This is a spoiler-free review for Avengers: Endgame, but contains spoilers for the entire MCU prior.
Arriving eleven years after Iron Man, the first film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Endgame is tasked with wrapping up the twenty-two film saga. On top of that, it is also a direct sequel to last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, which ended with Thanos snapping half of all living creatures out of existence. The snap was a shocking and emotionally powerful moment for a lot of Marvel fans. Unfortunately, for those people who are more “online” with this sort of stuff, the film may not have resonated as strongly as it should have. Black Panther and Spider-Man were among the heroes who were erased in the snap which grimly concluded the previous film. These were two characters who we already knew were getting sequels to their solo outings in the future. Because of this, there was a lot of speculation and skepticism among fans and critics alike in the year since then leading up to the release of Endgame this past weekend.
Whether or not Endgame will land for you will largely depend on your feelings towards Infinity War and your relationship with the past eleven years of films as a whole. The film itself works as a tremendously satisfying conclusion to everything they have built up and established prior. However, your mileage on this point may vary. If you cried during Peter Parker’s final moments with Tony Stark before being swept away as dust, this is the movie for you. If you have previously struggled to find emotional stakes and levity in this franchise, this likely won’t do much to change your mind. All that being said, Avengers: Endgame is a logical encapsulation and escalation of the Marvel films that have preceded it. The film is bigger, more complex, and the stakes are higher than ever before. Seeing it opening night in a packed theater, similar to the way I saw the original Avengers film seven years ago, there was again an abundance of clapping, cheering, and hollering. But this time, there was a lot of audible sobbing.
The film works best when it is spending time with the cast of the original Avengers team from Joss Whedon’s 2012 film and the characters that made up Phase One of the MCU. These are the characters that we have spent the most time with, that have had the most significant character arcs, and that we care the most about. Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans in particular are the real stars of this film and that feels right. The two of them have become so synonymous with their characters over the years that it has become hard to see them as anyone else. They give perhaps their best performances yet in the film and their presence is really felt as overseers of this three hour epic. Other characters from the original team like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) are all given a lot to work with here as well. Largely, their character work is poignant as well, but the payoffs are significantly less satisfying. Hulk and Thor in particular are drawn with incredibly bold choices in this movie, one which works wonderfully and one that is flat-out disappointing.
There is a plot device wholly essential to the entire idea of this film and for the most part the movie nails that and moves forward in a way that is both exceptionally rewarding and makes sense. The sheer ambition of both this film and Infinity War before it can weigh it down at times with slow pacing and a desperate need to jump between scenes and worlds with so many characters. The need for this movie to include such an insane amount of characters and ideas in a way that is both clear fan service and the corporate franchise way of “world-building” is quite eye-roll inducing at times and takes away from what is otherwise an organic and natural story. There is less of that than in Infinity War and for that it is better paced and a more enjoyable watch overall, but largely it is a continuation of everything that was established there.
Due to the film’s overwhelming length and inclusion of so many working parts, there is both so much to love and appreciate, while also featuring so many qualms to nitpick. When judging the film, it is better to take account of your feelings towards the experience of watching it; how you felt beforehand, during, and afterwards. Think about what your relationship to all the films of the MCU has been over the years, how that has evolved over time, and how you want to remember them. Even if you don’t fully love Avengers: Endgame, it is likely to have some effect on you. Appreciate that. Appreciate what Kevin Feige, Marvel, and everyone involved has given to fans of these characters over the years. The building of this franchise has been quite the accomplishment and should be remembered as such. While these Avengers films aren’t the best encapsulation of what has made the Marvel Cinematic Universe so great and successful, they are indicators of that success. This movie itself isn’t a masterpiece, nor is it a three hour experience that would be rewarding on repeat viewings. It is, however, a very satisfying conclusion to this the “Infinity Saga” that has been embedded in our lives for so many years.