Avengers: Endgame is perfect. It’s just a decent film, but it is all that Marvel could have hoped for in capping off this eleven-year story. Amidst the three hours of atonal mess and rampant fan service, there is a satisfying conclusion to perhaps the grandest story to be told in recent history.
Trust me when I say every single preceding word is important and meant to be taken at literal value. This is a cinematic universe built on fan service, and without it, we would have the dour misery of a DC Universe. It is grand in that it is large and ambitious, not that it is revolutionary or groundbreakingly impactful. And above all, it is disorganized and inconsistent and yet oh so important.
This second half of this monumental conclusion picks up a scant few weeks after Infinity War, which is to say right after a number of vital non-Infinity War events but wholly connected ones. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are stuck in space after failing to stop Thanos (Josh Brolin) on Titan; the rest of the Avengers are on Earth trying to make sense of their failure to stop Thanos on Earth; and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is stuck in the Quantum Realm after his crew was snapped away while he was hoovering up loose quantum energies.
What follows is both exactly what you’d expect and nothing that you could guess. If you are the sort of person interested in the MCU, you will have undoubtedly formed some number of hypotheses on how this saga will conclude, and with all probability on your side, you are right on at least some of those. The big swings (especially in context of contract arithmetic and Disney’s penchant for playing it safe) are hard to miss, but the details are what make this a trip worth taking.
For instance, if anyone would have guessed that this would have a lot of the feeling of The Leftovers, well no shit: this is literally the story of the survivors of a mysterious mass disappearance. But to have guessed that the other half of this cinematic cocktail would be Ocean’s Twelve (specifically, not Eleven or Thirteen, so take that as you will) would have been a laughable estimation. The last story told of these indelible Avengers, a heist film? Please.
But that is exactly what it is, and through this and numerous other constructs, it enables the screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directors Joe and Anthony Russo to do everything fans would want them to do. There are so few things—both big and small—that are not paid off over the course of this 22-film odyssey, and those that aren’t (and there are a lot as they are want to just drop side stories like third period French) are so deftly shoved aside that it’s almost an art. The pacing and density of content is such that you wouldn’t even remember these gaps until after the 181st minute you’re walking out of the theatre wondering, “Hey, what about—”
Due to this, it’s hard to even call this a movie in the traditional sense. There’s an oblique sense of direction, but only as much as its conclusion is an inevitable arrival. It’s devoid of most structure and few characters exhibit change or growth, but it’s important to remember that it doesn’t need to. It is, in a sense, the three-hour denouement to a 48-hour movie. (Add in all the non-film entries and, well, please don’t.) If Infinity War and every preceding MCU film was setup, this is nothing but payoff (with incidental complications along the way).
It thrives, however, on individual character moments, which is what you’d hope now that these actors have played these roles for over a decade. (Consider that even relatively minor player William Hurt has portrayed Thaddeus Ross more times than any single person has played a live-action Batman.) These fictional facades slip on like a glove at this point, and it shows; their ease at playing in this space makes their unspoken motivations and intentions as pointed as their bombastic actions.
The years of strife show on Downey’s face, the goatee that launched this money-printing machine. Chris Hemsworth is having the time of his life now that Thor isn’t such a grind to both inhabit and watch. And Chris Evans, as far as anyone can tell, is Captain America. And these humble origins are charmingly remembered, bringing to fruition some of the most touching moments of the entire endeavor from the most unlikely sources.
It’s easy to forget that the MCU started on a lark. No one expected it to get this far when they first started, let alone past giving the guy that directed Elf and the guy that had a very public dalliance with substance abuse some money to mess around with a mid-tier comic book hero. But let me say that against all odds, they managed to tell a complete and surprisingly affecting story. This offers closure on wounds opened in 2008 and god does it feel good.
Really, this is only closure. It feels at times the same sort of Paul Walker-tinged meta-knowledge you would have taken into Furious 7. Other times it’s like watching Marvel look at where Infinity War left them and their slate of upcoming titles and trying to solve a maze backward from the end. It’s hard to tell if this is a movie more worth liking for what it does or respecting it for what it has to (and does) accomplish.
With the people and money and companies involved, Endgame could have only been this. There are no big risks taken, and as a consequence, no big surprises are delivered. But you have to remember that it doesn’t have to. This is a product that, amidst a sprawling world of sparsely connected TV series, comics, short films, and movies meant to tease and intrigue fans, exists as a reward first and a story second.
It breaks its own rules over and over again, ignores logic and consistency, and slaps together drama and humor and aggressively splashy action in a haphazard $400 million diorama. And it’s perfect just the way it is.
Final Score: 8 out of 10