Avengers: Endgame offers an exciting, weird and ultimately moving conclusion to several stories in the Marvel Studios saga.
There was an idea, as Nick Fury would say. This idea, to create a vast 22-film interconnected universe spanning 11 years (so far), may appear daunting to some. To others, it’s antithetical to their very notions of what cinema should be. For Marvel Studios, the endeavour has proved a trendsetter and multi-billion dollar success. Much of the credit for this achievement should go to its proficiency in forming a long-lasting connection between audience and character, almost comparable to the soap opera – just with more action and less Dot Cotton. Though production on successive films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, there had to come a time where the Old Guard, the original six Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hulk and Hawkeye, hang up their boots and pass on the torch to a new generation of heroes. Robert Downey Jr. and co. can’t make these films forever, however much the fans might clamour for it, and all stories must have an ending. With Avengers: Endgame, the Russo Brothers, once again serving as Marvel’s flagship directors, and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, show a remarkable composure in sticking the landing.
Following the earth-shattering desolation left in the wake of arch-nemesis Thanos in previous instalment Infinity War, Endgame sees our heroes trying to rise up from the dust and find the resolve to fight back. Within the duration of a 10-minute prologue, our expectations can be cast out of the window entirely. It’s a very different film to Infinity War, which was Thanos’ story. This tale belongs to the Avengers, one that foregrounds their interactions with relatively little action until a final third blowout. It is talky and contemplative, tackling the loss and inevitable grief from past events in a variety of effective ways. Here the script throws us some of its biggest and most eccentric surprises, with the evolution in particular of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in reaction to the pervading tragedy likely to excite and bemuse audiences in equal measure. Things gets weird at times, some comic-book concepts brought to life in ways not always seamless to the uninitiated, but the signature humour is still there. It’s a relief that Marvel still understands the need for levity, even when prospects look this dark.
What is supremely impressive about Endgame, integral to what makes it an immensely satisfying conclusion to what has been termed the Infinity Saga, is the manner in which the script weaves through the history of the MCU, justifying to the extreme the breadth of this franchise and tying most of the loose ends together in an artful bow. There are callbacks aplenty, heavy dollops of fan service that reward loyal watchers and bring matters full circle. Somehow, it’s able to make even Thor: The Dark World an essential part of the canon. The central plot strays far into science-fiction territory and is messy and confusing by nature, with the internal logic probably not standing up to close scrutiny. An abidance to realistic science has usually been superfluous in this world; why should we start caring about that now? It’s not ‘leave your brain at the door’ cinema, rather a well-earned brand of high-concept, high-fantasy verisimilitude that doesn’t require atomic levels of focus at all times.
The fight, when it comes, produces stunning vistas of such comic-book insanity and spirit that they will struggle to ever be topped. Paired with Infinity War, Endgame feels like the zenith of the genre. It is the emotions that arise in the aftermath of the punch-ups that set it apart, those long-formed bonds that have brought about the MCU’s endurance resulting in send-offs bittersweet and genuinely affecting. The sincere commitment of the star actors to this universe shines through, as does the writers’ understanding of the characters and their attention to crafting fulfilling arcs. We will undoubtedly see some of these faces again, but those who are gone have been given a worthy farewell. The MCU will continue, but the Infinity Saga is done. It’s been one hell of a ride.
Avengers: Endgame (2019), directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, is distributed in the UK by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, certificate 12A.