From a comic book publisher struggling to recover from bankruptcy to their resurrection as the company behind the largest ongoing cinematic franchise of all time, the Marvel story is one of tragedy and triumph. Beginning with 2008’s Iron Man, superheroes from the so-called House of Ideas have dominated audience imaginations (and box offices) all over the world, with none so popular (or successful) as those in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Now, 21 films and 11 years on, we have Avengers: Endgame, serving as the the final entry in the MCU’s Infinity Saga. As the direct sequel to last year’s senses-shattering Infinity War, fans worldwide are well and truly stoked, displaying a level of anticipation once reserved for the likes of Star Wars. With global ticket pre-sales hitting record levels, cinemas announcing 24-hour screening schedules, and the rumor mill in overdrive, the only question worth answering is, was Endgame worth the wait?
The story opens in the aftermath of Thanos’ Decimation, as humanity struggles with the consequences of having had half the living beings in the galaxy killed in an instant. Among the survivors are Captain America (Chris Evans, Snowpiercer), Black Widow (Scarlett Johanssen, Lost in Transalation, Her), War Machine (Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda), and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, 13 Going on 30); while Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are themselves broken and in disarray, they retain some sense of normalcy in helping to keep what’s left of the world safe. The only holdout is Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Star Trek), who, consumed by what he perceives as his personal failure to stop the so-called Mad Titan, has elected to go into seclusion.
The unexpected arrivals of allies old and new spur the Avengers to embark on their newest, most dangerous mission: a quest to not only rebuild the world that was lost, but to end the threat of Thanos (Josh Brolin, Deadpool 2), once and for all.
END OF DAYS
Endgame loses no time in thrusting viewers back into the world of Infinity War, opening with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, The Bourne Legacy) on the worst day of his life; in the few seconds that it takes the former Avenger to realize what’s going on, the lightheartedness of the intervening MCU films (Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel) is thrown out, and the stakes instantly re-established for the fight to come. This isn’t to say that Endgame is without humor – there are probably more laughs per minute in this film’s first 90 minutes than Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy combined.
FAN SERVICE A-GO-GO
The film’s middle portion is where it lets its fan service flag fly, playing like a “greatest hits” of the MCU as our heroes break off into smaller teams to accomplish their overall mission. To go into more detail would be spoiling some of the most inventive sequences of big screen meta-referential hijinks since last year’s Teen Titans Go! movie; suffice it to say, the sequences are amusing in and of themselves, but are considerably more rewarding if one has a working knowledge of the MCU thus far. It’s kind of amazing, really – between the jokes and nonstop parade of cameos (in-universe and otherwise), one doesn’t really expect to have so much fun with the fate of all existence on the line, but the directing duo of Joe and Anthony Russo (Captain America: Civil War, TV’s Community) have managed it beautifully, the levity actually helping to smoothen the film’s 3 hour-runtime.
Where Infinity War deftly moved the narrative from one group to the next, this film concentrates on the survivors, who, for the most part, also happen to be the original six who assembled in 2012’s Avengers. Having survived the snap heard across the galaxy, our heroes now find themselves fighting, not just for themselves, but for everyone, and the Russos make sure to let the audience know where each of our heroes’ heads is at, and it’s not pretty. While this is to be somewhat expected, given what happened in their last outing, what is surprising here is how significant portions of Endgame’s emotional core stem from two of the series’ weaker entries, namely Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and Thor: The Dark World (2013). That the Russos managed to give narrative depth to those films’ plotlines is impressive enough, that they managed to give those threads weight equal to Cap’s love for Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell, Christopher Robin) is a miracle.
THE FIRST AVENGER
Captain America makes up for his minimal screen time in last year’s Infinity War, as the erstwhile Steve Rogers is the driving force in the mission to restore the galaxy. Evans is at his absolute best here, playing a Cap that is holding it together for the good of the team, while grappling with his own grief. The character is light years away (literally and figuratively) from where he was when we met him in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. With less naiveite and allowances for the occasional curse word(!) here and there, Evans conveys Rogers’ evolution without losing the essence of the skinny kid from Brooklyn. If it comes to pass that Evans will only ever be remembered for his time as Captain America, it will be a remembrance well-earned.
Make no mistake, Avengers: Endgame isn’t a perfect film. To wit, Infinity War had a tighter script, with editing and pacing perfectly balanced to propel the narrative forward. At times, Endgame displays a degree of self-indulgence that, if the circumstances were any different, would be entirely unforgivable. But because we’ve come to know and love these characters across so many films over so many years, the references, in-character jokes, and callbacks manage to come across as more organic than cheesy. There’s plenty of cheese here, too, but it’s the kind of cheesiness that will have you cheering out loud at being able to witness such awesomeness unfold. This is a worthy sequel in every sense of the word, and when the end credits close with the same signatory flourish as Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), you’ll know you were witness to something special.
When it was announced that Endgame would mark the end of the line for this iteration of the MCU, Marvel Studios refrained from announcing any post-2019 plans. Indeed, aside from July’s upcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home officially ending Phase 3 of the MCU, it seemed an odd omission from a franchise that has been cranking out three films a year since 2017. Fortunately, Endgame is littered with glimpses at potential future adventures that, even if the core six hypothetically aren’t involved, could very well keep the MCU going for years to come.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In the history of filmed entertainment, there has never been anything approaching the breadth or scale of the MCU. Packed with the cumulative emotion of the past eleven years and crowd-pleasing scenes you need to see to believe, Avengers: Endgame is a rousing, riveting end to the story that began in 2008’s Iron Man. Regardless of whatever Marvel Studios honcho Kevin Feige and his collaborators have in mind for Phase 4 and beyond, one thing is eminently clear: any impossibly-high standards that need to be met only exist because the MCU already showed us that it could be done.
To everyone who had a hand in crafting the MCU, thanks for the memories. Excelsior!