Ken Jones, Chief Film Critic
A satisfying conclusion often seems like is one of the most elusive things in entertainment. A memorable quote from the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail says, “Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end.” More often than not, franchises tend to burnout and lose steam. TV shows run for more seasons than they should, movie franchises keep going for no apparent reason other than the studio does not want to relinquish a tent pole intellectual property. The bottom dollar often trumps creative integrity.
Every once in a while, though, the stars align just right and intellectual property gets a fitting end. It helps to have a solid foundational text like The Return of the King or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to draw upon. Even those film franchises ended up having extensions that were disappointing in comparison. So there are few people of whom the question can be asked, “How do you properly land the ship when it comes to ending these things?” Almost inexplicably, Anthony and Joe Russo, who before 2014 were best known for directing You, Me, and Dupree, can be added to the shortlist of people to turn to for answering this question.
Avengers: Endgame is not the end of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), but it is the culmination of 11 years and a 22-movie arc that began in 2008 with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark declaring to the world, “I am Iron Man.” Marvel built and built to 2012’s The Avengers where Iron Man, along with Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) fought back an alien invasion over New York City. That film also teased a pending clash with Thanos (Josh Brolin) over the Infinity Stones. Since then, more characters, too many to list here, were introduced to the MCU. Thanos finally arrived on the scene in Avengers: Infinity War with the stated goal of wiping out half the existence as a way of bringing balance and prosperity to the galaxy (hence why he is nicknamed the Mad Titan in the comics). Infinity War ended on a bold down note.
It’s no mistake that all of the original Avengers survived the snap heard round the universe. As beloved as Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is and as much of a revelation as Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) may have been, the core of the MCU has always been that original group. We’ve seen then in Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron deal with hardship and minor defeat, but this time around they have to live with the results of their failure. The first hour or so of the film is an interesting look at dealing with grief and loss and how you can move on, if you can move on. It’s not as deep on the subject as, say, Manchester by the Sea, but it’s more than you’d expect from a superhero movie.
Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Hawkeye were notable in their absences from Infinity War, and they feature prominently in the first half of the movie. Rudd was adrift in the Quantum Realm at the end of Ant-Man and the Wasp, and manages to come back on a fluke. We take in much of the aftermath of what impact Thanos had on the world through his eyes. Hawkeye is given a gut-wrenching scene that opens the movie and sets him down a dark path where he is executing criminal syndicates around the world under the persona of Ronin. The film also does an admirable job of mixing in recent newcomer Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). There was some concern that a character as powerful as her would take too prominent a role in the last chapter of this story and take away from the more established characters, but that’s not the case.
In fact, the Russo brothers and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do yeoman’s work in distributing screen time to all of the characters involved. It’s admirable that they are able to manage so many balls in the air at the same time. While it’s impossible to give everyone equal time in a movie with so many characters, everyone involved in the action gets a chance to shine, particularly in the third act which is just a virtuoso, thrilling extended action sequence.
The sheer amount of characters is likely the biggest factor in the three-hour runtime for the movie. There are actual important character beats for Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Nebula, Rocket, Ant-Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and others that the film makes time for and is better for it. While it may feel a bit like fan service in some areas, the fact is that they have spent 21 movies laying the groundwork with these characters and almost everything in this movie rings true emotionally. There is very little in this movie, I would argue, that could be excised to save time. Sitting in the theater, it did not feel like a three-hour movie.
At the end of the day, though, this movie ultimately belongs to the Avengers. The film reminds us of what made them so appealing as a group and why the MCU has been so successful and popular. The team of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye formed a kind of family for all of them. Sometimes they fought like a family and had their differences, but the chemistry and interactions they’ve had over all of these films in what will now be known as the Infinity Saga has been the strength of the MCU through its first three phases. They nailed all the castings for these roles, and it has more than paid off.
I’ve tried to stay light on plot in this review because the less known going in the better and it’s impossible to talk about how they try to undo what Thanos has done without giving away too much. I think they “yada yada…” some of aspects of the plan and throw in a bunch of technical terms to make it sound like it all makes sense, but there are likely a few plot holes. However, the conclusion of the film more than makes up for any plot hole shortcomings some of the early and middle aspects of the film may experience.
As Tony Stark says early on, part of the journey is the end. The MCU will continue to carry on past Avengers: Endgame, but it certainly has the sense of an ending. Everything has built to this, a culmination of Marvel’s long story arc. As such, Endgame has an entirely different feel to it than most of the MCU movies that have come before. Those were building, growing, and expanding and looking ahead. Endgame is looking back, taking in the scope of it all, and seeking to tie all of the various threads together for a cohesive whole. And it succeeds in doing so. Endgame sticks the landing and delivers a fitting and satisfying conclusion to the Infinity Saga.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars