‘Avengers: Endgame’ is Breathtakingly Epic, Emotionally Resonant, and Satisfying

Wow. Really. Just wow.

If you know me at all, or if you read my Captain Marvel review, you probably know I love the Marvel films. While there’s not a single installment of the MCU that I actually disliked, it goes without saying that some are better than others. But as high as the bar was after Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame exceeded every expectation I had, offering a powerful story that’s operatic in scale yet extremely resonant and totally earned.

Before I begin, let me just say that Endgame is an extremely difficult film to review. For one thing, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s the culmination of 11 years of storytelling across 21 other films, so there’s a lot of context outside of this single film. For another, Avengers: Endgame could almost be given the alternate title of Fan Service: The Movie because it’s basically a compilation of scenes and plot points that we, as fans, have been begging to see for years.

In its opening weekend — which, mind you, is only four days — Endgame absolutely decimated (see what I did there?) box office records, both domestically and globally, and now holds the record for biggest opening weekend of all time. In just four days, Avengers: Endgame jumped to the fifth-highest grossing film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, pulling in $357 million domestically and over $1.2 billion globally. Just for comparison, Avengers: Infinity War, which was no box office slouch and had broken all these same records last year, pulled in $257 million and around $640 million, respectively, in that same amount of time.

If you’ve seen Endgame — and if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you? Seriously, get off the internet and into your nearest theater — then you know how hard it is to talk about. Because virtually the entire 3+ hour runtime is worth discussing. But I’m going to do my best.

There are minor spoilers in this review.

Last year’s Avengers: Infinity War was an action-packed, relentless heist movie in which we were introduced to Thanos. Portrayed with incredible nuance by Josh Brolin using motion-capture technology, Thanos was actually our protagonist in Infinity War as the film showed him collecting the ultimate MacGuffins: the six Infinity Stones, which Thanos needed to rebalance the cosmic scales by wiping out half of all life in the universe.

With the snap of his Gauntlet-clad fingers, Thanos achieved his goal, reducing many beloved characters to dust in the final moments of Infinity War. So when the film ended, we were left with the Marvel Trinity — Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor — as well as Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hulk, and a handful of characters introduced in more recent installments (e.g. Ant-Man, Rocket Raccoon, Captain Marvel).

Part of what made Infinity War was that the film was actually Thanos’ story. Up to this point, we’d never really seen a comic book movie in which the villain was our protagonist. But even more importantly, Infinity War marked the first time we would see our heroes charging into a conflict that they couldn’t, and wouldn’t, win.

Sure enough, the Avengers lost to Thanos. And that’s where Endgame begins, showing us how each of the characters dealt with their failures.

Story Structure

As much as the Russo Bros. and the writers and Kevin Feige tried to make Infinity War and Endgame two separate films, they definitely, unequivocally feel like two parts of a single, continuous story. Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I wanted to point it out.

Once Endgame hits home video, I think the best experience — provided you have a solid six hours to spare — would be to watch Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, back-to-back. However, I’d be curious to know what (if any) effect this might have on the emotional weight of Infinity War. Because maybe the reason Endgame is so compelling is due to the fact that we were forced to wait an entire year to get some resolution to what occurred at the end of Infinity War.

It’s possible, but I won’t know for sure until I try it myself. And even if that year-long wait for Endgame lent additional weight to the film, I feel like that would’ve been by design. Because in Endgame, there’s a five-year time jump that occurs about 20 minutes into the film. So just as the characters who survived Thanos’ snap — referred to as “the Decimation” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe” — had to find ways to cope or move on during that time, similarly, the audience has been sitting with the emotional weight of Thanos’ snap for an entire year.

Whatever the case may have been, I’m pleased to confirm that Endgame not only met but exceeded every single expectation I had. Sure, it’s not a perfect film, and I’ll address a couple of the plot holes that become apparent the more you sit and think about certain things. However, capping off the so-called “Infinity Saga” was a monumental task, and I don’t think anybody was expecting perfection. We simply wanted a film that brought a satisfying conclusion to all the character arcs and plot threads that had been introduced since 2008’s Iron Man, tied together in a nice, neat bow.

The fact that the bow in question is also an incredibly sincere love letter to the fans just makes it that much better.

