Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame
Avengers: Endgame
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“Avengers: Endgame” is a film that was 10 years in the making and the result of work by thousands of people over a decade. It’s the most blockbuster of all blockbusters, with a dozen subplots colliding and familiar faces from over 20 other movies. But it’s really like nothing Hollywood has produced before. It exists not to simply acknowledge or exploit these fans, but to reward their love, patience, and undying adoration. The blunt thing you probably want to know most: I can’t see serious MCU fans walking away from this disappointed. It checks all the boxes — and even ticks off a few ones they won’t expect to be on their list. It’s a satisfying end to a chapter of blockbuster history that will be hard for any movie to top for pure spectacle; it’s on the higher end of MCU films in terms of sheer entertainment value, one that elevates its most iconic heroes to the legendary status they deserve and provides a few legitimate thrills along the way.

Don’t worry: I will stay very spoiler-free here (and in fact request you do so as well in comments). The main joy of “Avengers: Endgame” is how its incredibly complex narrative unfolds; go elsewhere if you want it ruined for you. In briefest terms: At the end of “The Snap,” Thanos had gotten all six Infinity Stones he so desperately sought after, then used them to wipe out half of existence — including Black Panther, Star-Lord, Spider-Man & c., as well as billions we never saw but can imagine — which left us with approximately two dozen Marvel heroes still standing against him. As “Endgame” begins (a few weeks later), those remaining heroes are picking up pieces & trying figure out if there’s any way to reverse what Thanos did.

Right off the bat (& through no fault of her own), it’s also more focused than “Infinity War” just by having a tighter, smaller cast. (Thanks, Thanos.) It’s a more patient, focused film, even as its plot draws in elements of a dozen other movies. Whereas “Infinity” sometimes felt bloated with every character who’d ever been in an MCU film before — and leaned on the ones who were most successful within the last year — “Endgame” allows some of the most iconic characters in Marvel Cinematic Universe history a chance to be, well, heroic. No longer mere pawns in a Thanos-driven plot, Iron Man & Cap & Black Widow & Hulk & Thor break free from crowd here; now ably assisted by Hawkeye & Ant-Man. In some ways, this is new Avengers movie; more so than any previous one where it has sorta been true. (The group pared down to only those remaining after snap reminded me of the charm of Joss Whedon’s first “Avengers” movie: strong personalities bouncing off each other instead of feeling like they were strapped into roller-coaster headed in same direction.) It also allows space for some of best acting work we’ve seen in these films that maybe don’t always get appreciation for great acting — particularly Evans and Downey Jr., both of whom one realizes while watching this have now turned their characters into something larger than life for generation(s). The most satisfying aspect of “Endgame” is how much it gives story arc two popular Avengers instead drowning them sea cameos by lesser characters other movies; it canonizes them both, becomes all-in MCU ode.

For me, what works best about Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s script for “Endgame” is that it feels like it’s looking back instead of just trying to set the table for something to come. It uses things that fans know and love about the MCU — character beats, origins, the plots of movies like “Iron Man,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” — as a kind of shorthand. Call it cheap fan service if you want, but my biggest problem with these films (especially “Infinity War”) has always been their sense that they’re actually commercials for movies yet to be made; this one doesn’t have that. No, the MCU will never end — but this movie has a finality and a depth to its knowledge of MCU history that all the others have lacked.

Of course, it needs to work as just a movie too. And there are moments when I wished I could feel some kind of human hand or spirit beneath the incredibly-polished surface — below even the carefully-planned surface — of this thing. Sometimes during one of those pregnant pauses about how serious everything is in that long build-up first hour: I wanted somebody to say something genuinely spontaneous-seeming. Or make an acting decision that didn’t seem like it had been run through a committee first. Every single aspect of this movie has been foreshadowed for years by other movies and then finely tuned by hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of people who’ve worked on this film over its very-long-indeed development period — so many people whose fingerprints are on every frame here, so many hands guiding our own in such clearly telegraphed ways… Consequently, pretty much everything interesting or cool or thought-provoking in “Endgame” already happened four or five times before we got here.

The upshot being? This often feels less like a product than like Product. In a way you could even say that this movie demonstrates Ebert’s old axiom that “video games can never be art” — albeit with the proviso that he might have been surprised to see art becoming more like a video game? This thing feels remarkably programmed and determined, in other words: It’s a big epic series of events, but it lacks anything that actually challenges us as viewers. (People aren’t lining up at dawn for this kind of challenge.)

But people also aren’t lining up at dawn for “Avengers: Endgame” to challenge them. They’re there to be rewarded — and whatever its flaws, this movie does do all that. It rewards commitment; it rewards fandom; it rewards expectations met. And I think that — along with the fact that no Marvel movie has ever been this long before — is why so many endings here feel so earned or deserved or right or resonant. Stakes are high and conclusions actually feel like they’re concluding something.

This movie is an Event, in other words. An event film; a cultural event film; an epic cultural event film of some sort — one whose scale or impact or import or sheer scope is such as to make traditional film criticism irrelevant (or seem so). What else can you say about it? How else can you approach it? The only question worth asking upon exiting the theater isn’t “Was it good?” Is how could they possibly top this in ten years’ time?

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