Avengers: Endgame (2019) by Joe and Anthony Russo
Review by Courtney Anderson
Okay. I think I can safely say that this was the biggest Marvel movie ever.
Marvel Studios spent a great deal of 2017 and 2018 marketing Avengers: Infinity War as their crowning achievement, the culmination of a decade’s worth of movies. “It all comes down to this” and all that.
Of course, Infinity War was not the culmination of the decades-long saga; it was a disappointing first half of that story. It was a too loud, too bright, too fast movie that was more interested in speeding through the plot and trying to trick audiences into thinking that half of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was “dead” than it was building an actual story.
While I had fun the first time I watched Infinity War, I came to realize that it really only served to set up for Avengers: Endgame; it was like a two and a half hour preview for its second half. And I assumed that Endgame would only serve to undo Infinity War.
Thankfully, I was wrong. Endgame actually serves as a satisfying conclusion to the storylines of our original Avengers. Endgame also sets up a promising future for Phase 4 of the MCU that will (hopefully) continue to build on the best parts of the three previous phases.
Even though Endgame is very clearly the end of Phase 3, it also felt like a good starting point for Phase 4 mostly because of the way it explored the few remaining characters in the MCU. When I first heard that Endgame is 3 hours and 2 minutes long, I groaned so loud; why in the hell are they gonna makes us sit there for 3 damn hours. Turns out, that long ass runtime was exactly that the movie needed, because it meant that the first hour or so can be devoted to fleshing out our heroes in a way that we haven’t seen in some time.
The first half of the film is dedicated to showing our heroes trying to move on with their lives. Steve, Tony, Natasha, Bruce, Thor, Clint and Rhodey are horribly traumatized by their epic loss to Thanos in Infinity War, and they’re each trying to find a way to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives and press forward. Some of them develop healthier techniques than others. For instance, you have Steve attending group therapy and Tony and Pepper moving to a nice house and working on building a life together again. On the other side, you have Natasha, who has begun obsessing over finding a way to get the others back, Thor, who has sunk into the drunkenness, and Clint, who has channeled all his pain and rage into disturbing violence.
The point is, every character gets an opportunity to address how painful this time has been for them. We get to actually sit there and watch them work their way through their grief and trauma.
I feel as though the last few Marvel movies have been so focused on plot and action and blowing shit up that the actual characters have gotten lost. That was my main problem with Infinity War. My favorite Marvel movies — entries like Winter Soldier, Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther — are ones that have focused on the humanity of our protagonists so I greatly appreciated the fact that Endgame actually took the time to check in with and focus on how our cast is doing mentally and emotionally.
The character work in Endgame also allowed for some really strong acting, especially from Robert Downey Jr., Paul Rudd (Scott Lang/Ant-Man) and Karen Gillan (Nebula). These were performances you get when you actually give your actor something to dig into.
By the time the first half of the movie is done, I felt more invested in the wild, chaotic, nerve-wracking action scenes in the second half. In a way, it feels like the movie has earned its Big Third Act.
That commitment to character is what I want to be brought into Phase 4. I want these movies to show that they can continue to create enduring, dynamic characters with complex backstories. Endgame was a very balanced film (heh): it brought depth, humor and drama in equal measures. That’s not something Marvel has always been able to accomplish with their films.
I have my complaints about the film because of course I do. There’s no reason to expect Endgame to be the perfect Marvel film. I found some of the humor silly, and there’s a running joke about fatness and PTSD that I found very inappropriate. There are some costume, makeup and hair choices that I found truly baffling. And for as much character work as this movie does, there were still parts that I found to be under-developed. Marvel will need to be very careful of what they take with them going forward.
But it’s nice to know that there is a way forward.
A friend of mine tweeted that Endgame made him wish the Infinity War had been a better movie, and I agree very, very strongly. But Infinity War isn’t the only movie that I wish were better. Movies like Thor: Dark World, Age of Ultron and Civil War also come to mind. Part of me feels that Endgame shouldn’t have been able to rise above the unevenness of some of these movies. What I mean is, Endgame depends on the movies that precede it. And the 21 films that have preceded Endgame have made for one rollercoaster of a cinematic universe. Some movies have poured more into Endgame than others. But they’ve all played some part in paving the road to Endgame. As Tony Stark says, “Part of the journey is the end.” Endgame feels like a very appropriate end to this version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And I’m very interested in seeing what the next version will turn out to be.