Avengers devise a plan to travel through time to collect the Infinity Stones in the hopes that they can bring back all that were taken. With the hope of making things right comes an opportunity for these disenfranchised heroes to come together once more and, in so doing, find the redemption they each so desperately seek.
Avengers: Endgame is a triumphant, yet bittersweet experience, not because of the irreversible loses that come from a hard-won battle, but because over the last 11 years, audiences have grown to care so deeply for these characters, to view the characters more as avatars for their own hopes and dreams. The silence at the end of Avengers: Infinity War was deafening as audiences realized that their heroes lost the fight and, despite knowing that the story wouldn’t truly conclude for another year, mourned the loss. This is part of what makes the final battle with Thanos in Endgame so emotional. The audience wanted vengeance, nay, justice for the Battle of Wakanda and directors Joe and Anthony Russo (Avengers: Infinity War) absolutely deliver. Of the many treats Endgame offers, watching nearly ever hero introduced since the beginning charging down Thanos and his army will never stop being moving. On its own, it’s an action-packed moment where the audience can feel the tide turning in favor of the Avengers, but as a culmination, it’s jaw-dropping. It’s more than watching Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), and Thor take on Thanos in a battle reminiscent of the trio’s throwdown in the first Avengers or finally getting the answer as to whether Cap can wield Mjolnir (though that moment is brain-shatteringly iconic). It’s the moment the audience hears Sam Wilson’s (Anthony Mackie) famous line from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, “On your left,” and watching Ant-Man sucker punch a Chitauri Leviathan. It’s hearing Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) call Captain America “Cap” as she replies over comms in a wonderful reference to Ant-Man and the Wasp and seeing Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) don the armor in her first appearance as comic character Rescue. It’s just delicious reference, nod, or joke after another, none of which would mean half as much without all the work preceding it.
Unlike most films which are usually evaluated on their individual merits, you can’t fully appreciate Avengers: Endgame without having seen a few of the other films first. As a direct sequel or perhaps a part two to Infinity War, Endgame not only carries that story forward but finds its equally strong conclusion. However, in order to recognize the deep references or gravity of the characters’ decisions, audiences must first know the previous material. Yes, you must do your cinematic homework before watching Endgame. To some degree, this applies to all films. In order for an audience to get the full concept of a director’s or writer’s vision, it would help to understand what influenced them in creating the story. Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is a perfect example of this. It’s a film which can be enjoyed on a cursory level, yet, through a deeper understanding of the framing, cinematography, and staging, Baby turns into an epic experience. In Endgame this is done as much through the aforementioned references as it is through the individual character arcs. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers each undergo incredible journeys in here which began in their respective individual films years prior. Tony began as a weapons dealer, putting his needs before his own, who became willing, on more than one occasion, to make the sacrifice play. Steve began as a soldier, driven by principle and a belief in government, who adapted that notion into a personal code of ethics which took him all the way to the end of the line. These are larger characters with defined arcs in their own right, which frequent Marvel Studios writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Avengers: Infinity War) put to incredible use here. But Markus and McFeely also made sure that side characters like Natasha, Bruce (Mark Ruffalo), and Nebula (Karen Gillan) had an opportunity to finish their own journeys which have played out in small ways across multiple films. Since 2012’s The Avengers, audiences have known about Natasha’s “red in her ledger” and Endgame offers the chance to finally clear it out. 2008’s The Incredible Hulk reintroduced Bruce and his alter-ego the Hulk and so began the complicated psychological journey of self-love and acceptance which concludes Endgame in the form of what’s known in the comics as Professor Hulk, Bruce’s mind in the Hulk’s body.
Of them all, Thor’s personal journey is perhaps the most contentious due to audience response. Once the rock-hard God of the Avengers, Thor’s shame at failing to kill Thanos at his first opportunity sends him on a shame spiral that leaves him secluded, gorging himself on junk food, and keeping himself constantly drunk. At the end of Thor: Ragnarok, he’d lost his father, many of his people, and his home, but he was finally ready to become king. By the end of Infinity War, he’d lost his brother, his best friend, and his hubris cost half the universe their lives. In the face of all of that, Thor’s transformation into a visage more akin to former member of the Warriors Three Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) not only makes sense, but presents a physical embodiment of his guilt and shame. Many who object to the way the other Avengers vocalize toward Thor take this stance because they are shocked the Avengers don’t see Thor’s deep pain. Others defend it by suggesting the Avengers bicker like a family, opening with blunt sarcasm as a means of dealing with their own pain. Right or not, it’s clear that Hemsworth believed in this decision for what happens when Thor travels through time to Asgard during the events of 2013’s Thor: The Dark World. There, he not only gets some loving advice from his mother Frigga (Rene Russo), but he’s able to call forth Mjolnir, the truest arbiter of his worthiness. In this poignant scene, your heart breaks wide open and heals all at once as Hemsworth conveys Thor’s absolute joy in not only getting his beloved hammer back, but finally realizing that he still possesses the might of a hero. Something he’d believed gone, something he’d thought he’s unworthy of being, after failing so mightily against Thanos. To take the time to explore this, even as subtle background work, is part of what makes the final confrontation as emotionally raw as it is. Tony, Steve, and Thor had all been beaten by Thanos physically, but the loss destroyed Thor’s spirit in a way he believed to be beyond repair.
