“We’re in the Endgame now.” Those were some of Dr. Stephen Strange’s last words after surrendering the Time Stone to the evil galactic warlord Thanos, which in addition to the rest of the Infinity Stones, enabled him to enact his maniacal plan of wiping out half of all life in the universe. Since filmgoers were left with that brutal cliffhanger back in April of 2018, fan anticipation has been intense (to put it lightly) to see how Marvel will address this calamity in the second part of their epic cinematic crossover, bringing to a head the plot threads of their staggeringly-ambitious 22-film cinematic universe.
What has been achieved here is beyond anything that has ever been accomplished in the history of film. The business acumen that was required to not only successfully produce a 22-part series, but to effectively interweave each installment in a consistent manner, while at the same time ensuring that each individual movie is good at some level, is not to be understated. This alone is an astonishing feat, but more than this, Marvel Studios has rewritten the rules of the modern blockbuster, and this weekend has delivered at ease one of the highest-earning films of all time.
Ever since audiences were introduced to Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man in 2008, Marvel Studios has been progressively training mainstream America to adore their comic universe created in part by Stan Lee by introducing new heroes and new entries in their saga, as their success has gradually exploded. Critics were floored by the finesse with which the original Avengers was handled in 2012, and though the road to the ultimate culmination in Endgame hasn’t always been a perfect one, it has always been a worthwhile one, filled with thrills and excitement.
In last year’s Infinity War, the first part to this epic franchise conclusion, Josh Brolin’s genocidal oppressor Thanos emerged collecting the six Infinity Stones to restore his view of “balance” to the cosmos, by vanquishing half of all life, so that what remains doesn’t have to compete as hard for resources. The shared threat brought together heroes of all walks of life, and Marvel icons from across the universe came to meet for the first time. A massive battle ensued, but in the end, our beloved defenders were ultimately unable to succeed, and half of all life was turned to dust.
(Warning: the following paragraph may contain mild SPOILERS).
In the aftermath of this horrific defeat, our remaining heroes regroup to discuss retaliation against the wicked tyrant. Help arrives in the form of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), who accompanies the angry cohort across space to confront Thanos in his place of hiding. Our protagonists find him with little trouble, but are crushed to learn he has destroyed the Infinity Stones once and for all, securing that his stunt can never be reversed. 5 years pass as the universe grieves, but Ant-Man finally returns from the quantum realm, and he brings with him a plan.
The first Avengers exceeded expectations, but Age of Ultron earned a reputation for more closely resembling your stereotypical bloated blockbuster due to Joss Whedon losing grip on the mammoth production. Because of this, many observers, such as myself, held reservations in the lead-up to Infinity War that the studio could effectively pull off such a wide-reaching crossover, and though the film wasn’t without its turbulence, directors Anthony and Joe Russo proved themselves capable of pulling it off. In Endgame, however, they have truly outdone themselves.
Anthony and Joe, who have gone from producing comedy TV series such as Community to ushering in the golden era of the new American blockbuster, have reaped the status as Marvel’s go-to maestros after overseeing the output of some of the studio’s strongest titles including Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War. After the pair was bestowed the honor of helming Marvel’s most crucial entries thus far, the brothers weathered the learning curve of Infinity War, and have come back to follow it up with the studio’s most powerful and riveting film yet.
The work is a superb balancing act of tones, as the film opens on tragic circumstances marked by crushing solemnity, but still manages to interject gags and sparkling one-liners as our heroes’ outlooks tend to improve. It’s a situation that in reality would be more disastrous than the Holocaust, but our filmmakers never forget that their material borders on the more cartoonish, and manage to always keep things light (and sometimes hilarious). It’s a demonstration from which DC could stand to learn, as their experiments with serious fare tend to be hit-or-miss.
As we have come to expect from this lengthy roster of talent, our assemblage of stars mobilizes in top form. Players who were absent from the previous film are given extra opportunity to shine, and heroes who have been key players since the studio’s seminal installments may or may not be gearing up for a permanent retirement. In either case, the film is a heartfelt tribute to pivotal contributors, such as Tony Stark, but also to the entire crew, and long-time followers of this beloved franchise will be hard-pressed to leave the theater without shedding a tear or two.
From a writing standpoint, the script from frequent Marvel/Russo collaborators Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is also incredibly ambitious, as the duo gave themselves a remarkably challenging starting point after their unforgettable cliffhanger in Infinity War, and pick things up with a narrative that is startlingly harder to predict than any of its predecessors. While previous Avengers entries were relegated to standard popcorn fare, Endgame braves the waters of heady sci-fi and increasingly complex storytelling, and is all the better for it.
As tends to happen with the concept that is introduced in this chapter, the various threads threaten to grow convoluted, and though there are various possible plot holes one could point out, there is nothing here so glaring as to detract from this sensational experience. Avengers: Endgame is a breathtaking feat of popular filmmaking, and it earns the hype. As our cultural climate continues to turn more and more divisive, it’s truly refreshing when something comes along that we can all cherish in unison. It may be a while before there is another like this.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Marvel Studios.
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.
Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on The Avengers by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, and Josh Brolin.
Released April 26, 2019.
More reviews in this series:
Spider-Man: Homecoming – 2017
Thor: Ragnarok – 2017
Black Panther – 2018
Avengers: Infinity War – 2018
Ant-Man and the Wasp – 2018
Captain Marvel – 2019