“”I know I said no more surprises, but I was really hoping to pull off one last one.”
To say that I’ve never seen another film quite like Avengers: Endgame would seem to be a drastic overstatement. But I haven’t. We’ve met all of these characters before, in their own films or while moonlighting across the cosmic, comic landscape of the Marvel Universe. After all, Endgame is a fusion of every entry that came before. It’s a deep retrospective, an ending, and the promise of a new tomorrow all at once. And as the final film in Phase 3 of this unprecedented masterclass in cinematic world building exercise, Endgame is the sum of its parts and so much more. For some this is goodbye, for others it’s see you later. Prepare to have your patience paid off and to be thoroughly wowed every step of the way. Avengers: Endgame proves to be the Super Bowl of superhero blockbusters and a Homeric epic for the ages. Turns out slow and steady truly can win the race.
You should know ahead of time that I’m going to describe the plot as bare boned as possible. It’s for the best…trust me. There will be things I say which shouldn’t be all that surprising if you’ve seen the trailer, but if you want to pin the tail on the donkey with zero guidance, you’d be best to stop reading NOW. If I still have your attention, I’ll tell you that Endgame abruptly opens with heartbreak just after Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) snap and immediately transitions to a place of gallows humor only three weeks after Infinity War’s cataclysmic reckoning, finding Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) aimlessly drifting through the empty void of space. Stark, with a hopeless romantic’s tone and his trademark snark, records mass messages for his love Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) before his oxygen supply runs out. He’s visibly gaunt and defeated, as are the remaining heroes and the few billion people who are left after Thanos wiped out half of all living beings. These are heroes though, and fate allows them to find a way even when there’s no will. That’s part of their M.O. as Avengers.
Some huge things happen, which I’ll withhold, and then years later we see a world, or at least the major populaces in America, devastated and empty. The green Earth has gone grey with grief, suggesting that Thanos wiped the color and the life from a planet which once fared better when more really was merrier. Think of it as the grim HBO series The Leftovers meets a powerless MCU. It’s such a humbling and deeply humanistic approach to take. There’s only one Captain America (Chris Evans), but he sits in support groups with the Everyman. There’s only one Thor (Chris Hemsworth), King of “New Asgard” for his displaced people, and yet he can’t bear to be himself or to show his face. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) doesn’t know how to be anything else, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) dissolves into a former shell of himself, and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) finally finds a steady balance between the Jekyll and his Hyde. They are all so separate, so full of survivor’s guilt that we anticipate a doomed divorce to what’s been an otherwise happy marriage made up of countless moving parts. Yet they persist.
Other mainstay tenants in this Greek chorus include War Machine (Don Cheadle), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and the newcomer Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). It’s hard to use any of their birth names because when assembled, you only see – or maybe wish for – their most powerful inner selves to shine through. And then there’s the diminutive Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), sometimes known as Ant-Man, back from the presumed dead, and he’s the driving force behind the movie’s more humorous scenes (although Hemsworth pretty much ties him neck and neck). Scott hatches an insane plot: use the Quantum Realm as a Back to the Future inspired time machine vehicle (improving a few past Marvel movies in the process), retrieve the Infinity Stones before Thanos gets his filthy left mitt on them, and bring back to life who and what were turned to dust. And that’s where I’ll stop with the plot descriptions. Some things are better left unsaid and more often than not, most journeys are at their most interesting when the crumbs on the paved trail mysteriously vanish and a new path has to be discovered. We all have to find our reason in this life no matter the powers we might hold, the hammers we might wield, the shields we might carry, and the fears we all feel when desperate times call for desperate measures.
Endgame very much feels like the culmination of an expansive, annoying construction project by way of its sheer scale. Some roads have been bumpy, vexingly closed, with inconvenient detours posted and drivers honking away in bumper to bumper traffic. But it all proves to have been worth it when we finally see the ambition and huge scope realized when all is said and done. This has been planned and executed in ways I haven’t seen since Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings before it, except this movie squeezes so many characters into one space whilst still giving them all one big shining moment. Endgame appears to throw desperate Hail Mary’s at some points and seems to openly pray for a miracle during others, when in reality this movie – or better yet, this global moviegoing event – has planned each and every step on its methodical march towards the end zone. We’re not surprised that they might score; after all, they’re The Avengers. Yet you’ll be surprised by the play calls, the comedic tricks and pranks up their sleeves, and the ultimate cost it takes to even attempt to pull off the win. Marvel could not have chosen a better tagline than “Whatever It Takes.” It’s their moral code.
You don’t have to hold personal stock in comic books or Disney or Marvel to really understand the intense emotional investment that these movies have staked in the hearts of so many. The writing crosses genres with ease. Directors Joe & Anthony Russo made a $350+ million dollar movie about sacrifice first and brawn second. The enormous ensemble has range and incredible depth. And for the first time ever, I’m going to recommend sitting through the credits. Not for an extra scene, but to see how much effort it took to get this movie and its predecessor made. The second units, the stunt doubles, the VFX artists, “Elizabeth Olsen’s Movement Coach” even gets some recognition. Apparently it really does take a village. Avengers: Endgame is the biggest movie I’ve ever seen, one of the best so far in 2019, and gives me great faith that audiences will respect films that demand their attention and their respect through time and effort and quality.
I frequently missed lines of dialogue because crowd laughs muted them. You could hear a pin drop in one moment, have cheers reverberating off the walls the next, and hear audible sniffles and tears minutes later. This is a movie you feel and you watch in equal measure. Endgame earns my highest rating not because it’s some perfect vault routine, but because it attempts the most difficult trick I’ve witnessed to date and somehow sticks the landing with poise, grace, and valor. Sure, it’s a superhero flick. More than that though, it’s an unforgettably smooth roller-coaster ride that strolls down memory lane and charts what might come to be. I’ll never forget seeing this movie in a sold out crowd on an IMAX screen opening night, nor will I ever forget how invigorating an experience it was, leaving the theater believing in the powers of heroism, hope, and honesty. It will be a long while before we see anything close to the quality or the prolific magnitude of Avengers: Endgame. What a beautiful, heartfelt, convincing coda to this stunning swan song adventure through space and time.
“Part of the journey is the end.”
Rating: 5 out of 5