It’s almost hard to remember back to 2008 and Robert Downey Jr’s introduction as the now-classic iteration of Tony Stark, followed shortly after by Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, but here we are, almost 11 years later, and the saga of The Avengers has its final chapter. For now, of course. But what we have is a highly entertaining, action-packed, appropriately sweet and sentimental end for these actors in those roles that is fairly certain to satisfy everyone who has remained a fan of the series.
Endgame wastes little time at the start, collecting up the remaining heroes after the snap at the end of Infinity War as they search for Thanos and a way to undo the erasure of half of all life in the universe. Brie Larson arrives as Captain Marvel, and the Avengers assemble (sorry) for their trip to a distant planet where they believe Thanos has settled on. Obviously, things don’t work out as planned, since there’d be little point to the remaining two and a half hours if it did.
This is where the film takes a surprisingly fresh turn, and part of its strength. The Avengers have failed… again. And now they have to pick up the pieces in Thanos’s world where billions of people have just vanished. I will admit, I chuckled at the desolate depiction of New York City, as half the population would still be over four million people and 13,000 people per square mile; you might not even notice the difference. Halving the US population only sets us back to roughly where it was in the mid 1950s. But the sentiment is quite well done. Five years later, the Avengers have each gone their separate ways, dealing with their failure in their own ways, with only Black Widow still holding out at Avengers HQ, clinging to the idea that the Avengers are still needed.
That is, until Ant-man emerges from the quantum realm where he was trapped at the end of last year’s Ant-man and the Wasp. Finding his own family and friends gone, Ant-man comes up with a plan for using the quantum realm to travel back in time and recover the Infinity Stones before Thanos gained possession of them.
And that’s the jump-off point for the rest of Endgame’s story, and the story shifts gears from the somber tone of a world lost, to the familiar goofiness, wit, and hope that series fans have come to expect, tied in with a surprising amount of emotional punch. As the group travels through times and places, we get reunions with quite a few former cast members reprising their roles, though some in little more than cameos. Endgame masterfully captures all the stakes of the story it is telling, and despite being not much deeper in theme than to “be good at who you are, rather than who you are supposed to be,” the audience maintains a high level of emotional investment in the story, without it resorting to cheap fan service or thrills too often. That is, before the climactic confrontation that we all knew was coming, when the entire contents of the MCU are dumped into an ensemble battle royale. And even though it’s a swirling, sometimes indecipherable mash of action spectacle, it never feels clumsy or confusing.
And that’s probably the beauty of Endgame, in that it’s realistically a movie with a ton of fan service, especially in the climactic battle, but that it doesn’t feel like it. I didn’t feel patronized by this film at any point, like I was watching a movie Marvel and Disney just expected that I would watch anyway and didn’t need to try. Which was a nice surprise, because I’ll admit I was more than a little skeptical about watching a movie with such an obvious ending. I mean, with sequels to Black Panther and Spider-Man currently filming or in post-production, did anybody think that either of those characters were actually going to stay dead? It was the similar skepticism I had for 2017’s Logan. Wolverine and Professor X weren’t dying. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart were just getting a sendoff film for their iconic work in those roles. Wolverine will be back with a new face soon enough, and Professor X had already been recast. But Endgame gives the audience that same feeling that there are permanent, final stakes for characters that we know are only coming to their ends for these specific actors. This is an honest, and earnest farewell for this generation of The Avengers.
As far as the cast goes, we get some top notch performances from several of the main cast, especially Chris Hemsworth and Thor’s largely self deprecating, comical role in this film. And this is the first time we’ve really gotten any meat for Hawkeye’s character, as he finally feels like more than “What’s that dude with the bow and arrow doing next to a giant green guy, a supersoldier, a man in a robot suit, and a literal god?” They pair him off with Black Widow for much of the film, which works because her character has often suffered that same “scale of powers” dilemma in the previous films. And their arc is the one that doesn’t require them in the end to be “superheroes” in any other measure than their hearts. It’s excellently done, with a bittersweet resolution. This movie uses Scarlett Johansson’s acting chops properly for once in the series.
This really may be the best film in the entire MCU. It’s certainly the first one I’m going to give 4 Stars to. Out of four, even. This is action movie spectacle done correctly. It hits all the buttons it needs to, with very few misses in the humor and tone. We get all the “endings” we want, and for the most part, they feel “right.” The inevitable battle scenes are big and grand, and more importantly, don’t look completely silly (like Infinity War’s showdown in Wakanda did, for example). It’s long, at just over three hours, but it doesn’t drag at many points. The stakes ended up being a little lower than I had hoped for, but I think that overall, this serves as a great conclusion to the series and a celebration of the grand works of Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and of course, Stan Lee, who shows up for his final cameo.
Avengers: Endgame is rated PG-13 and opens everywhere April 26, 2019, with special screenings on the 25th.