What really needs to be said about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its triumph at this point? Following the previous Russo Bros. directed culmination of producer Kevin Feige’s glorious decade-long cinematic experiment, the universe struggles to recover from the decimation left by Thanos’ quest to use the Infinity Gauntlet to wipe out half of all known life in existence.
Fortunately for the deflated Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the miraculous return of Scott Lang has granted them a resource to potentially reverse the damages of Thanos, even if the world will never quite be the same. They only have to go through Thanos himself to do it.
Reviewing “Infinity War” last year, I warned audiences away from it if they weren’t fully caught up on the cinematic load out of the franchise up to this point. While I stand by that decision on the grounds that grand finales should be savored within the context of all that’s lead to them, “Avengers: Endgame” almost puts that impressive feat of production to shame. “Endgame” pulls directly from threads laid out by every single movie of the entire franchise for an all-or-nothing effect. That’s not to say the movie will be beloved by all, but you really don’t have a leg to stand on in criticizing a lack of emotional impact if you have not fully caught up on all 21 features.
That said, what propels the film further than the umpteenth victory lap celebration party that was “Infinity War” is the shocking poignancy of its drama. Several characters featured in “Endgame” have high profile sequels over the horizon but you’d have never guessed that were you gauging their futures solely from this film.
Between “Iron Man 3” and “Captain America: Civil War,” I thought I had seen Tony Stark at the highest and lowest he’d ever be, but you won’t be prepared for the journey this character undergoes and Robert Downey Jr. stretches himself further in the role than ever before, reminding the audience of why his performance launched this entire endeavor 11 years ago to begin with and opening the doors to explore depths of these characters we would never have previously conceived of before.
The usually comedic Ant-Man and Rocket Raccoon revel in being more somber and serious than ever before as crises of faith turn Black Widow and Hawkeye into ideological inversions, Thor’s brand of comedy carries an inescapable streak of ironic tragedy, and Captain America struggles with the fatigue of living nearly his entire adult life as a soldier of conflicts escalating to scales inconceivable to him from the first day he signed up for the Army.
All of the super powered action and antics are as wondrous as ever but the level of humanity injected into these already thoroughly developed characters for their last hurrah under the masterful hand of the Russo’s and their production crew ultimately turn out a film that may not quite be the best of the MCU but cracks the top four easily. The film doesn’t just feel like an ending to existing story threads, themes, and character arcs but an end to the very modus operandi of the MCU up to this very point as far as grand, sweeping epics built on intricately crafted continuity over uniqueness of vision.
Ironically, “Endgame” manages to end its revolutionary and influential brand of blockbuster filmmaking with an inspired, emotional rollercoaster of an event that feels like the rise of creator driven visions a la “Logan” or “Shazam!” that are starting to win the favor of audiences regarding the genre, perfectly pivoting to a future of boundless potential and unknown possibilities.
I was crying within the first 15 minutes alone, the climax is one of the most breathtaking visual displays I’ve ever bore witness to in a theater, and by the final 15 minutes, I was so emotionally wrecked I was on the verge of a serene out of body experience that made me happier to be alive now than ever. The only thing souring the immense payoff of “Avengers: Endgame” was how thoroughly I had to acknowledge its success, while also admitting to its very noticeable imperfections.
Where I struggled with criticizing “Infinity War” due to the lack of precedent set for what it managed to accomplish, “Endgame” doesn’t quite land in that territory despite achieving seemingly impossible higher highs. Although the story mostly works, the pretense of a balancing act was clearly a victim of Thanos’ decimation.
“Endgame” doesn’t tackle every single central plot point or character arc raised prior to and during this film but chooses to focus intensely on the most important and potentially compelling, tackling a small number of others in passing as they see fit. It does remain compelling, but the number of threads that get passively waved off in favor of others becomes a distraction. Additionally, while keeping details sparse, time travel is very much involved in the plot, opening its own can of worms with mechanics that don’t quite mesh up with the things they establish throughout this movie.
Amongst the piles of underutilized characters and abandoned threads, along with a climax that’s visually jaw dropping but with noticeable narrative hiccups born from the need to keep things moving than get bogged down, the sense of how messy the narrative becomes is just inescapable. “Endgame’s” sloppiness however not only feeds into some of its imaginative charm but never outweighs the impact of what has been delivered by both it and everything it sings its swan song for.
Over a decade of character and world building for larger-than-life figures and their tales of mythological weight build to a 3-hour messy masterpiece that may not be perfect but will reward investment with thrills, laughs, excitement, emotion, and is just so damn entertaining and enthralling that you almost don’t want to say goodbye even as you realize all good things must come to an end.
4 out of 5 stars
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.