***THIS WILL BE A FULL SPOILER REVIEW! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED***
There was more than one or two moments while watching Avengers Endgame, that I stepped outside of myself for a moment. like Dr Strange in front of the Ancient One, (or the Hulk briefly in this film) I had the realization that I could barely believe what I was seeing. Due to a clever, secretive marketing campaign revealing little of the actual plot, story beats that subverted expectations, and moments earned calling back to movies from 5+ years ago, Avengers Endgame is a cinematic achievement like we’ve never seen before, and may never see again. Having made 1.2 BILLION dollars worldwide this last weekend alone (blowing past every prior record in the books) it’s a full blown cultural moment, the culmination of a decade+ of hard work and most importantly, patience, by producer and overseer Kevin Feige and others behind the scenes. It’s a film that is by no means perfect, but in the end leaves you feeling near-breathless at the places it goes, and at least for me, without a voice from cheering.
I think the best way to talk Endgame is to split it into 3 acts, as the movie has a pretty defined structure of:
1) fallout of infinity war
2) time jump/time heist
3) final showdown
The opening gets us almost immediately back into the action as Tony and Nebula coast through space, on the verge of death. Captain Marvel saves the day and brings them back to earth, where a bitter Tony resents Steve Rogers and says they could’ve done more. After a tense stand-off, Tony stays back to recover while the Avengers go off to find Thanos, only to discover that he used the stones to *destroy* the stones. In a truly unexpected and gratifying turn, Thor decapitates Thanos, in a moment that brought the house down with cheers, an amazing payoff to the ending of Infinity War.
I had wondered before seeing the movie if they would possibly take out Thanos early on and deal with bringing everyone back after that. It didn’t seem likely, so it really knocked me off balance when he was dead in 15-20 minutes. From there is yet another unexpected turn, jumping ahead 5 whole years on post-snap Earth. We get a great catch-up, with Steve Rogers leading a survivors therapy group (of course) and Black Widow holding down the Avengers fort. It’s these moments that I didn’t quite expect from Endgame, but were welcome: quiet, character moments where we can just relax and catch up with them 5 years later. Infinity War hit the ground running and had a lot to accomplish, but with a 3+ hour runtime, it was nice that Endgame slowed things down for a little while early on. This is also when Scott Lang returns from the Quantum Realm, in the back of his van, locked up in a repo garage. It leads to an emotional and impressive performance by Rudd reuniting with his older teenage daughter Cassie (who if I’m not mistaken joins the Avengers at some point in the comics *hint, hint*)
One of my favorite character developments over the 5 year jump has got to be Thor. What’s truly impressive about his arc over these last 20 or so movies is how drastically the character has evolved, and the underlying logic behind it. Going from a brash, douchey God to a slightly more humbled piece of a larger whole, to then slowly losing everything he’s ever loved, to finally just giving up. The decision to make him a beer-chugging, fat sad-sack in Endgame was bold as hell, and leads to some of the movies best comedic moments (also Korg is aliiiiive, wooooo!)
After this brief reintroduction, (including a clever Hulk/Banner fusion that I never would’ve guessed was coming) the gang tries to get Tony involved. They come to the conclusion that time travel via the quantum realm is how they can get everyone back. However, in another arc I love, Tony is maybe the only character to have moved on and *gained* a life post-snappening. He ‘refuses the call’ not wanting to give up his new life to risk it all just yet, but the seed is planted. Later that night, Tony *checks note* solves time travel (hey, these movies were never hard sci-fi, okay?) and reunites with the Avengers at headquarters. What follows for the remainder of the movie is pure, joyful fan-service, based in characters and moments we’ve seen, and not yet seen, over the past decade. It’s time for the time heist, baby.
This section of the movie comes so fast and furious that I really think I missed a few bits of connective tissue, but the gist of it is this: go back in time to get the stones, bring everyone back, return the stones to their spot in the original timeline. Easy enough. We jump back to the first Avengers movie, following the original team in the aftermath of that movie, as well as Hulk trying to get the time stone from the Ancient One (in a very welcome reappearance by Tilda Swinton). As to be expected, things go awry, and some of the Avengers have to keep going deeper, and further back (this section really reminded me of Inception in a way, the way they bounce around in time like dreams in Nolan’s movie). Back in (I think it was) 1970, Tony and Cap work to steal the tesseract (space stone) from an early Shield HQ. It’s here that Tony encounters his father, leaving to go to the hospital where his son, Tony himself, was just born. It’s a beautiful moment of catharsis for Tony, paying off what Civil War set up, having never said goodbye to his father. In the meantime, Steve sees an older Peggy through glass in her office, unable to confront her at the time, lest she recognize him and throw the whole plan into chaos.
Meanwhile, Hawkeye and Black Widow have to decide who lives and who dies at Vormir, in order to receive the soul stone. Many scenes in Endgame echo moments from Infinity War, and this one is no different. After a weirdly toned back and forth between the two of them, Natasha jumps off the edge, sacrificing herself, knowing that Hawkeye has a family that he’s fighting to see again. It’s important to mention here that moments like these land with a huge gut punch due to being the result of multiple movies laying the track, slowly and deliberately. Natasha and Clint’s relationship in Avengers 1, the introduction of Hawkeyes family in Age of Ultron and Natasha’s desire to have a family one day. It’s all of these slowly laid out pieces that accumulate into something greater than the sum of their parts, a conclusion that transcends its individual pieces to become something truly special. And speaking of special, let’s talk that third act: the final showdown.
Up to this point, Endgame was a great time, but this ending is what I really think is pushing into being a defining cultural moment. Our main avengers get back to HQ and use the gauntlet and stone to snap, potentially bringing everyone back. As they do, a rocket from past-Thanos’(or Biff, if you’re tracking the Back to the Future 2 parallels) ship flies through the building, totally leveling the entire headquarters. As everything is reduced to ash, Cap looks out across a barren gulf to see Thanks and his entire army (in one of the most beautiful shots in the entire MCU). Then, a portal appears. One by one, the entire group of Avengers, other MCU heroes and various armies appear, all coming out of Strange and Wong’s portals. The music here by Allen Selvestri is some of the absolute best in the entire MCU, swelling into the main Avengers theme we all know and love. Our audience lost their damn minds. I’m not a guy who claps in movies, but I clapped and cheered like Led Zeppelin just walked on stage.
This final set piece is everything you’d really ever want from a huge team-up superhero movie. Dozens of moments based in character, paying off setups from movies sometimes many years before this one (the worthy Cap/Mjolnir payoff in particular was *chefs kiss*) It’s a staggering achievement in both screenwriting as well as directing. The Russo brothers pull off some of their absolute best action directing here, with spatial geography between characters that’s easy to track and understand. The background basically being CGI dirt is something that really ought to bother me on paper, but isn’t even a concern when everything else is executed to 100%. As the many characters and armies go at it, the Russo brothers keep the emphasis focused on the gauntlet and infinity stones themselves. Bouncing between characters until it lands between Tony and Thanos.
“I am inevitable” Thanos repeats from earlier in the film.
“I am Iron Man” says Tony.
I know I sound like a crazy fanboy at this point, but it’s really insane to me that they landed the final film in this ‘Infinity Saga’ this well. As Tony slowly died in the arms of Pepper and surrounded by Peter Parker and other Avengers, with him dropped the curtain on one of the most influential and important serialized stories told in modern years; not on Television, currently in its so-called golden age, but on the silver screen. After Stark’s emotional funeral scene, filled with loving callbacks to Iron Man 1 and other important figures in MCU history, Steve Rogers himself got the ending he deserved and longed for since going into the ice decades ago: a new beginning, with his “best gal” Peggy Carter.
That’s going to sum up my thoughts on Endgame. In case you couldn’t tell, I really loved it. On a personal note, I got to see it with some of my best friends who I first saw Iron Man with back in 2008, while we were still in high school. At the time, I never thought something like the first Avengers movie could happen, let alone this insane culmination of dozens of movies, characters, and billions of box office dollars. Disney/Marvel, Feige and the insanely talented cast of these movies deserve all of the credit: they pulled it off. Hopefully they don’t try to rush into something like Endgame again, but instead fight for careful, individual stories developed over years, and the patience required to do so. I’m not sure Marvel can ever pull off something like this again, but I’m excited as hell to see them try.