This Avengers: Endgame review has mild spoilers. The many twists, turns and cameos are not discussed at any capacity, nor if certain characters are alive or dead. However, I do talk about the characters and their journey on a thematic level.
Avengers: Endgame opens on a large suburban ranch, where the breeze is gentle and the open green fields are swallowed by warm yellow rays. Clint Barton (you might know him as Hawkeye) smiling and cheery, teaches his teenage daughter how to shoot arrows, as his wife sets the picnic table and two sons toss a baseball in the background. He turns away for a second and when he looks back, they’re gone… turned to dust and whooshed away like dandelions in the wind. Thanos’ doing, of course.
The ending of Infinity War (which directly ties into the beginning of Endgame) is the most shocking thing to happen in blockbuster cinema since Darth Vader announced himself as Luke Skywalker’s father in 1980. Despite our heroes’ efforts; despite punching and kicking and clawing and scraping, the bad guy won. Thanos acquired all six Infinity Stones and wiped out 50% of all living creatures just like he said he would. Sure, I knew the likes of Spider-Man and Black Panther wouldn’t remain permanently dead. After all, they have sequels coming up.
But knowing that out-story fact didn’t take away the emotional weight of the scene. Being aware of the comic book storyline didn’t stop my feeble-as-glass heart from breaking into a million tiny pieces when Peter Parker looks at his father figure, Tony with fear in his eyes and plead for his life. “I don’t wanna go… I don’t wanna go. Mr Stark please…” As I said, shocking! I was heartbroken. Distraught. And then enraged. I couldn’t wait for the Avengers to pick themselves up again and exact revenge on the Mad Titan.
And so, after a year of waiting and multiple MCU marathons… we’re here at the end.
I walked into the 7.30am screening of Endgame today both excited and anxious. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been the centre of our pop cultural landscape for the past decade and then some. These films have been an integral part of my youth, as I’m sure it is many of yours too. So, I was anxious. If Endgame doesn’t deliver the goods, I can’t help but feel the entire journey would’ve been for nought. But I didn’t have to worry. Watching the end credits roll, my eyes overflowing with tears of varying emotions, I let out a huge sigh of relief. Avengers: Endgame is absolutely, unequivocally bloody GREAT. This type of payoff can only happen through years of longform storytelling.
But it’s also great because of the Russo brothers, Joe and Anthony. Walking out of this, the Russos may not attain the same type of clout as Christopher Nolan did after helming The Dark Knight Trilogy. It’s safe to assume that when it comes to these movies, most people just think of Marvel Studios as a whole instead of individual directors. But make no mistake, the Russo brothers are some of the biggest heroes of the studio. Coming in at a time when the mega-franchise was slowly starting to lose its spark — Iron Man 3 was divisive and Thor: The Dark World didn’t exactly light the world on fire — the Russos took an arguably bland character in Captain America and turned him into one of the most intriguing superheroes to ever grace the big screen, in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And after Whedon delivered the uneven Age of Ultron, the Russos were brought in to helm the tentpole films. They did not disappoint, crafting the masterpiece that is Captain America: Civil War and later, Infinity War.
Like the John Cena vs CM Punk match at the 2011 Money in the Bank, the Russo Brothers once again put on a directorial clinic, crafting a film whose tone is perfectly balanced from scene to scene to scene. This isn’t just a fun movie (though it is very fun), it isn’t just a spectacle (though, it is indeed spectacular, worthy of its expensive IMAX ticket price); this is a blockbuster film that is dense, layered, consequential and emotionally harrowing. My issue with Infinity War (I LOVE the last hour of the film) is that it’s too quick paced. A lot of the scenes, particularly in the first hour, are short as we jump from place to place, planet to planet, action scene to action scene. (I get that it makes sense narratively. Thanos is on the hunt and there’s no time for chit chat.)
But Endgame is exactly my kind of movie. It is filled with loads of smaller, talking moments. Scenes that are quiet but textured. Scenes where characters are just being. And these moments are some of the best the MCU has to offer. I love the scene in the fuelless jet (that’s drifting in space) where Tony and Nebula play paper football as they wait for their imminent death. It reminded me of the scene in the latest episode of Game of Thrones, where a bunch of our favourite characters sit around a fireplace and talk about random stuff, knowing what’s awaiting them tomorrow.
Seeing the human side of Nebula, who was once a ruthless cold-blooded assassin; watching her have fun, put a smile on my face. Watching her give the little remaining food on the jet to Tony Stark warmed my heart. Then we stare helplessly at Tony Stark as he sits by the jet window and bares his soul in a message to the love of his life, Pepper Potts. My eyes begin to water. Mind you, all this happens in the first 10 minutes of the film.
The Russo brothers along with their frequent MCU collaborators, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely fill the film with these type of moments. They aren’t in a rush to get to the big action set pieces. We’re given the time and space to actually feel the depressing aftermath of Thanos’ actions. Five years into the future and the world feels different. The fields are still green and so is the yellow of the sun, but there’s a feeling of sorrow and hopelessness in the breeze. Thanos was wrong. He thought the planet would be grateful that he restored balance. But human beings aren’t just emotionless pragmatists. He may have extended the galaxy’s lifespan tenfold, but the galaxy has never felt more hollow.
Captain America conducts AA meetings to help people cope with their losses (there’s a neat cameo in this scene). Hawkeye has gone from a hero to a vigilante with a thirst for blood. Black Widow supervises the remaining Avengers — Captain Marvel, Rocket Raccoon, Okoye, War Machine — sending them on pointless patrols, desperately trying to give her life some meaning, unable to let go of the past. When she’s alone, she cries quietly, trying hard to prevent her tears from flowing when Captain America walks in.
