Usually a review should provide at least a little insight on what a movie’s about so you know if it’s something you’re interested in, but when it comes to Avengers: Endgame even the most basic plot outline isn’t something I’d dare give away. Yes, it picks up straight from Infinity War’s giant cliffhanger. And yes, the drive of the story is our heroes figuring out how to (or whether they even can) pull off a cosmic sized ctrl-z on Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) actions. But what that actually translates into veers sharply from expectations, leaving behind most of what you saw in the trailers for the opening scenes, and propelling forwards through one of the most inventive, fan-pleasing, and emotional journeys Marvel have committed to screen.
While the MCU will continue on (there’s already one problematic trailer out for a future film), make no mistake that Endgame is the definitive climax to Marvel’s grand saga. If Infinity War was a showcase of Marvel’s many heroes, this is a celebration of its world and mythology. Longtime Marvel writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely hustle up as many loose ends as they can find, threading them into a very satisfying ending for the now 22-film franchise, and giving (at least) our original 6 Avengers a sense of closure their billion-dollar box-offices would rarely allow for.
With a runtime of 3 hours it’s almost miraculous that Endgame is able to keep the pace moving as well as it does; in fact, I’m tempted to say there were a few ideas I wouldn’t have minded exploring just a tiny bit more. But keeping momentum and tying disparate threads together has become almost trademark to directors Joe and Anthony Russo. The Russo’s have proved themselves masters of film construction, moving one sequence into the next with almost surgical precision. There is perhaps one section of the film where one of the missions swells a bit longer than it should, but even then it sprinkles in key character beats that bloom brightly in retrospect.
While the creative plotting and focus on character sets Endgame apart from its blockbuster ilk, you should be forewarned that there is a trade-off on the action front when compared to previous Avengers entries. Don’t worry, there are definitely some Rah-Rah moments of heroes teaming up to punch purple space Hitler in the beef (and what a fight it does turn out to be), but unlike previous films we aren’t watching our heroes trying to stop a villain – we are watching them proactively trying to change the new status quo. This is a rescue mission, and while it’s a bold choice to let the heroes just be heroes and not throw robots or aliens at them every 10 minutes, giving them the room to change, grow (some a little more literally than others) and just spend time with each other is something to be savoured.
If there’s a nit-pick to be had, it’s that the various tones Endgame juggles aren’t quite as blended as they were in the roller coaster that was Infinity War. Instead, the film divides itself neatly into three distinct acts. The first (and darkest by a mile) exploring what happens when the heroes lose, the second bringing that trademark Marvel charm with our heroes out there getting shit done, and the third…well let’s not get into that here. On the one hand it does let the story zero in and explore each component to its fullest, but the film might haven benefited from shuffling around the emotions a bit more evenly.
Although, considering how much is going on, that may be a bit unfair, as Endgame is meticulous in ensuring it does justice to what has come before it. While it’s far from mandatory to have seen every other Marvel movie (a few are obviously essential), this is (as it should be) a film for the fans and your mileage will increase for every previous chapter you’re familiar with. From callbacks to fan favourite moments, looooong digesting pay-offs, and one reference to junk food that made me tear up, it goes beyond fan-service and becomes both a loving homage, and a thank you to the people that have been supporting this series since Tony Stark cobbled together his first Iron Man suit in 2008.
Digging too much into the characters here (or even who’s in the movie) gets a bit dicey just on its own, but it begs acknowledging how well the narrative is able to balance such a big cast without anyone feeling specifically sidelined. Of course, some characters obviously get a little more time than others; the original six are fittingly given precedence (with Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye finally given a bit more to do this time round). Chris Evans’ Captain America and Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man get the flashiest roles and undoubtedly receive the most badass hero moments of the film. It’s also nice to see the bad blood from Civil War wasn’t totally swept under the carpet, but that they are forced to work through it in the wake of what they are up against.
Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk are both a tonne of fun and go through the biggest changes along this tale (especially Thor, who’s suffered an absurd amount of loss and guilt over the last however many movies). I suspect they will both be a bit more polarising to fans this time round, but for those who have enjoyed the life Thor: Ragnarok breathed into them, this is a great next step in the journey. Also, two quick final shoutouts to Karen Gillan’s Nebula, who gets a more deserving slice of the pie this time round (given her background with Thanos and importance in the comics), and my boy Ant-Man (played by the perpetually charming Paul Rudd), who’s quietly one of the most critical players on the road to victory (though, thankfully, not in the way prophesied in recent memes).
Infinity War might still hold the mantle as the studio’s biggest movie, but Endgame is easily its most ambitious. There were many opportunities for Marvel to take the easy road here, but time and again throughout the film they try to subvert expectations while still giving their story and characters the justice they deserve. And while this is definitely not a jumping on point for people curious about the series, it’s beyond essential for anyone invested in these characters. It takes a little while to sink in as only the best movies do, but from its heartbreaking opening to its pitch-perfect final shot, Avengers: Endgame is the perfect ending to one of Hollywood’s biggest experiments.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★★
‘Avengers: Endgame’ opened in Australia on April 24 and hit the US on April 26.