Look, we all know how movie franchises work. Our heroes set out to stop a villain, they get into a life and death jam, but find a way to escape and stop the bad guy. The Joker never kills Batman, and those pesky mad scientists never drop James Bond into a pool of sharks. Batman, James Bond, and Katniss Everdeen will forever live on in sequels, spinoffs, and reboots. And the perpetuity of the MCU is one of the biggest complaints people have about Marvel movies. Marvel sells us the next installment before the one we’re sitting through ends. The stories go on, and on, and the characters always live to fight another day. And then along came Avengers: Infinity War.
Even after Infinity War’s jaw-dropping finale, moviegoers claimed the ending was a cheap move. Nobody over ten believes that Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) won’t come back to star in their lucrative franchises (and crossover into everyone else’s). But judging a film’s stakes by who lives and who dies is to look at the material the wrong way.
The MCU is a monumental achievement in storytelling, worldbuilding, and brand recognition. But fans return to these movies care about these movies because they’ve fallen in love with the characters. Yes, people are invested in who lives and dies. But those are the stakes for us as moviegoers who enjoy watching Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland. There are higher stakes that exist within the MCU. I’m talking about emotional stakes.
After battling Thanos (Josh Brolin), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) universe is forever changed. Assuming the remaining heroes figure out a way to bring their friends back, they’ve already paid a heavy emotional toll, the effects of which can’t be undone. The remaining Avengers endured a fate worse than death. They’re heroes afterall, and all the cells in their bodies are wired to save those in need. They failed to protect the helpless from Thanos and now the guilt is eating away at them.
For these men and women, this failure is a result worse than death, and the experience changed them. The characters in this film aren’t the same ones we knew at the start of Infinity War; they’ve gone through the wringer and come out traumatized. And whichever Avengers make it out of Endgame won’t be the same either. They’ve grown but not for the better. And that’s why killing characters off isn’t the highest form of stakes; surviving is.
When Endgame begins, it makes one thing clear: Thanos won the Infinity War. After defeating The Avengers, and their allies Thanos inflicted his wrath upon the entire universe. After his malevolent snap in Endgame, half of all living things ceased to exist. We find the remaining Avengers battered and broken in body and in spirit and fighting amongst themselves. They come across like shells of the confident heroes they once were. And after bonding with these characters for 21 films, watching them suffer feels agonizing.
The less said about this picture, the better. Even the splashy trailers did a great job at not revealing the roads Endgame’s story takes us down. Let’s just say the remaining Avengers get back together, hatch a plan to take down Thanos, and claim the Infinity Gauntlet – that’s if The Mad Titan didn’t already snap the gauntlet out of existence. The odds aren’t in our heroes’ favour.
Avengers: Endgame is the ultimate Marvel movie. I can’t imagine another MCU film— or any comic book flick — topping what co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo pull off here. This is blockbuster filmmaking of the highest order. Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of a decade’s worth of stories, character growth, and audience investment. Twenty-one movies’ worth of iconography all come together in Endgame to attempt an impossible task: meet fans’ expectations and somehow stick the landing. I’m writing this before the film’s release, so the jury is still out on fan reactions. But Endgame does stick the landing.
The MCU’s flicks are known for being self-aware. And in many ways, Endgame is the most meta film in Marvel’s catalogue. Endgame wraps up the MCU’s ten-year arc (but not the MCU) with a host of winks and nods. Remember, these films are built on the formation of the Avengers and the pursuit of the Infinity Stones. That’s all done and out of the way now. The MCU will carry on but not as we know it, but Endgame is a definitive swan song. And it acts as a love letter to the characters, the movies, and the MCU’s fans.
Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s script gives each character the hero moment they deserve, and they’re often heart-wrenching. The film does so with flashbacks to past films, loads of cameos, and through earnest conversations that are as much for MCU fans as the Avengers. In these tender moments, we’re reassured that the MCU is in good hands and life will keep moving forward. Saying goodbye isn’t easy, even if parting ways is inevitable. And the film gives characters room to breath outside of their battles. We get to watch them be their charming selves before the film sends them off with the love and admiration they deserve. I can’t put it any simpler than this: tears will be shed.
