THIS REVIEW OF ‘AVENGERS: ENDGAME’ CONTAINS VERY, VERY MINOR SPOILERS.
by Jarrod Jones. 22 films, 11 years, and a whole bunch of billions in-between, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has captivated a generation of film-goers by making what is ostensibly the most ornately produced television series ever made. Three Phases, three seasons—differentiated by mere screen size, don’t let anyone ever tell you different—each with a rollicking premiere and a staggering finale, with every installment imbued with meaning and escalation and Easter eggs peppered with hints towards the bigger (and, at times, more frightening), things ahead.
Ain’t nothing wrong with that; in fact many other corporate entities have spent pathetic amounts of money since to recreate what Marvel Studios has accomplished here to zero avail: an ever-expanding and (this one’s important) self-sustaining movie universe. And now it’s all coming to an end? The hell you say.
It is, and it absolutely isn’t. An era hurtles towards the annals of memory, maybe, but the franchise powers on.
Yet Avengers: Endgame is very much an end. An end for certain characters, some of whom we’ve been palling around with for the better part of our recent lives. An end for a particular narrative that’s been on a simmer ever since Samuel L. Jackson sauntered out from the shadows at the end of Iron Man as Nick Fury, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and started talking about something called “the Avenger initiative”. In fact, as an end, Endgame concludes enough character arcs and jettisons certain bits of its iconography (while leaving others to drift tantalizingly in the wind) that it might have been better served by being named Avengers: Epilogue. Maybe that sounded too anti-climactic?
It’s not (anti-climactic, that is), though Endgame certainly conveys the somber, cue-the-chamber-choir moods of an epilogue with its last (hopefully satisfying) expanses of story. It functions very much like most lauded series-cappers have functioned—Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King springs to mind, in more ways than one—by wrapping up the whole dang fracas with one show-stopping spectacle after the other, topped off by a frantic series of finales that will give you palpitations and will punish you for the hubris of thinking you could sit through a three-hour long movie with zero consequences.
It begins immediately following the infamous snap of the fingers from dread Thanos (Josh Brolin), where Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and the reformed Nebula (Karen Gillan) drift in space, out of fuel and out of food and nothing to do but sway to the soothing tunes of Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and think about the end. For Stark’s part the end is an inevitability, something to acquiesce to with dignity. But there’s vengeance in Nebula’s void-black eyes, dark work still to be done concerning her conquering Mad Titan father.
It’s here where I’ll pull back on the details; spoilers at this juncture would be tantamount to betrayal, and besides, the savvy among you will suss out that there is at least something Nebula and Tony and the rest of their motley crew can do about Thanos and his candy-colored Infinity Stones. How these two get out of this particular space jam and what becomes of the universe as a result is better found out on the screen than read on a tiny comics blog. Suffice it to say there’s a lot of time paid to Thanos’ impact on Earth, with its remaining inhabitants sifting through the ruins of their lives to find a reason, somehow, to continue. (“Some people move on,” Chris Evans’ Captain America says early in the going. “But not us.”)
Viewed as a two-parter with last year’s Infinity War (which felt like it was missing crucial pieces other than Jeremy Renner), Endgame is an optimum film-going experience. On its own, that’s another matter. Like last year’s Marvelous entry, Endgame doesn’t bother to make sure everyone’s on board with all the name-drops and deeply embedded cameos and other such minutiae; Joe and Anthony Russo’s film soldiers on with glorious purpose and focuses its time to pay off fan obedience with one melancholy sequence and fleet-footed action bit after the other. There are moments that transcend continuity and zero in on the humanity of its leads; the lingering pauses on our heroes’ beautiful, weary faces almost feel like the film is attempting to articulate its themes of loss and finality as much as it’s clearly saying, “Get a good look, kids; this is it.” (The score does so much work in these quieter moments that Alan Silvestri could have at least been offered a writing credit.)
The series’ core Avengers—Evans’ Cap, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man, Scarlett Johannsen’s Black Widow, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Renner’s Hawkeye—all have an opportunity for dramatic grandeur whether they’re locked in heroic struggle with themselves or otherwise. All get finales, for better or worse. (Though some, it seems, will be carrying on with the studios’ Phase Four, or whatever it’ll be called.) One of these stalwarts, it should be noted, gets the dirty end of the stick; it’s an egregious sequence that underscores with heavy red ink how much there’s still left to do to ensure Marvel’s female characters are treated with the same reverence as its hulks and ant-men. (There are gestures, even an overture later in the film, but considering the spoilery context I’ll simply say it’s too little, far too late.)
And that’s ultimately the rub. These movies have rarely been perfect, largely because they were never required to be. They’re balanced with plenty of zip and wonder to make the hordes happy and the bust the box office once or twice (or, in this case, thrice) a year. But it’s escape without giving us something to ponder over once we exit the darkened theater. (Black Panther remains the series’ rare exception.) So now that the “experiment” is at an end, now that the existence of such a sustainable universe has been proven, and now that there’s a brave new future to explore (with bold new explorers on their way to explore it), perhaps its time for this franchise to consider the cultural impact it could make by reflecting us and our zeitgeist instead of forging one of its own. With great power… well, you know the rest.
Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo.
Produced by Kevin Feige.
Screenplay by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin.
Rated PG-13 for climactic violence and wanton feels.
7 out of 10
Tune in this Wednesday for a spoiler-filled discussion of ‘Avengers: Endgame’ on our podcast, CASUAL WEDNESDAYS.