What the Russos accomplished with Endgame is nothing short of spectacular. They may not be able to explain the science they used to accomplish the time heist the heroes endeavor in order to collect the stones, but they sure as hell stuck the landing with everything else, finding ways large and small to tie up loose threads and close arcs. The thing is, no matter how much the Russos, Markus, and McFeeley gave, audiences will always want more. As if knowing this, the home release includes various featurettes, deleted scenes, a gag reel, and commentary from the creative team of Endgame. The physical versions include seven featurettes, while the digital edition includes a separate featurette focusing on Steve and Peggy’s relationship. If you don’t have the digital edition, don’t be too upset. As interesting and engaging as Steve and Peggy: One Last Dance is, there’s enough that overlaps in the A Man Out of Time: Creating Captain America featurette that you won’t really notice. However, each featurette utilizes interviews, behind the scenes footage, and film footage going all the way to the screen tests for Downey Jr. in 2007 to offer some truly sweet looks at the creation of the Infinity Saga. They even offer reminders to those that need it that Marvel Studios was an incredible gamble when it began, not the box office behemoth it is now. Seeing how the various members of the cast and creative teams still possess such joyfully contagious energy all this time later is practically unbelievable. Unsurprisingly, the Downey Jr. feature includes many discussing his role as Godfather of the MCU, as does Evans’s include how everyone, including Downey, admires him and his commitment to playing Captain America. For those that found the “Women of the MCU” moment in Endgame a little contrived, well, there’s a feature exploring how that scene came to be and how the fandom appeared to clamor for it after a brief sequence in Infinity War showed a taste of what Okoye (Danai Gurira), Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), and Natasha could do. What you may not be prepared for is Remembering Stan Lee. More than a retrospective of his various cameos, you get his words regarding the MCU as well as the scenes he shot on the very sets he was working on. Jumping from film to film out of order, you can visibly see how Lee aged between films, even how much stronger he looked shooting the first Avengers. It’s both touching and heartbreaking. Have the tissues handy.
The end result of Endgame is not only the conclusion of 11 years of filmmaking, but an absolute cathartic experience. Audiences have journeyed to the darkest corners of Earth as Tony Stark desperately fought to escape a hellish prison and saw the stars in the furthest part of the galaxy as Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his band of murderers vanquish a celestial being. They’ve seen the greatest relationships form between Tony and Pepper, Steve and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Steve and Bucky (Sebastian Stan), and Peter and Gamora (Zoe Saldana). They’ve seen friendships arise out of conflict, a band of misfits form a family, and the unlikeliest of individuals become heroes. The legacy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t just a collection of films that end with Endgame, particularly as many more are scheduled to come in the next few years, but is an unexpected journey of death and rebirth, of aspiration and recognition, inspiring a whole new generation of children and young adults to consider the astonishing, the incredible, and the uncanny. For all the losses, for all the pain, Endgame is more than the end of the Infinity Saga. It’s the beginning of something new. Audiences can always go visit Tony and Steve in their solo adventures, as well as the team-ups, but it’s time to look to the horizon and get excited for what’s coming next.
Bonus Features (may vary be retailer):
Blu-ray & Digital:
- Remembering Stan Lee – Filmmakers and cast honor the great Stan Lee in a fond look back at his MCU movie cameos.
- Setting The Tone: Casting Robert Downey Jr. – Hear the tale of how Robert Downey Jr. was cast as Tony Stark in the original “Iron Man” — and launched the MCU.
- A Man Out of Time: Creating Captain America – Trace the evolution of Captain America with those who helped shape the look, feel and character of this compelling hero.
- Black Widow: Whatever It Takes – Follow Black Widow’s journey both within and outside the Avengers, including the challenges she faced and overcame along the way.
- The Russo Brothers: Journey to Endgame – See how Anthony and Joe Russo met the challenge of helming two of the biggest films in cinematic history … back-to-back!
- The Women of the MCU – MCU women share what it was like to join forces for the first time in an epic battle scene — and be part of such a historic ensemble.
- Bro Thor – His appearance has changed but his heroism remains! Go behind the scenes to see how Bro Thor was created.
- Six Deleted Scenes – “Goji Berries,” “Bombs on Board,” “Suckiest Army in the Galaxy,” “You Used to Frickin’ Live Here,” “Tony and Howard” and “Avengers Take a Knee.”
- Gag Reel – Laugh along with the cast in this epic collection of flubs, goofs and gaffes from set.
- Visionary Intro – Intro by directors Joe and Anthony Russo.
- Audio Commentary – Audio commentary by directors Anthony and Joe Russo, and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.
- Steve and Peggy: One Last Dance – Explore Captain America and Peggy Carter’s bond, forged in moments from previous films that lead to a momentous choice in Avengers: Endgame.
Available on digital HD July 30th, 2019.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD August 13th, 2019.