Avengers: Infinity War is a dark movie and a heavy watch, and Avengers: Endgame is just as grim. Heroes argue with each other, characters mope around, and people die. But Endgame’s darker moments come in ebbs and flows. The movie still features Marvel’s trademark humour; plenty of witty quips, barbs, and observations that will have long-time fans rolling in the isles. And nothing beats seeing a bespectacled Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) wearing a sensible sweater.
Anthony and Joe Russo are MCU veterans, and they effortlessly balance the 3-hour film’s alternating tones. They acknowledge the silliness of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) sending emails to a talking raccoon (Bradley Cooper), but they never look down on the comic book-y material either. Few directors could treat Endgame with the proper amount of reverence while still taking the piss out of it’s more outlandish elements. Even with it’s talking trees, Asgardian alcoholics, and flying horses, Avengers: Endgame has gravitas.
The Russos jam-pack Endgame with holy-s#it moments. You’ll want to jump out of your seat, fist-pump, and applaud at the treats this flick has in store for you. The action sequences aren’t as fine-tuned as what we see in Civil War or The Winter Soldier, but these CGI-heavy sequences are bigger, flashier, and more complex than what’s come before in the series. Endgame looks like a comic book come to life. And even at three-hours long it whizzes by and offers plenty of bang for your buck.
The bombast, spectacle, and inventive visual flourishes in this film will hold up to re-watches for years to come. We’re privy to the stunning cosmic cinematography of The Guardians flicks, the earth-bound apocalyptic mayhem from the Avengers films, and even glimpse a bit of Wakanda’s Afrofuturism. And Alan Silvestri’s grandiose score is right on brand. It adds an operatic heft that intensifies the film’s many set pieces. While in other moments, when our heroes reach their lowest points, the score carries the right sombre resonance to activate your tear ducts.
What makes Endgame special, though, is that it gets what it is that makes someone a hero. Not only that, it makes us understand how hard the job is. The Avengers aren’t heroes because they’re strong. Villains are strong too. The Avengers aren’t heroes because they’re willing to fight. Lots of scrappy guys/gals aren’t even brave. Heroes are something more.
If these films taught us anything, it’s that power corrupts. Whether it’s imposing organizations like S.H.I.E.L.D., advanced A.I. like Ultron (James Spader), or the Mad Titan himself, we’ve seen that the mighty often become bullies whose only concern is their own well-being. Hell, most of the problems we have in the real world come from wealthy, powerful, and influential people who only work towards their own self-interests.
Power corrupts; doing the right thing over the easy thing is a test; saving others means sacrificing a piece of ourselves. Thanos, Ultron, and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are villains. They present The Avengers with physical and philosophical threats. But the real challenge that Captain America, Iron Man, and Black Widow face is far more insidious. Each day they fight to tune out the sweet siren call of a happy life.
These heroes choose to carry on fighting even though their heart’s cry out for simpler lives. It’s the reason Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) tapped out to go live with his family on a farm. Happiness is out there, somewhere, waiting for these men and women. But they don’t give in to the temptation. They’re willing to put their own wants and desires on the backburner for the greater good. Endgame makes us understand that struggle. We see what being a hero cost these men and women. Steve Rogers has the heart of a saint, but he’s still a man. And he dreams of one day experiencing a normal life. And after four MCU phases and 22 films, who are we to begrudge him that. I’ve always loved these characters. But by the time Endgame’s credits rolled, I felt for them like I never have before.
Most fans are not ready to say goodbye to this version of the MCU, but it’s not our call. We’ve come a long way with these characters, and it’s time for some of them to move on. I grew up in a time when a live-action Marvel universe was a wild fantasy. But now I’ve seen my favourite heroes come and go, experiencing it all was a thing of beauty. With these stories coming to their logical conclusion, I’m like a proud parent seeing their child off to college. I’ll miss them, sure, but I know it’s time for these films to head off in new directions. And besides, just like a college student, the MCU will be back by Thanksgiving.