Fan Service

Captain Marvel, Black Widow, War Machine, Thor, Captain America, and Rocket head to space in the Guardians' ship.
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

Endgame is epic, almost overwhelmingly so. Even if you’re just a casual fan of the franchise, there is so much satisfaction to be had here. Granted, I know that those who will be most affected by Endgame are the die-hard fans because the film gives you everything you could ever want from a Marvel film. And it manages to do this in a way that doesn’t feel like checking boxes off a list.

The term “fan service” is being used to describe Endgame, which I completely agree with. But because of the negative connotations of fan service, it warrants explaining that fan service doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.

Fan service tends to be a negative thing is because it often comes from a place of cynicism. It’s a way for filmmakers to exploit fans of intellectual property (IP), allowing them to generate excitement or manipulate audiences into having positive reactions to a film despite those reactions being unearned. When used in this way, you might think of fan service as a creative shortcut.

But that’s not the case here. While there are countless fan-service moments throughout Endgame, they’re not coming from a place of cynicism. They’re moments that the fans have been hoping to see for a decade, but these moments aren’t just thrown into the film haphazardly; instead, the previous 11 years of the franchise have built toward these moments, so they’re totally earned rather than feeling disingenuous or gimmicky.

Yes, Endgame does, in fact, have a runtime of over three hours. This is going to make it tricky for anyone who has relatively young children. I was actually hesitant to take our 9-year-old to see it, so I ended up deciding to go see it myself and make sure he wouldn’t get restless. Although I think he’ll be fine, I honestly wouldn’t take children any younger than that; just wait for home video so you can pause and resume the film as needed. You’ll end up missing pivotal scenes when you’re forced to accompany your kid to the restroom, and you certainly don’t want your toddler to get restless and whiny halfway through and start disturbing the people around you.

But anyone who’s even moderately invested in these characters will surely find that those three hours go by in a snap. (See what I did there?) In fact, there were moments — especially during the jaw-dropping third act — when I wished I could slow things down a bit so I could really take it all in.

To be fair, about twenty minutes into Endgame, there’s roughly an hour where things become more talky-talky, more exposition-y. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this hour is boring, but there’s notably less action and excitement during that hour. In this way, Endgame isn’t quite as unrelenting as Infinity War. But now that I’ve seen what that slower hour was building toward, I really can’t think of even a single scene during that hour that could’ve been cut, or that wasn’t absolutely essential for the story.

Really, Endgame is a film that really shouldn’t have worked. It had entirely too much on its plate — giving a huge roster of characters satisfying endings, wrapping up a decade of complex narrative, serving as both a sequel and standalone film, concluding the Infinity Saga, setting up the future — and yet, somehow, it manages to achieve everything it needed to achieve and then some.

Incredible Screenplay

I’ve gotta give major props to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the screenwriters who penned both Infinity War and Endgame as well as directors Joe and Anthony Russos’ other Marvel films, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War. They scripted Captain America: The First Avenger, too.

Every studio in Hollywood is surely clamoring to hire this screenwriting duo; because in any other hands, Endgame would’ve been a disaster. But the script for Endgame shows not only immense respect for the world that’s been built but also for the fans. I’ve got to applaud Markus and McFeely because they managed to pack tons of surprises into the 180+ minute runtime while still giving fans almost everything they wanted from this epic conclusion. Even if you aren’t a movie buff like myself, it’s hard not to be impressed.

Leading up to the film’s release, Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios and the architect of the MCU, repeatedly referred to Endgame as the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it. By all accounts, if the Marvel Cinematic Universe were a television show, then Endgame would be the series finale, and to an extent, any films that follow would constitute either spin-offs or soft reboots. So this film needed to provide some semblance of closure for the three main Avengers, and I can happily say that it does.

In fact, despite the huge roster of characters, most of Endgame’s runtime is dedicated to being an effective send-off for the Marvel Trinity. Without going into too much detail, I’ll say this: Two of the three main Avengers get incredibly poetic endings. But considering what fans had been speculating, you may find those characters’ conclusions to be somewhat unexpected although, in my opinion, they still make a lot of sense and are generally satisfying.

For the third character, Endgame seems to hint toward an exciting new era for Phase 4. If you’re familiar with recent storylines from the comics, then you probably know what the title of that film might be.

Most of the remaining original Avengers — Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Hulk — don’t get quite as much closure as the other three. It’s difficult to say what kind of presence (if any) they’ll have in the MCU in the future; however, if reports of an upcoming film and a Disney+ limited series are any indications, we’ve probably not seen the last of them.

One of the most exciting things about Endgame is how it plays like a guided tour or the greatest hits of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But more impressively, Endgame adds unexpected depth to events that occurred many movies ago. Even frequently overlooked installments like Thor: The Dark World, the Agent Carter series, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Iron Man 3 become more relevant, or even crucial, over the course of Endgame. In this way, the film rewards those of us who have been with this franchise from the beginning (or who have at least seen all 21 preceding films).

Marvel’s use — or, by some accounts, overuse — of humor has been a common criticism and was surely why Warner Bros. opted to go a much darker route with the DC Films franchise. When Infinity War ended up being rather dark and brutal, I half expected Endgame to be a much more lighthearted story. That was not the case. I’d argue that as dark as Infinity War was, Endgame is exponentially darker, especially for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

But that darkness absolutely worked for me. From start to finish, you really feel what the characters have gone through since the Decimation. You can also feel the ramifications of other films in the franchise. This is particularly evident in Thor’s storyline; some have taken issue with some of the creative choices made for the character, but Thor’s arc is arguably the most compelling of the entire film, emphasizing several of the character’s major failures and how someone with such raw power is unable to cope when confronted with the inevitability of his own shortcomings.

Performances

The actors are all at the top of their games here. Looking back, I really can’t think of a single bad (or even just subpar) performance in the whole film. Even characters who don’t have a whole lot of screen time — especially Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, Brie Larson as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, Zoe Saldana as Gamora — make strong impressions.

Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

Though he’s always stellar in the role, Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man makes a truly career-making turn in Endgame, and even though I don’t see it happening, I am in complete agreement that it was an Oscar-worthy performance. And Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America is at his most relatable here and definitely gives Downey a run for his money.

Chris Hemsworth — who has recently shown his comedic chops with highly-praised roles in Ghostbusters (2016), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), and Vacation (2015) — cuts through the situational comedy that could’ve overtaken his narrative arc and delivers a performance as powerful as a Norse god. Again, some have criticized the direction his character was taken in for Endgame, but if you just scratch the surface, there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye.

An unexpected standout, at least for me, was Karen Gillan as Nebula. The film is practically a commentary on the journey this character has taken, from her introduction as a villain/henchwoman in Guardians of the Galaxy to the reluctant, tragic anti-hero she becomes by the time we see her in Infinity War and Endgame. Gillan plays the character with nuance, particularly when the story requires her to masterfully alternate between the superimposed villainy of her father and the agency she experiences when she finds herself fighting the good fight.

Minor Problems

But no film is perfect, especially when you’re trying to weave more than a decade of stories into a single epic conclusion. So, yes, Endgame does have a few minor (read: minor) problems.

One issue I foresee some people having is how certain plot points in the film come off a little too convenient (read: the rat). Sometimes you can justify it by thinking about how much time has passed and how long it took for that super convenient thing to fall into place. But there are other instances where a plot point that’s a little too convenient falls apart under just a little scrutiny. (Like how a powerful character doubles over in pain just from holding all six Infinity Stones while a less powerful character doesn’t experience any adverse effects until actually using them.)

However, the overall story is so strong and comes together to such great effect that I think most people — especially fans of the franchise — are probably willing to suspend their disbelief a little more than usual.

Then there’s the issue of certain characters getting short-shifted. To be fair, this is unavoidable when you’re working with a cast of characters this expansive, and, generally, I really believe that Markus and McFeely did the best they could without turning Endgame into a four-hour film. Overall, virtually every character is given at least one moment to shine. But there are certain characters who could’ve had more prominent roles in Endgame but didn’t.

Danai Gurira’s Okoye is one of the characters who survived Thanos’ Decimation at the end of Infinity War and, despite being featured on Endgame posters, barely has two minutes of screen time split between a scene toward the beginning of the film and a few brief flashes during the third-act battle.

Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel also gets a bit short-changed although, to be fair, the character’s off-the-charts power levels probably made benching her a necessity, otherwise she would’ve been a deus ex machina who immediately saves the day.

Another problem I had was actually a common problem with using time travel as a plot device. In Endgame, the characters attempt to use time travel to reverse the Decimation. Although the rules of time travel are pretty well-established from the start — in some relatively inoffensive exposition, I might add — the film creates some problems for itself. And at varying points, it seems that Endgame breaks some of the rules that it sets up, which becomes quite confusing.

However, it’s been reported that Markus and McFeely worked on the script extensively for several years, even recruiting members of the production team to look for inconsistencies and time paradoxes that they could address and incorporate into the script. In other words, the writers tried to provide answers to questions that we, the audience, would have when watching the film. So for now, I’m giving the film a pass because, generally, the script is extremely smart, so things that seem like plot holes today could actually have logical explanations. Or else, we may get answers to our questions in future films and series.

Technical & Artistic Achievements

On every level, Endgame is a technical achievement. If you were impressed with the effects in Infinity War — from Josh Brolin’s motion-capture performance as Thanos to the musical score to the special effects in the many battle scenes — then prepared to be even more impressed with Endgame.

From a cinematography standpoint, almost every frame of the film is a work of art. Endgame was shot by Trent Opaloch has been director of photography for all the Russos’ Marvel films. But he really steps up his game here, managing to convey grandeur and scale even in the most intimate scenes. One of the best examples is this one particular shot in the third act with Captain America — believe me, you’ll know it when you see it; it’s as gorgeous as it is inspiring.

The visual effects are absolutely breathtaking, and that was no small feat. There are even points during the third act when you’re looking at the screen and are in complete disbelief that this kind of scale is possible, even with the magic of moviemaking and CGI. It’s going to be a lot of fun to revisit Endgame once it’s on home video so you can replay certain scenes or pause on certain frames and really appreciate the richness here.

I also want to give a shout out to Alan Silvestri who returned to score Endgame after writing the scores for Infinity War, The Avengers, and Captain America: The First Avenger. I often listen to film scores when I’m working because they’re great for inspiring creativity without being distracting. But the Endgame score is one I can’t listen to when I’m working because it’s such a gorgeous score that it keeps pulling my focus.

In no particular order, I adore Silvestri’s “Portals,” which is probably my favorite of the entire score. I also really like “I Can’t Risk This,” “How Do I Look?,” “The Measure of a Hero,” “Watch Each Other’s Six,” “The Real Hero,” “So Many Stars,” and “Becoming Whole Again.” But, really, the entire score is incredible. There’s not a dud to be found.

Wrapping Up

Avengers: Endgame is more than a film or even a sequel. It’s an event in every sense of the world, and a historic moment in pop culture. It’s a film that will go down in history as a film that defined a generation in Hollywood.

More than anything, it’s really just impressive that Kevin Feige, the Russo Brothers, the actors, and producers, and everyone else involved in the making of Endgame managed to pull this off. Because like I said, this really shouldn’t have worked. The film had way too many boxes to check, and it not only checked them, but it checked them in ways that both surprised and satisfied fans of the franchise who have been waiting for this moment since Thanos made his first appearance in the mid-credits scene for The Avengers in 2012.

As someone who has invested a lot of time in this franchise — watching the films, rewatching the films, sharing the films with family and friends, thinking about the films, following news about future films, thinking about where the franchise could go next — Endgame was incredibly, almost inconceivably, satisfying. With both breathtaking scale and a level of emotional resonance that you don’t often see in comic book films, this is a film that really must be experienced to be believed. Because there are no words that really do justice to what’s been accomplished here.

I believe everyone, whether you’re a fan of the franchise or not, needs to see this film and be part of this cultural moment. Even if Endgame doesn’t linger in the public consciousness — which I’m sure won’t be the case; this is a film that people will be talking about for years to come — this is just something you don’t want to miss.

Get on the right side of history. If you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame, then do yourself a favor and get to your local multiplex to buy a ticket. And if you’ve already seen it, well…

See it again.


Originally published at Dane O’Leary Media.