NOTE: This is a spoiler-free review of Avengers: Endgame. This post will not discuss any plot points about the film.
In 2008, director Jon Favreau and the fledging Marvel Studios had the slightly insane and nearly uninsurable idea of putting Robert Downey Jr. in a metal super suit to kick off a jam-packed library of interconnected superhero stories in the service of a greater universe.
11 years and 22 movies later, we have Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of Marvel’s unprecedented, transformative cinematic experiment. There may never again be a film with this much excitement and anticipation surrounding it. Pre-release trailers became trending topics within seconds, pre-sale tickets drove theater chains into meltdown and spawned days-long marathons, and the studio launched a full-scale social media campaign to dissuade early audiences from spoiling a plot so closely guarded that much of the cast (definitely not Tom Holland or Mark Ruffalo) never even saw the complete script. The sheer level of hype surrounding Endgame would be a condemnation for other franchises that simply don’t have the resources or audience goodwill to even partially satisfy expectations. For Marvel, it poses, at most, a question: can this studio – whose cinematic universe is nothing short of a Hollywood miracle – pull it off one more time?
The only spoiler that I will offer is that, yes, they do.
Endgame is an unqualified success, because it understands why, or better yet who, has brought Marvel to this point. This is a film for the fans, the ones who banked on Iron Man in 2008 when the entire world was still hanging on Christopher Nolan’s every frame, the ones who followed every strip of celluloid in the Marvel canon, carefully cataloguing every relationship and interaction. Joe and Anthony Russo, the definitive directors of the MCU at this point, take this unprecedented opportunity to thank the franchise’s faithful by paying off a decade’s worth of narrative threads in surprisingly thoughtful and intensely satisfying ways. There are callbacks and references and jokes that you certainly won’t expect, but you’re grateful, even touched, that they were included. And then there are the big moments, the ones that montages are made for. The electrifying intensity they yield is unlike anything ever committed to film, and better justifies the collective theatergoing experience than a Netflix boycott ever could. There are at least three scenes that immediately rank at the top of the “Marvel’s greatest” list, and one that certainly deserved to be considered one of the all-time great film moments, of any genre. Most impressively, none of them ever feel gratuitous, a credit to the Russos and their sophisticated narrative structuring that it all feels inevitable.
That feeling is also achieved by narrowing the narrative scope down to the original six Avengers: Hawkeye, Black Widow, the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and of course, Iron Man. Where its predecessor Infinity War was oftentimes an overwhelming sprawl of fairly random (but still enjoyable) superhero pairings, Endgame brings it back to the ones who started it all, with a few additions for good measure. We get glimpses into these characters like we haven’t in a long time, if ever, as they grapple with the effects of Thanos’ snap and what comes next. Aside from attempting to fix an unthinkable wrong, we also see them take stock of their own journeys as heroes and what they want at the end of it all. Unlike previous entries, there is a sense of real finality that permeates throughout the film; one way or another, these six individuals who united with a singular goal of protecting what they loved – no matter big or small – had achieved their mission. We’ve been trained by other franchises to associate “finality” with “solemnity”, but Endgame largely bucks that expectation, despite what its trailers implied. While the stakes are incalculably high, and we’re never allowed to forget it, the film gives its heroes room to breathe, to find moments of light and laughter and camaraderie that made the first Avengers such a triumph. In many ways, Endgame finds resolution by harkening back to those simpler times, before talks of Marvel phases and more origin stories and sequels. The paths that the original six all take – how they intertwine and separate in utterly unique ways – make for a deeply affecting experience, whether you are laughing or cheering or shedding more than a few tears. It helps that Jeremy Renner, Scarlet Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, and Robert Downey Jr deftly draw upon years of character history and chemistry to deliver career-best performances across the board. Excellent as they all are (with a very honorable mention for Karen Gillian), Downey Jr., the undeniable source, is magnificent.
That isn’t to say Endgame isn’t without flaws. Some of those paths to resolution aren’t as fully considered as they could be: one is a slightly tone-deaf exploration of legitimate mental illness, and another is frankly a disgrace that I’ll certainly revisit later after the film crosses $1 billion at the box office. I’ve deliberately avoided discussing the plot so not to spoil it, but also because it tends to weaken under the weight of even slight scrutiny. I’ve already encountered hashtags and fierce reactions about some key character moments. However, none of the ostensible issues distract from the enormity of what Endgame offers. It is a wholly engrossing experience, one that feels both hefty and brisk without wearing its mammoth runtime on its sleeve (for those looking for opportunities for bathroom breaks, there are none, sorry). It’s easy to forgive some wonky mechanics here and narrative conveniences there when you’ve got a barrage of comic book panels brought to awe-inspiring life, offering everything you could’ve possibly wanted, and some things you didn’t realize you needed until it’s on the screen and your heart nearly bursts from the excitement.
Avengers: Endgame is ultimately about trust, and the magic that comes when it is paid off. Yes, there’s the trust placed in the Avengers that they will ultimately figure it all out, but the real trust is between Marvel and its fan base. For years, audiences have trusted that all of these films and characters and plot points and Easter eggs would ultimately amount to something. Endgame is Marvel’s exhilarating response, an astonishing, passionate tribute to the world’s most dedicated fanbase. It is a film that, at its shakiest, still feels satisfyingly resolute, and at its best, is transcendent. There are quibbles to be had, and legitimate criticisms to make, but they all seem besides the point. The point is that Endgame leaves you feeling full, appreciative of the painstaking effort that went into crafting this once-in-a generation experience. You leave Endgame feeling like you likely never have with a Marvel film before: complete.