Well then. It is the culmination of over 10 years and 22 films of storytelling, a chronicle that spans decades and planets, time and space, heroes and villains, triumphs and one massive defeat. There are key things Avengers: Endgame needs to resolve, what with Thanos snapping his fingers and wiping out half the universe, which includes some favorite characters and curiously profitable franchise players. What’s telling about the film, which runs roughly three hours, is not watching what it needs to do to complete the events begun in Infinity War, but instead watching what the filmmakers decide it should do.
Throughout this hyperbolic spectacle, that runs the gamut of emotions, sometimes too quickly and drastically, are salutes to the past films and character moments that got us to where we are today. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo, alongside writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, don’t only want to have closure in this epic saga, they want to walk down memory lane, offering enjoyable fan service and narrative consequences by doing so. There are subtle allusions and pointed call-backs, attempts made at rectifying past missteps while trying to insist there was always a plan in place.
It’s a rather unexpected film, at least for the first two thirds or so. If Infinity War moved at a rapid speed by action set pieces, with Thanos as the narrative driver, then Endgame is more paced, with the original Avengers, and some new recruits, at the core. That is by no means to say this film is slow – it’s not – but it takes a lot more time early on to let scenes breath, to let thoughts and comments sink in, and let everyone grieve.
The Russo brothers, among others attached to Infinity War, insisted it was a self-contained film, that it told a complete story, without a cliff-hanger, and that the next film to follow would more or less start anew. And they were right. There is a prologue that puts us back not long after The Snap, but the heart of the film doesn’t deal with the immediate aftermath at all.
Yes, our heroes have a plan, and ideas go in motion, and people do things (no hint of plot spoilers here), but the theme that runs throughout is compelling. Each character, for one reason or another, reflects on their past, their decisions, their failures, and their futures. Some are lighthearted, like Hulk’s, while others are heavy, like those of Tony and Clint, while others still are a mix of both – Thor, naturally.
So, before Endgame becomes the blockbuster spectacle we expect, presenting an awe-inspiring finale, it takes stock, and dedicatedly so. With humour, passion, quirkiness, anger, and despair, there are a bunch of small, impactful moments crammed into this literal marvel. They don’t always connect ideally – there are a lot of different characters with different tones – but one would be hard pressed to envision a better version of everything this film accomplishes. It respects the films that came before it, and all those fans that supported them.
Because of that, the plot, which involves the sort of typical sci-fi, superhero jargon that we just have to accept can happen, is secondary and indeed in service of telling the individual character journeys. And they are rightfully where the focus should be at the end of all this. The flaws that exist are forgivable and minor, especially in the service of something greater. There is a surprising amount of optimism here.
Ultimately, it’s a satisfying and supremely impressive piece of filmmaking, something unique, momentous and overwhelming.
It’s a cinematic endeavor that was certainly fueled by both a dedicated vision and no small amount of luck that will likely remain insurmountable for a long time. It’s been a big screen, big budget, entertaining epic that grew from great acting and casting, eventually found a groove letting writers and directors make their own stories and culminates atop a wave of emotion and excitement because nothing like this has happened before in the theatres. It’s objectionably a quality piece of storytelling and filmmaking, but the extent to which this film is good or great or the greatest in the series seems irrelevant and unnecessary. It can’t be judged in isolation, but as the culmination of a lot of things that happened before, including things that happened before there was any thought given to anything bigger happening down the road. It’s a memorable cultural moment, and simply, it’s remarkable.