There’s no need for the usual lengthy introduction for this review. You’ve all surely heard of this movie by now, and going by the absolutely mind-blowing box office its been doing so far, there’s a good chance you’ve already seen it. Twice. With that being said, since Disney kept everything “top secret” in an almost unprecedented manner with this film in the marketing, if you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame yet and want to go in completely blank, stop reading this right now and come back here later. There are no “spoilers” per se in this review, but there is a lot more plot information than has been in the trailers. Take that as your warning.
It’s taken me a few days to fully “digest” Avengers: Endgame, a comic book opus fans all around the world were positively quaking with anticipation for following the devastating events of last year’s Infinity War. With that kind of hype behind it, internet buzz was higher than even Iron Man could fly. So…was the wait worth it?
The answer is yes. And no.
The cool thing about Endgame is that it’s a rare summer tentpole where audiences are able to walk in knowing virtually nothing about the plot. Disney didn’t need to go overboard with marketing for the film because the last installment had already served as a two and a half hour long trailer for it. The problem with that is that filmgoers then create their own expectations for what they think the movie will be, and if you go in wanting another non-stop roller coaster like Infinity War, you might be a little disappointed. Endgame is a rather dialogue-heavy extravaganza which saves almost all of its goodies for the final reel, and the first two hours, somewhat surprisingly, have very little in terms of superhero fight scenes. While there are momentarily moments of sparring that pack an appropriate punch whenever they arrive, much of the film is devoted to “getting the gang back together” as the various characters reunite with each other, and while there’s nothing “wrong” with that, of course, it does have something of an impact on the movie’s pacing.
As a result, Endgame alternates between occasionally threatening to become underwhelming and relishing in being flat-out exhilarating, creating a somewhat uneven experience. Make no mistake, the film is still incredibly entertaining. How could it not be? At this stage, Marvel knows how to get things done with the genre with almost unrivaled success, and Endgame still has all of the humor and characters that fans have grown to love about this absolutely massive franchise. The problem–if we can call it that–is that Endgame isn’t only a resolution to Infinity War’s dramatic storyline; it’s also trying to serve as a “conclusion” to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general, which on some level feels kind of off since it’s going to continue going so long as moviegoers have full wallets. Because of this, Endgame tries to get a lot done, attempting to come up with satisfying endings for all of its leads, and for better or for worse, some of those finishes get quite dark.
“Dark” wasn’t a word necessarily used to describe the MCU until the high body count in Infinity War, but in that film’s case, it had to deliver on the promise of intergalactic villain Thanos, which had been built up for several years worth of movies. Yet Endgame takes its bleak turns in a manner that sometimes almost feels unfair, particularly with an unexpected death of a beloved character at the mid-way point that might be too harsh for a series which has more than anything been praised for its overall lighthearted and just all around fun tone. And it only gets more depressing from there.
Of course, there’s still plenty of enjoyment to be had here, but the “balancing act” of the comedy and drama isn’t accomplished quite as effectively as it was in Infinity War, in part because of the finality that comes with the Grim Reaper this time around. There are no surprise resurrections in this outing, and I suspect that had something to do with why my packed opening day audience didn’t applaud with enthusiasm as they had done for similar films such as the original Avengers and Justice League once the credits began rolling (no offense, one guy in the crowd who clapped). Time will tell if this was the appropriate route for the franchise to take–going by the rare “A+” CinemaScore, it would appear most audiences don’t mind–but for now it feels kind of surreal for Marvel to “wrap up” its central story in a manner that requires a pick-me-up when it’s all over.
What’s odd is that even with three hours at its disposal, Endgame still doesn’t have enough time to do everything it’s trying to juggle, particularly when it comes to Captain Marvel. Despite being featured prominently as “the newest Avenger” in much of the promotional materials, she is given extremely little to do here, briefly showing up to touch base on earth before literally going back into outer space and essentially leaving the movie. This is especially baffling considering that Marvel (the entertainment studio, not the character) reportedly wants to make her “the new star” of the MCU moving forward, but if how she is used here is any indication of how she’s going to function as a team player in upcoming installments (which is pretty much not at all), it might not work out as well as Disney is hoping.
For the most part, however, even with some of its more confusing choices (many of which involving time travel, something I kind of wish had been saved for a later Marvel adventure), Endgame gets points for being the most “intimate” of Marvel’s films to date, regardless of if that sometimes comes at the expense of spectacle. Perhaps fittingly, poignancy stems from the ordinary rather than the extraordinary, with a scene in which a father tucks his daughter into bed earning a tear simply because the time is taken to allow for it to happen. An opening sequence involving the aftermath of “the snap,” meanwhile, is chilling on an almost Hitchcockian level. There is also a lot of great comedy in this outing (though a lot of it is built around fat jokes Thor some reason), keeping things lively by never going too long without a laugh.
But even with all of the positives that come from Endgame’s more subdued mood, it does still feel like it takes a long time to get to the fireworks, something that hasn’t been an issue in any of Marvel’s previous films. Still, once the climatic battle (finally) arrives, it does deliver on almost all fronts, absolutely exploding with massive scale mayhem that is exactly what the years of build-up were teasing all along. This is superhero action on a Lord of the Rings level, and should be enough to ensure repeat trips to the theater for many.
In the end, Endgame does what it sets out to do, even if it doesn’t always do so in the smoothest of manners. It doesn’t soil Marvel’s track record by any stretch–they have yet to make a film that’s not good–and its strengths ultimately outweigh whatever oddities it may have. It will be interesting to see where Marvel goes from here, but hopefully they will continue to prosper as the years go on. Because there is truly no other franchise in Hollywood like this one.
(Note: Avengers: Endgame marks the first Marvel film with no end credits stinger, so you can obey your bladder’s demands once the movie is over if you want to, although the six main cast members do get nice Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country signatures as everything closes)
Disney, Marvel Studios
April 26th, 2019
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo