It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Avengers: Endgame is the biggest movie ever. The biggest in terms of cast, in terms of scale, in terms of budget and the biggest build up in movie history preceded by 21 films leading to a thrilling climax. So, is the biggest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe also the best of them all? It’s damn near close.
The Marvel Mission…
I can confirm that Avengers: Endgame is the most fun of all the films in the MCU with hysterical laugh out loud lines, fan service that will make you stand up and cheer and more than a few moments that will bring on tears. In fact, I can’t remember cheering like this during a movie since seeing Return of the Jedi in the 1980s in a movie theater, so Endgame has already won over the kid in me.
But Avengers: Endgame has a lot on its shoulders. This film must conclude the cliffhanger ending of Avengers: Infinity War as well as wrap up the storylines of many of the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And in addition, pass on the torch to a new generation of Marvel characters. (One shot in particular during the climax telegraphs this very clearly and fans will either love it or fight about it in the cesspool of divisive conversations being had on Twitter and YouTube.)
“…fans will either love it or fight about it in the cesspool of divisive conversations being had on Twitter and YouTube.”
Endgame must do all of that while balancing so many characters that we’ve come to know and love over a decade. Character is where Marvel excels, and Endgame is no exception. As much as spectacle and original action sequences have become a hallmark of a Marvel movie (along with shirtless male leads – and if you don’t believe me, check out these videos), compelling and relatable characters is why you care and why the action actually has meaning.
I should note that it is nearly impossible to talk about Endgame without discussing some things that may be considered spoilers. I won’t reveal any major events in the climactic third act, but I will discuss things leading up to the ending. I highly recommend that in order to enjoy Endgame fully, you do not read any further until you have seen it. You may want to listen to our Avengers: Endgame episode of the Film Threat Podcast which includes a non-spoiler discussion. But from here on, anything you read could be considered a spoiler, so please stop reading now. Final warning. Stop. Reading. Now.
The opening of Endgame finds all of our characters depressed as they handle their loss against Thanos. Everyone is lost. Not only lost in the sense that their lives have become without purpose but the fact that they lost the fight of their lives with Thanos resulting in half the population of the universe turning to dust. In a shocking moment I will not spoil, our heroes regroup on a mission that results in a short-lived “win” but with nothing truly gained.
Here is where the Russo Brothers show their exceptional skills as storytellers in creating a tone that feels much like a quiet, character-driven independent film. We observe all of our heroes suffering as they attempt to accept their failure. Steve Rogers is a slightly optimistic member of a support group trying to cope. Thor has become a drunk and a buffoon. They’re all just trying to keep it together. Tony Stark seems to be the only one to have found solace by building a family with Pepper and his daughter who favors daddy. Tony has found purpose and happiness in spite of the incredible loss.
“…the Russo Brothers show their exceptional skills as storytellers.”
The first 30 minutes or so has a very somber tone. But when a random event brings Ant-Man out of the quantum realm and back to earth, things change fast and a plan emerges that may set things right. Yes, it involves time travel and collecting stones throughout various moments in history, well, Marvel movie history that is. This “time heist” is a bold move for the team but it’s certainly better than attending support group meetings or trying to cope. The various missions find our characters in moments in time in the Marvel universe providing Steve Rogers and Tony Stark an opportunity to revisit and reconcile old relationships. One mission in particular for Steve and Tony is not just about the stones, but about healing their friendship and their relationships with the ones that matter most.
While the action is original and fun, it’s the character moments that make Endgame so special. It may, in fact, be more funny than Infinity War. The film is three hours and I’ve read some of the suggested moments where one might take a bathroom break, but I would not take those to heart. In fact, one suggested moment where the Hulk has lunch might be one of the stand-outs, so don’t miss it. It’s a simple moment but it seems ripped right from the comics where a world with superheroes is just something that is normal.
There are so many great moments and everyone is bound to have favorites — Ant-man fanboying over Captain America, Banner/Hulk eating tacos, comments about Captain America’s ass, Rockets interaction with, well, anyone. Frankly there are too many to list.
“Marvel has clearly saved the best for last…”
One thing that I found surprising was that Brie Larson as Captain Marvel does not ruin the movie. In fact, there is plenty of talk about how she has not yet earned her place as an Avenger, in some way echoing what many fans are also thinking. It seems the Russo Brothers found a way to place her in the film that makes sense and she is a part of the story in just about the right amount. I do wonder though, if Captain Marvel as a character is just so powerful, it makes her uninteresting. I know I’m going to sound like I’m contradicting myself somewhat, but that leads to a discussion of the bad.
While Brie Larson as Captain Marvel does not ruin the film, she is something of a distraction. It’s hard to erase her now infamous and bigoted tirade against white male critics, for which she has never apologized or clarified. And in the recent press tour for Endgame, she comes off so poorly she may have earned the title as “America’s bitter ex-wife.”
Now, I actually loved Brie Larson in Room, for which she won an Oscar, but really not much else. Part of me admires her IDGAF attitude when it comes to the bizarre nature of the entertainment business. I don’t even mind her bigoted statement against white male critics, frankly, we could use a more diverse pool of writers/commentators/reporters in our collective conversation about movies.
“Empathy is the entire point of all art whether we experience it in book form, comic book form or movie form…”
What offends me about her statement is that it not only continues to create more unnecessary divides within our culture, it assumes that the group of critics she targeted in her statement are incapable of empathy. This is the very reason we have a passion for movies, to experience the world in someone else’s shoes — to feel what it’s like to be a super-soldier, a genius in an iron suit, a king who dresses like a panther, a talking raccoon, a talking teenaged-angsty, videogame-addicted alien tree or even a powerful woman who can fly through outer space and shoot laser blasts from her fists. Empathy is the entire point of all art whether we experience it in book form, comic book form or movie form. It’s unfortunate but it’s hard not to think about that when Brie is on screen, so do your best to put that out of your mind. (But it would not surprise me if Disney quietly replaced her in a year as they did with Terrence Howard in Iron Man 2.)
All of my other issues with Endgame really come down to little nitpicks and quibbles that make for good discussion after if you think about the film a bit too much. Like, how does time travel work? Are there multi-verses now? And do the people who return from the “unsnappening” do they get their old jobs back? I look forward to debating these questions with you, among others, at a comic-con very soon. (Or just comment below, there’s no reason we can’t debate these questions now.)
So where does Endgame rank? If Infinity War is The Empire Strikes Back, that means that Endgame is Return of the Jedi, and I would have to say that I actually enjoyed Infinity War just slightly more than Endgame. But we’re also talking about two films that are exceptional in the category of once-in-a-lifetime movie blockbusters that I’m sure we’ll watch and debate for years to come. I’m looking forward to seeing both films back-to-back as one very long and satisfying movie.
Marvel has clearly saved the best for last and I cannot stress how much those fan service moments will have you cheering. I highly recommend that you see Endgame in a packed theater of fans so that you can experience the climactic ending with the energy of the crowd. It’s like Marvel planned it that way. Thank you to everyone involved, the actors, the writers, the Russo brothers, the fans and most of all Stan Lee. Now, go read a comic book.
Avengers: Endgame (2019) Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. (Based on the Marvel comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and the comic by Jim Starlin.) Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Scarlett Johansson, Karen Gillan, Paul Rudd, Dave Bautista, Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Evangeline Lilly, Josh Brolin, Tom Holland, Jon Favreau, Bradley Cooper, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner, Sebastian Stan, Michelle Pfeiffer, Katherine Langford, Winston Duke, Mark Ruffalo, Tilda Swinton, Danai Gurira, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chadwick Boseman, Kerry Condon, Frank Grillo, Ty Simpkins, Letitia Wright, Emma Fuhrmann, Don Cheadle, Sean Gunn, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong.
9.5 out of 10
Film Threat Assemble! A round-up of opinions from other writers in the Film Threat Reviewer-matic Universe
And here we go!
Avengers: Endgame is just another example of the brilliant storytelling coming out of Marvel all along. It shattered every theory I had going in and told a story that upped-the-stakes for the universe as we know it and kept you on edge with anxiety attacks all the way through. Everyone’s saying this but the ending and all the loose-end tying was “satisfying.” 9.5 out of 10 stars
Aside from the principal, lunatic quest, there are moments to enjoy, most of them involving a beer-bellied Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who’s become one of my favorite MCU characters, alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy bunch. Endgame could have used more of the charm and hilarity he brings to his scenes, to counterbalance all the pomposity, solemnity and grimness in a film that, not to beat a dead horse, contains Spider-Man riding a pegasus. The film’s colossal revisiting of all the “ghosts of MCU’s past” is also cleverly incorporated; this is a fan-service machine. Robert Downey Jr. takes center stage as Tony Stark and, as usual, showcases a knack for both zingers and pathos. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow also gets some touching scenes that add depth to a previously-way-underserved character. 6 out of 10
The season finale of the Marvel Variety Hour (or three) is spottier than Infinity War, though, like that movie, it’s subversive where it counts. There are some well-earned moments that play upon the existing interpersonal dynamics (Hawkeye and Black Widow), which is when the movie is at its best. When it’s at its worst, as with the finale, it falls into some old tentpole traps—the scope exceeds the story’s grasp. Things become so massive that any tangible sense of stakes goes out the window, even in a superhero context. 7 out of 10
The heavy sense of finality hangs over every frame of Avengers: Endgame, which allows an extra layer of potency that may have escaped most of the movies that came before it in the MCU. The movie begins immediately following the events of Infinity War and the ramifications of the previous film allow for character work and nuance that isn’t always seen in superhero movies. For once, Iron Man and Captain America feel like people and not just characters. There’s no sense in going into specific plot details because everything could be taken as a spoiler but Endgame is all about its cumulative power, rather than trying to surprise you at every turn. At times, it feels like the weight of its own endeavor is at risk at caving in but the Russo Brothers, along with the entire cast, bring a rousing, emotionally satisfying conclusion to this series. As someone who has had one foot in and one foot out of the MCU for 20-plus movies, it’s safe to say they more than stick their landing. A bit too long and rambling at times, Endgame serves its purpose as a singular film a celebratory capper to an expansive franchise. 8 out of 10