The review does not include spoilers for Avengers: Endgame, (dirs. Anthony & Joe Russo) but you should absolutely expect spoilers for every film that came before it in the connected universe.
“All that for a drop of blood,” Thanos, the Mad Titan, groaned in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War moments before Doctor Strange relinquished the time stone to save Tony Stark’s life. Soon the not-so-seasoned Avengers turned to dust. The teenaged talking tree, the brave wall-crawler, an African king with a seemingly impenetrable suit made to look like an anthropomorphic big cat, and a quippy, tricker-happy, 70s music-loving outlaw — all gone from one moment to the next. Those left standing were left to live with their mistakes, as the Avengers had now well and truly lost even though a Norse God, multiple supersoldiers, an eccentric billionaire, and a magical surgeon — to name a few — had fought long and hard to save fifty-percent of the known universe. They failed. If those sentences made no sense to you whatsoever, then Avengers: Endgame isn’t for you. If, however, you’ve been waiting to see — nay, obsessing about — what comes next for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, then Endgame was designed for you. It is a somber epic like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Avengers: Endgame is peerless in scope and attention to detail, as well as moving from start to finish.
Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Endgame picks up right where Infinity War left off. After the cataclysmic snap heard around the world, the odd couple of Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey, Jr.) and Nebula (played by Karen Gillan) is stranded in space, and the remaining, undusted Avengers are on Earth surrounded by reminders of their defeat at the hands of the Mad Titan, Thanos (played by Josh Brolin). Overpowered, outmatched, and, to themselves, at fault, the Avengers hatch up a plan to take the fight to Thanos, who has used the infinity stones again on a planet in the far reaches of space which he refers to as his ‘garden.’ But they are not alone. Captain Marvel (played by Brie Larson) has made her existence known to the Avengers in the hopes of undoing the damage that Thanos’ disastrous snap caused all over the universe. To say more would be to reveal what happens beyond the trailers and early promotional images.
No matter what I say about its deeper meaning, its themes, or its fascinations, the fact of the matter remains that Avengers: Endgame is a carefully created product from the biggest American studio in existence. Those less enthused by Marvel films might say that Marvel films — big and small — are tentpole films with strict formulas that are designed to create essentially the same product over and over again. Though some films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are formulaic to a frustrating degree, Endgame belongs among some of the bolder and more complex mainstream comic book films in existence. With hints of HBO’s underseen masterpiece The Leftovers, Avengers: Endgame is a film about failure, loss, responsibility, grief, and the rage against acceptance. Though it never quite reaches the highs of The Leftovers — which would be damn near impossible to do — Endgame writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s attentiveness to, and understanding of, the way the characters relate to the aforementioned themes in this quieter and deeply serious post-apocalyptic Marvel film is commendable. The way they, along with the directing duo, Anthony and Joe Russo, then launch these characters right back into the action is thrilling. Somber, epic, and unbelievable, Avengers: Endgame is many things.
In Endgame, we encounter pent-up frustration and deeply moving, but logical, character moments, as well as earned nostalgic fan-service. Markus and McFeely have an attentiveness to detail and an understanding of these characters, including some that they haven’t worked with a lot beforehand. The Russos work wonders with Karen Gillan, who stands out in a Marvel film for the first time, but also get sublime, legend-solidifying performances from select members of the original six-man team of Avengers. This is the best Robert Downey, Jr. has been over the course of these twenty-two films, and what his character struggles with here comes across really well due to his incredibly nuanced and touching performance. Chris Evans, who I’ve said before embodies his hero better than anyone has ever embodied a superhero, is very good and moving as well. Captain America struggling with failure is a sight to behold, but seeing what Infinity War did to Tony Stark is downright heartbreaking.
Not surprisingly Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans are the two standouts, but they are not alone at all. Mark Ruffalo functions much better this time around. Jeremy Renner gets plenty of moments to shine, and his character’s journey is one of the great stories to track in Endgame. His on-screen long-time pal played by Scarlett Johansson also gives it her all, with her character this time feeling more human than she has ever felt before thanks to the actress’ genuinely moving performance. Hemsworth, once again, proves himself as a great comedic talent, and he, seemingly, only gets funnier the more he gets to let loose as the God of Thunder. Avengers: Endgame, though it also includes moving performances from Karen Gillan and Paul Rudd, pays particular attention to the original six Avengers and they all — bar none — get their own moments to shine in the spotlight.
Avengers: Endgame packs a punch. It rewards long-time fans with unlikely payoffs and cameos, it is the single most distressing superhero film that I’ve ever seen, even though it’s also surprisingly funny, and I think it actually strengthens several films that came before it. Of course, it, by no means, stands alone. I’d also say that many events — battles, character moments, and so on and so forth — in this film tower above most moments that came before it. For example, the major superhero team-up stand-off in Captain America: Civil War pales in comparison to the climactic battle in Endgame.
I’ll add that the visual effects are outstanding in Endgame. This will not be a surprise to anyone. Marvel Studios films have always had great visual effects, and, at times, they’ve done things that are unbelievable. In Endgame, they use the de-aging effects at least once or twice to great effect, but they also reuse the effects from Captain America: The First Avenger that made Chris Evans look almost sickly thin. The way they use that effect in Endgame is even more impressive and convincing. But, of course, Thanos and Hulk also look terrific. In Infinity War, the effects on Ruffalo in the Hulkbuster were less than convincing, but I never had a problem like that in Endgame.
I also don’t think the length of the film is a problem, per se. Sure, it’s been discussed constantly online that this is the longest Marvel film yet, with a runtime of just over three hours. Endgame is a lot, and it’s one of those films that makes you feel the length but which, in my mind, would be tough to make as significant and remarkable as it is without its herculean runtime. The runtime, in a way, makes the character arcs seem more earned. As such, I appreciate the runtime, and I think the film works in spite of how daunting the runtime is.
I only really have two issues with Avengers: Endgame. One of them is in the way the emotional and hectic third act is, for the most part, presented with dull and unexciting dark skies. Superhero films have a tendency to have epic battles in these types of darkened locations. It doesn’t have a great look to it, but this final act is thrilling from start to finish. Also, and this is probably the biggest problem with the film, the film is a little bit dense. It’s a complex film that sets up a series of rules that are perhaps a little bit too convoluted. However, fans of the connected universe will likely be easily won over by the slightly convoluted rules as they lead to payoffs to films that were released many years ago.
It really is extraordinary and unbelievable how Endgame manages to continue narrative threads from many different previous films in the cinematic universe. The callbacks and references in Endgame are, honestly, overwhelming in the best possible way for fans of the series. This, of course, can also mean that dissenters will be of the opinion that the film is little more than fan-service, which is a totally fair opinion that I, nevertheless, disagree with. The ways Endgame furthers series long narratives and character arcs are extraordinary, and the fan-service is pretty much always earned in this film.
At the end of Infinity War, Thanos stared down at an injured Tony Stark and said: “I hope they remember you.” At the end of Avengers: Endgame, the twenty-second film in the connected universe of Marvel-Disney films, I could safely say that we’ll never be able to forget about the cinematic achievement Kevin Feige’s Marvel Cinematic Universe has turned into, and this — Endgame, a culmination of and conclusion to the Infinity Saga — is a well-earned victory lap that will undoubtedly do little to make non-believers into true fans, but which will be more than enough for the true believers, as late-creator Stan Lee dubbed the Marvel fans, to fall head over heels in love with. In short, Avengers: Endgame is an incredible and overwhelming achievement. It is the most heart-wrenching and most satisfying comic book film I’ve ever seen. It might be Marvel Studios’ finest hour, so to speak.
9.5 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.