Movie Review - Avengers: Endgame
By Matthew Huntley
May 9, 2019
The gang’s all here.
That’s saying a lot when the gang members are the heroes of the MCU movies, who’ve all gathered together under one ominous sky for what’s supposedly the final chapter of the wildly successful “Avengers” saga—the first phase of it anyway.
“Avengers: Endgame,” among several other notable things, sets a new standard for the ensemble Hollywood blockbuster. Not only does it feature all the main characters from across the ever-expanding Marvel Comics Universe, but it also makes time for most, if not all, the supporting ones too, including those we never thought we’d see again (and there are a lot of them). “Endgame” makes it official: the MCU movies are ones in which no character can be taken for granted and each of whom could potentially play a pivotal role in significant events later on. Their universe is one that’s shared and where anything can happen, and that makes the possibilities of future, standalone adventures from this unsinkable brand all the more exciting.
For now, though, what happens in “Endgame,” and the biggest question driving the plot given the movie’s title, centers around which character(s) will survive the three-hour installment. I wouldn’t dare reveal the answer, but I will say it’s an all-around satisfying and emotional one.
However, it’s also a safe one. As pleasing and entertaining as “Endgame” is, and for all its exhilarating, heartrending moments, including many that make you want to cheer and others that make you want to cry, it’s not exactly risky or cutting-edge. Like its predecessors, it straddles the lines of its comfort zone without ever completely going outside of it, at least not for too long, and essentially stays within the bounds of its superhero movie genre.
And you know what? That’s okay. I’ve been criticizing the MCU movies for a while now about their being more dependable than intellectually stimulating or narratively chancy, and because this is “Endgame,” a movie that made it reasonable to think this would be the one to pull out all the stops, I was initially disappointed the story didn’t go above and beyond my expectations and prove to be artistically groundbreaking.
But then I thought about it for a while and remembered all the things the movie does exceptionally well, not least it makes us feel happy and empowered. Watching it, we experience genuine moments of frisson and it encourages us to applaud the heroes we’ve gotten to know for so long as they attempt to regain balance and find themselves amid doubt and chaos. Mainstream entertainment should make us feel at ease as well as challenged, and even though “Endgame” may be lukewarm in terms of challenging us, it’s masterful and beautiful in the way it allows us to escape. There are plenty of surprises and stirring plot developments to speak of; it has a consistent energy that keeps us engaged and emotionally attached to the events as they unfold; and we get to see characters we assumed were insignificant suddenly take on a new dimension and meaning. These qualities, in a way, make “Endgame” a masterpiece in regards to mass entertainment.
Admittedly, especially at this point in the game, I was hoping screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, along with brother-directors Anthony and Joe Russo, would have been more vigorous and proactive about subverting their world’s own rules and giving fans something more innovative and unexpected versus primarily what we want to see, but because they give us what we want to see in such credible and earned droves, their efforts should still be celebrated. And if one day an MCU movie does come along that employs outré methods of storytelling or explore mores radical ideas outside the box, I would welcome it. For now, though, I’m okay with “Endgame” giving me we what I need to put my feet up, check out, and unwind, even if it may not make me think too much.
With that said, “Endgame” is a rich, dramatic, action-filled adventure. It zigs, it zags, and it jumps in and out of different universes, dimensions and time zones, all while staying surprisingly grounded, patient and coherent. Credit must be given, once again, to Markus, McFeely and the two Russo brothers for crafting and executing a plot that has so many working parts, people and places. Because Marvel superhero movies are so common these days (this is the 22nd in 11 years), it’s easy to think of them as merely coming off an assembly line, but we often forget how difficult they must be to pull off with such fluidity, especially one as complex as this. And yet, even though a lot happens in “Endgame” plot-wise, the filmmakers still make the characters the centerpiece, and so we care less about the events that happen and more about who they affect and how.
The plot picks up where “Infinity War” left off, which, if you’ll recall, ended with the Avengers’ latest sworn enemy, Thanos (Josh Brolin, motion-captured), fulfilling his “inevitable destiny” by ridding the universe of half its population. Trillions turned to dust and their particles flew away like dandelion seeds, including the bulk of our heroes.
Three weeks have passed and now Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is left floating in space, prepared to die, with only Nebular (Karen Gillan) by his side. Suddenly, Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), who just made her MCU debut seven weeks ago in “Captain Marvel,” comes to his rescue and brings him back to Avengers headquarters. He rejoins fellow genocide survivors Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Evans), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), War Machine (Don Cheadle), and Tony’s love, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Despite their reunion and Captain Marvel helping to track down Thanos down for a quick revenge, the group disbands because they see no possibility of undoing what’s been done.
Five years pass, and Scott “Ant-Man” Lang (Paul Rudd), fresh off the ending of “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” emerges from the quantum realm, where time and space are irrelevant. For him, only five minutes have passed since Thanos’ judgment day, and he’s struck by the sudden dystopian state of the world. However, he’s also got an idea.
Long story short, Scott, using his own time-travel journeys as evidence, believes the remaining Avengers can build a time machine and prevent the events of “Infinity War” from ever taking place. Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out whether their eventual plan will work or if the Avengers will ultimately be successful in carrying out their mission, especially when you consider Spider-Man (Tom Holland) was one of the heroes who perished and he’s got “Spider-Man: Far from Home” coming out in July. But “successful” is a relative term in this case and the driving force of “Endgame” is how the team will handle their undertaking’s unexpected hurdles; how they’ll react emotionally and objectively to their own time and space—be it the past, present, or future; and the sacrifices they’ll make along the way. This is a heavy, complicated story, and the ceaseless invention of the screenplay envelops us and we relish in it. It is enormously fun. True, some of the movies’ structure is borrowed right out of the “Back to the Future” movies, which the script doesn’t hesitate to explicitly reference, but the story and characters have so much weight and consequence, we forgive it for being derivative as well as any plot holes that might exist.
Summarizing any more of the plot would make this review too long, as would listing out all the other characters and the actors who play them. Let’s just say “Endgame,” like all other MCU movies, opens doors and lays the groundwork for future installments, be they ensemble or individual. But, perhaps unlike other MCU movies, it also closes doors and becomes a bona fide tearjerker, one that earns our dedication and praise for the way it slowly builds toward not only its action climax (which, to be fair, does feel copied and pasted from “Black Panther,” “Infinity War,” etc.), but also a devastatingly emotional one. The denouement of “Endgame” will likely go down as one of the greatest, most solemn sequences in superhero movie history, and there are a lot to choose from.
With a three-hour running time, “Endgame” does feel too long at times and we get the sense the filmmakers probably crammed in too much story, especially when you consider the MCU movies are now a pop culture staple and aren’t going away anytime soon, so some of what happens in “Endgame” could have easily been saved for another adventure. Still, we walk out of it overcome with sensation and it stays with us long after. “Endgame” may live up to its name but it doesn’t mean anything about this universe is ending, and that’s good for at least two potential reasons: we’re bound to either get more, pure escapist entertainment like this; or the filmmakers will utilize their resources in other ways and make an MCU movie that finally goes above and beyond the genre and intentionally breaks its hard and fast rules. Either one is a win.