Avengers: Endgame, essentially the second half(-plus) of Avengers: Infinity War, is a satisfying culmination, pulling of something that has been lacking in a decade-plus of Marvel movies: finality. Natural conclusions are reached and investment in the 21 films of varying quality that have come before pays off huge without feeling like this is just a stopgap for something “bigger” that’s coming. (But you should still gear up for Spider-Man: Far from Home… coming this July!)
Whereas its predecessor ended on a dramatic, assuredly non-conclusive cliffhanger, Endgame lives up to its title by clearly communicating stakes that stick, staging exhilarating action loaded with fan-service moments, and really focusing in on character arcs and beats that resonate.
Endgame isn’t without some of the problems that have plagued this wacky, wildly successful experiment known as the MCU. Certain plot conveniences stick out (some of the methods of super-heroing this go-round make even less sense than usual), there are some saggy sections that feel extraneous, and though we’re dealing with a galactic half-apocalypse there’s little sense of what’s going on beyond those with super powers or superior archery skills battling the big purple guy and his minions. But this time, what we get is enough to make the adventure feel complete.
In the aftermath of The Snap from Thanos (Josh Brolin) that wiped out half of all life in the galaxy, the remaining Avengers are left with seemingly futile hope that the action can be reversed and/or attempting to move on the best they can. A far-fetched option presents itself when Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) emerges from the Quantum Realm thanks to one of those aforementioned conveniences. Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are willing to try anything, though Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is at first reluctant to offer his super-powered intelligence to the cause. The team, including Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), eventually assembles for the complex mission, while newest Marvel movie star Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) helps out, largely offscreen, elsewhere.
Though the errand introduces some unnecessarily headache-inducing logic – which the movie breaks on more than one occasion, it works as both a literal nostalgia trip through the MCU’s history and a fight for the present and future. Just as this cinematic universe has grown grander and more complex (boring?) with each step forward, Endgame’s central task relating to Infinity Stone retrieval grows more complicated with trips to the past, where tenuous battle victories in previous films led to ultimate Infinity War failure. While goofy on the surface, which the film acknowledges through Downey Jr.’s signature Stark snark, there’s a genius to the way the past is reshaped and looked at from different points of view to serve the current plot. And there are actually reasons borne from both story and character to move the chess pieces to specific places.
The major success of Infinity War was the way the filmmakers juggled 11 years’ worth of characters and made the film feel like somewhat of a cohesive whole, save the “ending.” Directors Joe and Anthony Russo accomplish the same here, and this time stick the landing, re-introducing dozens of players, wringing moments from each of them. All of it culminates in an expertly staged, gripping final battle.
The elder statespeople of the franchise – Downey Jr., Evans, and Johansson, are all great with the heavy lifting they’re given, each coming to realizations of their multi-movie expeditions. Hemsworth and Karen Gillan are standouts of the supporting multitude, the former successfully injecting comedy into even the direst of scenarios and the latter embodying overarching themes relating to growth, change, and standing up in the face of an evil enemy. At one point she’s forced to quite literally confront herself while navigating complicated relationships with her father Thanos and sister Gamora (Zoe Saldana).
Yes, Endgame is long and feels it at points, but there are plenty of thrills and meaningful moments scattered about to sustain the journey, even through a protracted denouement that recalls the Return of the King wrap-up. Multiple endings in both films are earned and consequential.
There are hints of what’s to come as long as Marvel remains a box office juggernaut (that is, until the End of Days), but as a finale to the MCU we’ve known since 2008’s Iron Man, Avengers: Endgame is an exciting, fitting, substantial, almost miraculously eloquent closer.