(Minor Spoilers Below! Read at your own risk.)
So, how long does the no spoiler rule for Avengers: Endgame apply? There’s so much that I want to say about this film but I know that I shouldn’t because, even though it had a monstrous opening weekend, there are still people out there who have not had a chance to see the film. And while this review will have minor spoilers because, otherwise, it would be impossible to write, I’m not going to share any of the major twists or turns.
I will say this. I saw Avengers: Endgame last night and it left me exhausted, angry, sad, exhilarated, and entertained. It’s a gigantic film, with a plot that’s as messy and incident-filled as the cinematic universe in which it takes place. More than just being a sequel or just the latest installment in one of the biggest franchises in cinematic history, Avengers: Endgame is a monument to the limitless depths of the human imagination. It’s a pop cultural masterpiece, one that will make you laugh and make you cheer and, in the end, make you cry. It’s a comic book film with unexpected emotional depth and an ending that will bring a tear to the eye of even the toughest cynic. By all logic, Avengers: Endgame is the type of film that should collapse under its own weight but instead, it’s a film that thrives on its own epic scope. It’s a three-hour film that’s never less than enthralling. Even more importantly, it’s a gift to all of us who have spent the last ten years exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The film itself starts almost immediately after the “Snap” that ended Avengers: Infinity War and we watch as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner, returning to the franchise after being absent in the previous film) finds himself powerless to keep his family from disintegrating. After often being dismissed as the Avengers’s weak link, both Clint Barton and Jeremy Renner come into their own in the film. As one of two members of the Avengers who does not have super powers, Clint serves as a everyperson character. He’s a reminder that there’s more at stake in Endgame than just the wounded pride of a few super heroes. When Thanos wiped out half the universe, he didn’t just wipe out Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and Groot. He also left very real wounds that will never be healed.
When the film jumps forward by five yeas, we discover that the world is now a much darker place. When we see New York, the once vibrant city is now gray and deserted. Our surviving heroes have all dealt with the Snap in their own way. Clint is now a vigilante, killing anyone who he feels should have been wiped out by Thanos but wasn’t. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) drinks and eats and feels sorry for himself. Captain America (Chris Evans) attends support groups and, in one nicely done scene, listens as a man talks about his fear of entering into his first real relationship in the years since “the Snap.” Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is living as a recluse and is still blaming himself. Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is now an avuncular, huge, and very green scientist. Only Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) remains convinced that the Snap can somehow be undone. She’s right, of course. But doing so will involve some unexpected sacrifices and a lot of time travel….
And that’s as much as I can tell you, other than to say that the film takes full advantage of both the time travel aspects (yes, there are plenty of Back to the Future jokes) and its high-powered cast. With our heroes — which, along with the usual Avengers, also include Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) — hopping through time and space, we get a chance to revisit several of the films that led up to Endgame and it’s a thousand times more effective than it has any right to be. Yes, one could argue that the cameos from Robert Redford, Tom Hiddleston, Hayley Atwell, and others were essentially fan service but so what? The fans have certainly earned it and the MCU has earned the chance to take a look back at what it once was and what it has since become.
Indeed, Avengers: Endgame would not work as well as it does if it hadn’t been preceded by 21 entertaining and memorable movies. It’s not just that the MCU feels like a universe that it as alive as our own, one that is full of wonder, mystery, sadness, and love. It’s also that we’ve spent ten years getting to know these characters and, as a result, many of them are much more than just “super heroes” to us. When Tony Stark and Captain America argue over whether it’s even worth trying to undo the Snap, it’s an effective scene because we know the long and complicated history of their relationship. When the Avengers mourn, we mourn with them because we know their pain. We’ve shared their triumphs and their failures. Tony Stark may be a guy in an iron suit but he’s also a man struggling with his own demons and guilt. Steve Rogers may be a nearly 100 year-old super solider but he’s also every single person who has struggled to make the world a better place. As strange as it may be to say about characters known as Iron Man, Captain America, and the Black Widow, we feel like we know each and every one of them. We care about them.
Needless to say, the cast is huge and one of the great things about the film is that previously underused or underestimated performers — like Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Don Cheadle, and Karen Gillan — all finally get a chance to shine. As always, the heart of the film belongs to Chris Evans while Robert Downey, Jr. provides just enough cynicism to keep things from getting to superficially idealistic. Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo get most of the film’s big laughs, each playing their borderline ludicrous characters with just the right combination of sincerity and humor. Of course, Josh Brolin is back as well and he’s still perfectly evil and arrogant as Thanos. But whereas Thanos was the focus of Infinity War, Endgame focuses on the heroes. If Infinity War acknowledged that evil can triumph, Endgame celebrates the fact that good never surrenders.
As Endgame came to an end, I did find myself wondering what the future is going to hold for the MCU. A part of me wonders how they’re going to top the past ten years or if it’s even possible to do so. Several mainstays of the MCU say goodbye during Endgame and it’s hard to imagine the future films without their presence. It’s been hinted that Captain Marvel is going to be one of the characters holding the next phase of the MCU together and, fortunately, Brie Larson is a quite a bit better in Endgame than she was in her previous MCU film. Hopefully, regardless of what happens in the future, Marvel and Disney will continue to entrust their characters to good directors, like the Russo Brothers, James Gunn, and Taika Waititi. (Wisely, Disney reversed themselves and rehired James Gunn for the next Guardians of the Galaxy film. Of course, Gunn never should have been fired in the first place….)
And that’s really all I can say about Avengers: Endgame right now, other than to recommend that you see it. In fact, everyone in the world needs to hurry up and see it so we can finally start talking about the film without having to post spoiler warnings!
For now, I’ll just say that Avengers: Endgame is a powerful, emotional, and entertaining conclusion to one of the greatest cinematic sagas ever.