This is a nearly impossible review to write, because it’s so wholly satisfying that the inclination is to leave even the smallest plot elements a surprise for those who have been waiting more than 10 years and 22 movies to get to the three-hour epic that is Avengers: Endgame. But there are things about this film that we can talk about with spoiling any critical moments of this dense, winding, finely crafted story from screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (picking up their own mantle from last year’s Avengers: Infinity War). They have worked with returning directors Anthony and Joe Russo to make the films that in many ways took the Marvel Cinematic Universe and turned it into something grander and more sweeping than many believed was possible, with such contributions as the Captain America chapters Winter Soldier and Civil War.
For those who may have suffered a brain injury in the last year and forgotten, Infinity War left us with a universe, planet and Avengers team that have had their population cut in half in a single snap by the mad Titan called Thanos (Josh Brolin), who firmly believed that by thinning life’s herd, he would be saving lives by eliminating the need for planets to extend resources beyond their means. (In Endgame, someone even makes mention that by there being fewer motors in use on Earth, global warming has been reversed.) After a brief scene to open the film that reminds us of the personal price of The Snap, the main story of the remaining (and original) Avengers (plus Don Cheadle’s War Machine, the Bradley Cooper-voiced Rocket, and Karen Gillan’s Nebula) picks up just weeks after the catastrophic event, when the team, desperately seeking Thanos, comes up with a loose plan to find him and somehow use the stones to reverse what has happened. I think at this point we all know that Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) makes an appearance, although not necessarily in ways we expect. But she is able to aide the Avengers in their seemingly last-ditch effort to undo the unthinkable.
Without giving away how that fortified mission culminates, there’s still about two-and-a-half hours of movie to go, and what’s the most interesting and moving part of Endgame is how the film moves through the lives of these characters in the wake of all they have endured. Whether they want it to or not, these individual lives must move forward, and they must face their failures and successes in different ways. My favorite touch is seeing Captain America (Chris Evans) run a support group for people who lost someone during The Snap—not other heroes, just normal civilians, who each have a story to tell, and somehow Steve Rogers has decided this is how he can best serve humanity.
I know everyone wants to know if/how so many of our favorite evaporated heroes return to the fold, and honestly, that never feels like the most important thing, despite it being really the only thing on every character’s collective mind. Thanos believed humanity would adapt and thrive under these new conditions, but instead it seems stuck in a state of permanent grief that it likely will never crawl out of. Endgame isn’t afraid to deal with multiple forms of grief head on, but it also dives into more complicated views of what makes a hero, what defines heroism, and even what circumstances might result in a hero taking a step back from the life-threatening lifestyle of as superhero—either by leaving it all behind entirely or using one’s abilities for less noble purposes.
As much as Endgame not only wraps up 10 years of storyline (much of it Thanos-inspired to varying degrees), it also find unique and wonderfully entertaining ways of paying tribute to those films and several great moments contained within. The movie isn’t afraid to revisit familiar character and story beats, while also finding endlessly entertaining ways of coming up with new ones. Several beloved characters not only change emotionally as a result of losing friends, but physically. As one might expect, one of the most changed by Thanos’ act is Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., whose Iron Man was ground zero for this particular superhero playground), who actually finds a way to begin his life again and doesn’t easily want to return to his avenging ways. For as long as his Tony Stark has been a fast-talking, super-intelligent scamp, it’s nice to see Downey look into the character’s heart again.
A great deal of the middle of Endgame is about pulling the team back together for what may be one last mission in its classic lineup; Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow never gave up the fight, while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has—for understandable reasons—while the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), well, the less said on him, the better. After bringing the house-arrested Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) back into the fold, the Avengers attempt something that cannot and should not be detailed, but it’s extraordinary and quite often so well executed that you almost wonder why some of the lesser Marvel titles didn’t try this hard.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of Endgame the actual end. There are clues where things will go from here, but nothing definitive in terms of future storylines or what villains will rise and be even half as menacing as Thanos. This is one of the rare Marvel movies that doesn’t feel like a chapter in a bigger book, with another segment coming before and after. Weirdly, Endgame is one of the most self-contained Marvel films to date, with a conclusion that allows us to exhale, rather than holding our breath waiting for what comes next—which of course makes me wonder all the more.
Avengers: Endgame is a work that covers the spectrum of emotions. It’s one of the funniest movies of the 20-plus in the franchise, but it’s also the one that made me the most emotional. But more than anything, it left me satisfied and thrilled that I kept watching them through the years. I’m sure many have so-called “superhero fatigue,” but that never really crept in for me, because I suspected they were saving the best for last—even though this is far from the last Marvel movie; it’s not even the last one this summer. I can’t imagine die-hard fans feeling cheated, but I also believe casual fans that only watch these movies once, maybe twice, will be impressed. In my humble estimation, it’s a near-perfect movie, and I can’t wait to see it again.
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