Avengers: Endgame is a great film. There’s no sense in delaying that statement with attempts at being profound or grandiose. Simply put, this movie is why we go to the theater to watch blockbusters, and I can’t imagine that anyone who has invested the last 10+ years in following this series will be disappointed. On the other hand, those that haven’t invested much time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe probably will be disappointed. But, honestly, this movie isn’t for them.
Five years after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, the people of Earth struggle to cope with the loss of half the population. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) leads a ramshackle group of former Avengers while Captain America (Chris Evans) leads support groups. Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) saves Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and brings him back to Earth to start a new life with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). And Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) begins a new life of his own as an international vigilante. It’s a hopeless and bleak world until Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is released from the Quantum Realm by chance. With his limited understanding of the science, he approaches the remaining Avengers with a fantastical scheme to undo Thanos’ work.
10 Years in the Making
I can still remember seeing Iron Man in the theater back in 2008. At the time, I had no idea that it was the beginning of a grand plan that would culminate in Endgame. I simply regarded Iron Man as a fantastic realization of a comic book character. Of course, that was before I was a film critic. Since then, I’ve watched every Marvel film and, like other fans of these movies, lived with all of these characters for a decade. And yet, it feels like yesterday that I saw Tony Stark don the iconic Iron Man armor. My, how time flies.
Now, here we are, at the magnum opus 10 years in the making. And what makes it especially memorable is that – for the first time – a Marvel film felt dangerous. We all knew that characters we loved might be gone permanently and irreversibly. As such, the film feels more meaningful. And as I watched heroes go to their destinies, I’m not ashamed to admit that I teared up multiple times. This is a film that honors the journeys that not only the characters took but also the journeys we took with them.
Avengers: Endgame is as beautiful to look at as it is to experience. From its desaturated color palette of a desolate Earth to the vibrant and otherworldly landscapes of alien planets, the excellent visuals shape our emotions as much as anything else happening on screen. Late in the film, when the last remaining hero makes a stand against an insurmountable and unending tide of enemies, we’re treated to a wide angle of the scene to truly understand the odds. On one side of the screen, the lone hero stands backlit against the remaining pocket of sunlight while the encroaching enemy force emerges from rising smoke, twisted metal, and foreboding clouds. That frame of film could hang next to other works of art in a museum.
Given the elevation of the art in this film, somehow the Marvel humor we’ve all come to enjoy (and sometimes rely on to tolerate these films) feels unwelcome. Ultimately, the biggest bit is a gag that lasts the entire film, and it really challenges our expectations of what a superhero looks like, especially one we’ve lived with over the last decade. The gag doesn’t break the film, but it’s an adjustment that audiences are going to have make.
The only other criticism I have of Avengers: Endgame is that it’s definitely not a film that can be enjoyed completely without having seen the previous films. There are so many characters that many of them only have seconds of screen time while many more have no lines at all. For those who followed the films, seeing a familiar face do one cool thing during the climax is enough to feel like they’re being active throughout. For viewers who aren’t familiar with the characters, those moments will probably feel very hollow and random. But, once again, this film wasn’t made for the latecomers.
Welcoming a New Era
The MCU is at a turning point, and a part of me is glad to see it happen. Frankly, it’s a chore writing glowing reviews while being cryptic so as not to spoil anything. Not every Marvel film has been great or even good, but enough have that I find myself challenged while writing the review, especially when this review will not affect anyone’s decision to see this film. Avengers: Endgame is a cultural touchstone, so everyone is going to see it just to have an opinion when the internet and coffee houses explode with conversation about it. And even if that doesn’t matter to you, then go see this film anyway, because a feat like this will only be pulled off once in a generation.