Film Review – Avengers: Endgame
Avengers: Endgame (2019) is the most “superhero movie” superhero movie ever made. It’s a sprawling culmination of a decade’s worth of characters and storyline development. Throughout its three-hour runtime, it exhibits both the positive and negative aspects of the genre on a massive scale. Credit has to be given to the directing team of Anthony and Joe Russo (as well as co-writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) for taking on such an overwhelming task and somehow managing to keep it from all falling apart.
Let’s make no mistake about it, the MCU is a blockbuster franchise, so there’s denying that the seeds of the next “phase” of entries is on the horizon (Spider-Man: Far from Home is set to release this very year, no less). But there is a sense of finality here. I will try my best to keep details to a minimum, but it should be expected that some of the characters that have been around for a while may not make it to the end credits. Unlike the comic book page, these actors will eventually age out of their roles, and so the Russo brothers inject a melancholic tone as we witness these characters give their last curtain call.
But that also means we are exposed to an avalanche of nostalgia and fan service. There is a huge amount of call backs in which the narrative points to past events in nearly all of the previous MCU films. This happens in the first half, and as a result it also makes it the worst part of Endgame. Much of these scenes play like flashbacks – like a “best of” episode of a sitcom – where the production dips into self-indulgence, patting itself on the back for knowing how awesome it is. Is it even possible to consider a story an actual “story” when it spends much of the time referencing itself? It’s an area of big budget filmmaking that (admittedly) hasn’t been explored, where giving an audience spikes of recognition takes precedence.
With Endgame, we find many of the surviving superheroes from Avengers: Infinity War (2018) reeling from the devastation of the purple super-villain Thanos (Josh Brolin). They have all lost something or someone because of him, and each have to deal with it in their own unique way. To avoid the risk of giving away spoilers – because apparently that’s a very sensitive issue for a lot of people – I’ll say that the remaining Avengers develop a possible solution for the “Thanos Problem.” The answer is preposterous, to say the least. In terms of plot, what the Avengers come up with is a cheap narrative device that allows storytellers to work themselves out of a corner, basically taking the easy way out. But this isn’t anything new in terms of comic books, in which stories are told multiple times and in different versions. If you’re ok with comics coming up with absurd ways of solving a major difficulty, then what happens on screen may not make that much of a difference for you.
Since there is such an abundance of familiar faces, there is no way for everyone to get equal screen time. Unfortunately, many of the characters that are beloved by fans will have such little time to make their presence felt that their roles are basically reduced to cameos. There are a few who stand out. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are both given expanded roles, each one dealing with family issues that play as major motivating factors in their fight against Thanos. Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) are easily the two main leads here. They are two of the major anchors of the MCU up to this point, so it would only make sense that they would share the biggest piece of the spotlight.
For Tony Stark, his life as a wealthy genius turned arms dealer and then to superhero has been his major character arc throughout the years, and that’s the very trait that pushes him through Endgame. His relationship with Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) has also given him a more personal viewpoint behind his choices. Robert Downey Jr. is a charismatic actor, and it’s incredible that he has been able to inhabit this character with charm and wit for so long without ever making him feel boring. For Steve Rogers, he has always felt like a man trying to fit in a world that has left him behind. Let’s remember, this is a guy who fought in WWII, was frozen in ice, and was brought back to life. Captain America’s films have consistently been the best out of all the MCU, despite him being depicted as somewhat of an outsider. Endgame does a good job of taking Chris Evans’ keen ability for earnest nobility and making it one of the franchise’s cornerstones.
If there is a character that suffers the most in terms of character development, it’s with Thor (Chris Hemsworth). The funnier turn of Thor: Ragnarok (2017) suited Hemsworth’s natural comedic timing, but in Endgame he’s whittled down to nothing more than a buffoon. It’s funny at first, but the effect dies down as soon as we realize that this is how Thor is going to be throughout the entire film. He’s more The Dude from The Big Lebowski (1998) than a superhero that’s starred in three of his own movies. He hams it up so much that we cannot take him seriously in any capacity. The narrative tries to give him a reason for being such a way, but it’s handled awkwardly, coming off as unconvincing. Thor has now become the fool sidekick that everyone just puts up with.
For all the ups and downs that Endgame has throughout the first and second acts, much of it is forgotten about by the spectacular third act climax. The Russo brothers seem to have been gearing up for this final battle, going all out with the CGI fireworks. It’s a noticeable contrast to how the action was in Infinity War. In that film, every battle felt like a climactic showdown. This time, the action is tilted toward this moment, where all of our remaining heroes get to do their usual heroic feats. It’s splashy and unrelenting, but it’s not just a cacophony of digital mayhem. The writing and directing allows for all of the major characters to have specific tasks to do despite being in the middle of an all-out war. When it comes to superhero action set pieces, this may very well be at the top of the list.
Avengers: Endgame is not my favorite superhero film. In fact, it’s not even my favorite film within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But if someone were to ask me what “The Ultimate Superhero Movie” is, I may choose this one. It embraces all of the joy and fun to be had with the genre while providing enough heart for us to connect to on an emotional level. But it also accepts all of the goofiness and speed bumps that come with this time of story – it doesn’t hide from its warts so much as it wears them as a badge of honor. It’s a big, loud, corporate, studio epic, but at least it’s a good one.