It’s difficult to watch these scenes, to see our beloved characters, characters who have inspired you and given you so much joy, now wallow in anguish. The Russos know how to craft a film that’s thoroughly absorbing. You know the Avengers will eventually pick themselves up and fight back. You know it as fact. But it doesn’t make watching these sequences any easier. Joe and Anthony Russos make you wait. They build the dramatic tension brick by brick. The conflict escalates slowly in a perfectly controlled manner.
A new hope arrives in the form of Ant-Man, who has been stuck in the quantum realm since the mid-credits scene of Ant-Man and The Wasp. In interviews, the Russos have referred to Endgame as a time-travel heist film. And it is. This film does have time-travel and it does have heists, in the form of small scale, fun action blocks. But more than a heist film, Endgame is a time travel self-rediscovery story. Each of the original Avengers (and Nebula) have to confront their past either literally or metaphorically in sequences that vary in tone (comedic, dramatic, action-packed, thrilling, sweet) but are packed with poignant character moments all the same.
Thor, who has always lived with a huge burden on his shoulders — the burden to live up to his father’s expectations; the burden to be king — needs to learn to embrace who he really is. Think of it as a reverse Aragorn arc from Return of the King. A character tells him, “everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be. True heroism is succeeding at who you truly are.” The Russo brothers find an organic way to infuse Thor’s new brand of comedy (set up by Taika Waititi in Ragnarok) with the serious thematics. It works really well.
Clint and Natasha, who have been best friends for the longest time, try to one-up each other in a harrowing “fight scene.” Nebula, who has changed the most as a character since Guardians of the Galaxy, has to come face to face with her darker self. For Captain America, it has always been about one person. All of these wonderfully penned characters go through complex, emotional and difficult journeys throughout the film.
But none as arduous as Iron Man’s. Out of all the Avengers, Tony Stark manages to find some joy in the post-Thanos’ snap world. He goes on to marry Pepper and birth a beautiful child. When the opportunity to travel back in time presents itself, he does the right thing and declines it immediately. What if the Avengers travel back in time and a mistake happens which erases his child from existence? What if the fabric of reality is altered and he and Pepper never fall in love. But his decision to choose love over honour and duty causes him sleepless nights. He knows, just as Pepper knows, just as we know that he has to do it. He has to try and bring Peter and Happy Hogan back; to bring everyone back. It is true to his character. For better or worse, that is who Tony Stark is. Over the past decade, Robert Downey Jr has been the undisputed MVP of this franchise, delivering one thoroughly believable performance after another.
But here, he’s phenomenal. Here, RDJ delivers a performance so controlled and nuanced with a spectrum of complex emotions brewing under his skin that come next year the Academy will surely still not give a crap. But what he does here and what he has done since 2008 transcends a silly trophy. When he hugged Peter, I let out an audible weep. In fact, all the performances are excellent from top to bottom. Chris Hemsworth is having a blast with his character now, after the Taika Waititi rebranding. The same can be said about Mark Ruffalo. Karen Gillan is stellar as Nebula and so is Josh Brolin as Thanos. (I haven’t said much about Thanos because Endgame frankly isn’t about him, although it is very much about defeating him. That said, the character is taken in directions nobody would’ve predicted and it’s awesome.)
All these character arcs interlock, brew, build and climb dramatically upwards to a rousing and magnificent crescendo that had the whole cinema in a frenzy. The climactic action sequence was fist pumping and the energy in a packed-to-the-brim hall was electrifying. Some of the earlier MCU villains have been hit or miss (largely miss), but the actors who portray the protagonists, even the supporting actors, supply one example after another of inspired casting. Here, all of them — ALL OF THEM — get a moment to shine a battle of epic proportions. My heart pumped so hard and so fast, I was convinced it was gonna give out. I was only kept alive by the molecules of awesome emitted out of the film.
At one point, someone in the cinema shouted “Wakanda Forever!!!” and everyone cheered loudly. Heroes pair off in ways comic book and comic book movie fans have been waiting for all their lives. You see Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) kicking ass side by side. The Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), The Wasp (Evangeline Lily) shine on the battlefield too. There’s even a HOLY SH*T moment that will make boys and men cheer, but girls and ladies weep with absolute joy. It’s a quick scene, but a cool one that’s gonna change the lives of little girls everywhere.
But the wonderfully choreographed and photographed action sequence isn’t just rousing and fun. It’s filled with dramatic tension. Every punch feels purposeful and important. Your heart races because you’re legitimately worried about everyone. All of it ends in a bittersweet climax that will destroy even the most cold-hearted, non-emotive person. I am not overhyping it when I say, this is one of the most affecting battle sequences ever put to screen. And Endgame is every geek’s dream come to life as flawlessly as it could possibly be. A fantastic work of art from start to finish.
Sure, there are nits to be picked. Outside of Ludwig Goransson’s work in Black Panther, the musical score in the MCU has never really been inspiring. The same can be said about Endgame. Alan Silvestri’s score is fine and serves its purpose well enough, but it is neither unique nor memorable. And the climactic battle sequence, while spectacular, could’ve been much, much longer. There are also noticeable plot holes when it comes to the time travelling aspect. But as a whole, Avengers: Endgame is everything you’d hope to get from a blockbuster film — dense, emotional, character-centric, smartly written and builds to a final action sequence that is exhausting in the best possible ways.
Part of the journey is the end. And while there are more movies to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (there are plenty of films announced and many more in development) Avengers: Endgame truly does feel like an end of an era. The ending is bittersweet and none of the original characters are the same as they were 11 years ago. Heck, for the first time since the inception of the MCU, we don’t get mid/post-credits scenes. Man, what a journey it has been.