Twenty-two films. Eleven years. Billions in box office. Six stones. One Infinity Saga. Everything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, everything since Tony Stark first put hammer to anvil back in 2008, it’s all been leading to this. AVENGERS: ENDGAME is not just a superhero film. It’s not just the sequel to INFINITY WAR. It’s the culmination of a decade of storytelling and character development across nearly two dozen separate films. Spider-Man may be officially capping off Marvel’s third phase of films, but there is no doubt that the devastatingly final ENDGAME is the conclusion of the Infinity Saga. And what an incredible conclusion it is. Be warned, this review contains MAJOR SPOILERS for ENDGAME throughout.
With the dust having barely settled, so to speak, after Thanos’ snap, the film opens on a world in shock. The remaining Avengers are reeling from their overwhelming defeat, while the big purple psychopath himself is off on a lovely garden world, enjoying a slew of grateful sunrises. Given that several of the dusted characters, including Black Panther, Spider-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy, have sequels scheduled in the future, it comes as little surprise that the name of the game here is undoing what’s been done, no matter the cost. This may not be the most surprising of avenues that the film could have followed – everybody called time travel before the first trailer even dropped – but the plot unfolds with enough twists and turns that it avoids being predictable.
Coming in at just over three hours long, ENDGAME takes the crown as the longest film in the MCU so far, and even then it is an absolutely jam-packed ride. In the first twenty minutes, we see Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) lose his family to the Decimation, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) rescued from space by Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), and the surviving Avengers jetting off to beat up a weakened Thanos (Josh Brolin), culminating in Thor (Chris Hemsworth) cutting off his big purple head. All this ends up being for nothing, however, as Thanos had already destroyed the Stones, and the Avengers return to Earth to try and learn to live with their failure. After a miserable five years, a healthy dose of deus ex rattina frees Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) from the Quantum Realm, and he proposes to the team a daring but dangerous new idea that could get their hands on the Infinity Stones: A Time Heist.
ENDGAME challenges the limits of what a superhero film can achieve in terms of character development.
Wrapping up an epic saga of interconnected stories with something as hit or miss as time travel was always going to be a risky move, but writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely make it clear that they’ve taken the task seriously. Even though the time-stuff is occasionally played for laughs – looking at you, Russian nesting doll of differently aged Ant-Mans – the overall execution is extremely confident, and allows the film to serve not only as a conclusion to the Infinity Saga, but a celebration of it. The time heist sees the original Avengers and a few extras going back to some of the most iconic moments of the MCU so far – and, y’know, THOR: THE DARK WORLD – allowing for some great new angles on well known scenes, and plenty of hilarious time travel hi-jinx as the heroes interact with and avoid past versions of themselves.
As implied by the devastating ending to INFINITY WAR, and the thick aura of finality that radiated from the marketing campaign, ENDGAME is definitely not all baby Ant-Man and Cap on Cap memes. Despite the humour, this is undoubtedly the most mature film in the franchise so far. With relatively low-key scenes such as Hawkeye’s picnic with his family, the whole sequence of Tony and Nebula adrift on the Benatar, and Cap’s post-snap support group, ENDGAME challenges the limits of what a superhero film can achieve in terms of character development. Not all characters are given equal attention – this is still very much like INFINITY WAR in that regard – but those that do get the focus are privy to unprecedented levels of emotional depth and exploration.
And then there’s the real hard-hitting stuff. The tableau of grief and loss in the aftermath of the snap; Tony’s fatherhood chats with his 1970s dad; Steve seeing Peggy (Hayley Atwell) through the glass; Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) sacrificing herself; Steve preparing to face Thanos’ army alone, only to have Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the rest of the dusted turn up beside him; ALL of the Avengers assembling; Tony’s “I am Iron Man” snap, and dying with his loved ones around him; Tony’s funeral; old Steve Rogers on the bench; Cap and Peggy finally getting their dance – ENDGAME is an emotional powerhouse that somehow manages to fit so many incredibly dramatic, devastating moments within its run-time, without ever feeling overstuffed or insincere.
Echoes of previous films and comic arcs feel natural and earned, making the film that much more rewarding for eagle-eyed fans.
