*This review contains minor spoilers and some early plot points. Major spoilers are avoided!*
There’s only one movie that could be bigger than Avengers: Infinity War, that one movie is the one that has to live with its repercussions. Avengers: Endgame isn’t just longer than Infinity War — it as well seems to be a disservice to simply call it “bigger”. It’s not even a typical sequel. It’s the culmination of over ten years of movies (twenty-one in all). While so much has been written and will be written about how the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has impacted the film industry, in Endgame, you feel a narrative impact. At this point, you’re either invested in these characters and their stories or you’re simply not. In Endgame, that investment pays massive dividends with a truly epic film that is at turns thrilling, hilarious, and poignantly powerful. Avengers: Endgame isn’t just everything we want from a blockbuster; it’s what only the Marvel Cinematic Universe could deliver.
Endgame picks up twenty-three days after the events of Infinity War, those superheroes that remain continue to hunt Thanos (Josh Brolin). However, their hopes for a quick resolution to undo his devastating snap are thwarted, and the heroes are forced to accept a world where half the population has been dusted. Then Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) reenters the picture and he has an idea — time travel. The Quantum Realm, properly manipulated, allows those who enter it to travel through time. The scattered heroes reassemble and plan a “time heist”, as Scott refers to it, where they will retrieve the Infinity Stones before Thanos does, and use them to undo the damage. However, as their fragile plan begins to fracture, Thanos sees an opportunity to remain victorious.
(Left to right) Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Karen Gillan, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Paul Rudd & Scarlett Johansson in Avengers: Endgame
Walking out of Infinity War, I had a tough time getting past its messy structure, lack of character work and possibly most of all, that it was only half a story and very much treated itself as one. While then again, through subsequent viewings, I can’t deny that it’s very entertaining, but its potholes are very much still evident. While Infinity War’s cliffhanger ending is an overall mixed bag, Endgame is the payoff we’ve been waiting for while still creating stakes of its own. Even as you might be able to see the broad outline of the movie before you even step into the theater, directors Joe and Anthony Russo have shown themselves to be masters of a propulsive narrative. Even though Endgame clocks in as the longest Marvel movie to date, it never feels long. And that largely comes from the considerable verve in the Russo’s direction.
The efficacy of splitting up the characters and breaking them apart again — as this film does — provides not only fun dynamics, but also a story that never gets stagnant. Each scene feels like it’s accomplishing something, taking time of what would be set pieces and setting that aside, keeping set pieces secondary until the climax of the film. The Russos seem to pride themselves on character-driven stories, and that’s why Endgame works so well. The movie opens not with planes falling out of the sky or massive explosions as the world is burning. It opens with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) losing his family. The weight of that loss permeates this film so that we never forget what our characters are fighting for.
Chris Evans in Avengers: Endgame
Some may look at Endgame as a giant “undo” button of a movie, and that maybe so, but Endgame still knows how to live with the weight of consequences. Where you have to ignore the consequences is in the time travel stuff. At one point, Rhodey (Don Cheadle) asks why they don’t just go back and kill baby Thanos, to which Hulk (a hilarious Mark Ruffalo) replies that it would basically create a time paradox where you’ve undone the reason you went back in time in the first place. But as Endgame continues on, you can see that the filmmakers aren’t too concerned with having the time travel fully work as if it was mapped out. As with most time travel movies, you just kind of have to set logic aside and not worry too much about plot holes — which the movie actually does by referencing famous time travel movies and quickly pointing out their mistaken time travel logic. But yes, those holes exist, yet Endgame succeeds because it focuses on character and story, not because it wants to make sure that its time travel logic is airtight. With that said though, the time travel element of the film does make some things pretty messy, not to the full extent of Infinity War, but it’s definitely still there.
But it all comes back to character, and pretty much everyone gets a chance to shine (with Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus’ screenplay being a massive step up from their work on Infinity War). There’s one sequence that puts the focus on the journeys of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., masterfully balancing his deadpan and gravitas) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, continuing his wholehearted vulnerability), and while its placement could seem a bit random, you don’t really mind it because it’s about servicing those characters, what they’ve lost, what they have to gain, and where they’re going. It’s the kind of sequence that only works if you’ve spent a bunch of movies with these characters, and since you care about Iron Man and Captain America, you care about what they’re doing.
Scarlett Johansson & Jeremy Renner in Avengers: Endgame
Thankfully, Endgame never feels like a victory parade but a story with its own stakes and dangers. This is the landing that the MCU had to stick, and for the most part, they nail it. The lessons of Endgame are thus as old as time and storytelling itself, and no less welcome for being reiterated: There is no life without death, no triumph without defeat, no forward progress without a glance in the rear-view mirror. Never in the movie’s three hours did I feel like I was getting cheap thrills or fan service. I felt like I was getting the final chapter in a long story before the new story begins. It beautifully achieves and earns its climactic surge of pure emotional catharsis through caring about its characters first. And with superhero movies coming for the insurmountable future, I have a great suspicion that Endgame will stand the test of time because it understands what we’ve grown to love about these characters, their stories, and their world. Avengers: Endgame is an ending of sorts, but what an ending it is.