New arrival Captain Marvel fits in well with the other heroes, and has her fair share of big moments, but she is wisely absent for the middle portion of the film, ensuring that she doesn’t detract focus from the more seasoned Avengers. This is for the best, as three of the original six end their superhero careers before the credits roll, one way or another, and the extra focus allows them to deliver some of the film’s most heart-wrenching scenes. Be it Widow’s vulnerability in her last moments on Vormir, Stark’s grim acceptance of his fate as he snaps his fingers, or the utterly adorable contentment of old-man Steve on the bench, Johansson, Downey and Evans are all on absolute top form in this film, wringing incredible drama out of each of their big moments, and ensuring an emotionally satisfying conclusion to their characters’ arcs.
Of course, this is still a comic-book film, and, as much as it succeeds on its storytelling alone, it’s basically a rule now that superhero films have to scatter a tonne of Easter eggs for viewers to gobble up. And ENDGAME does not disappoint. There’s way too many nods and winks to list them all, but some of the highlights include: Thor decapitating Thanos, and quipping that he went for the head; Cap hailing Hydra in the elevator, calling back to both WINTER SOLDIER and the infamous Secret Empire comic; new versions of old characters, such as Professor Hulk and Ronin; Cap wielding Mjölnir against Thanos; the epic A-Force moment as all the female heroes assemble in one shot; and of course, the final one-liner from Tony Stark, bringing the “I am Iron Man” moment from his first film full circle. These echoes of previous films and comic arcs feel natural and earned, making the film that much more rewarding for eagle-eyed fans.
Veterans of the MCU by now, having previously worked on INFINITY WAR and Cap’s last two outings, directors Joe and Anthony Russo have here delivered not only a fitting end to the tangled Infinity Saga, but also a love letter to it. And a beautiful one at that. The cinematography, courtesy of Trent Opaloch, creates some seriously impressive shots; the dark, blue-hued scene of Tony recording messages to Pepper feels hauntingly isolated, and the moment that all the assembled Avengers charge against Thanos’ army looks like something ripped right from a comic book. Elevated by Alan Silvestri’s epic and awe-inducing score, ENDGAME, and the final clash in particular, is superhero spectacle of unequalled proportions, raising the bar for films of its like in the future.
ENDGAME is proof that big picture cinema […] can provide some of the most meaningful and satisfying experiences for the dedicated viewer.
As with all things, ENDGAME’s brilliance doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. Its most recurring flaw is the tendency to undermine what should have been important emotional beats with easy comedic moments. The re-introduction to Thor after the five year time jump, for instance, was an opportunity to explore the god of thunder’s depression in the wake of a harrowing defeat. What we got instead was fat jokes and Korg playing Fortnite, which, while admittedly hilarious, did nothing to further Thor’s character. Similarly, Professor Hulk’s new merging of his twin personalities is mostly played for laughs. Again, this works fine, and produces some of the funniest moments, but with such a limited amount of time to explore his arc, very little of substance ends up being made of this conclusion to Banner and Hulk’s journey of self(ves) discovery.
Perhaps most undermined of all is Black Widow, especially considering her death midway through the film. Forever sidelined in favour of her male teammates, Widow’s sacrifice would have been even more impactful if her character had been paid more attention, both here and in previous films. Further, her romantic subplot with Banner desperately needed some focus somewhere between INFINITY WAR and ENDGAME, and the lack of anything other than brief interactions makes his grief at not being able to snap her back feel hollow and unearned. The final victim of character glossing is the big bad himself – Thanos. A three-dimensional villainous protagonist with fleshed out motivations in INFINITY WAR, the Mad Titan is reduced here to a caricature of himself, one who monologues about enjoying genocide and shows none of the nuance that originally made him such a captivating and relatable presence.
Listed out, these gripes may seem like a lot, but the truth is that, when compared to everything that the film gets right, they feel like such small and insignificant details, they wouldn’t look out of place in the Quantum Realm. Wrapping up 22 films worth of story and character in a single film would have seemed like an insane proposition ten years ago, but ENDGAME is proof that big picture cinema is not only possible, but can provide some of the most meaningful and satisfying experiences for the dedicated viewer. A few stumbles over character development aside, this is superhero storytelling at its very best, delivering the most epic comic book adaptation to date, and cementing itself as a significant and momentous conclusion to the Infinity Saga.
Verdict: 5/5 Paddles