The Marvel Cinematic Universe changed the superhero stakes in Hollywood. While things began earnestly with Iron Man in 2008, things quickly picked up speed. Before long, Marvel established not just a series of movies, but a full-fledged world. A relatively new idea in cinema, an experiment of this sort has rarely been seen in the past. However, with each film things grow bigger and increasingly elaborate. It is in this environment that Avengers: Endgame hits theaters. 22 features in, the MCU is beginning to change and evolve. So, as this early phase comes to an end, should you check out the much anticipated superhero narrative?
Avengers: Endgame picks up where the last film left off. Our heroes are left floundering after Thanos (Josh Brolin)’ “snap-heard-round-the-world”. They’re lost, alone, and not quite sure of their next step. All they know is they need to figure out how to reverse the catastrophic finale of the last movie. This review is staying spoiler-free, so that’s where the synopsis comes to an end. All of the fan favorite heroes return, with Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Chris Hemsworth pulling much of the narrative weight. Joe and Anthony Russo direct from a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.
When the ending credits rolled on last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, the prospect of this next movie felt daunting to say the least. The superhero film felt so massive, could anything top the climatic Wakandan battle sequence? It turns out, yes. Ohhhhh yes. In this apparent swan song of the current phase of the MCU, the Russo Brothers up their game from the last feature, crafting an interesting and entertaining story with a visual scale which can only be described as epic.
At the same time, Avengers: Endgame feels as intimate as any of the previous works in the MCU. Movie audiences have grown to know and love so many of these characters since Robert Downey Jr. first graced the screen as Tony Stark in 2008. We’ve lived with them, grown with them and learned to love them. Markus and McFeely’s script isn’t afraid to plunge into some interesting territory, for the first time examining some of these characters in their humanity. The events of Avengers: Infinity War pulled the rug out from under them, and this failure leaves them groping for something to hold on too.
There are so many standout performances as the concluding credits role. Chris Hemsworth continues on the climb he started after Thor: Ragnarok. While the first two Thor films are considered mere blips on the MCU radar, the actor stepped out in front of the franchise as soon as the series learned to use its sense of humor. The actor brings his presence and charisma to his work in this latest installment. Hemsworth highlights a side of Thor we haven’t seen before. He once again shows the strength of his comedic chops, but isn’t afraid to take Thor to a more personal place. The Asgardian rarely experience failure and feelings of inadequacy, and this is such new territory for him. It’s fascinating to watch it play out on screen.
It would also be a crime to not mention MCU all-stars Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, who once again demonstrate exactly why they stand as the brain and heart of this franchise. Pop culture media hasn’t shied away from the ongoing contractual discussions, making no secret of the fact both men are likely done suiting up (spoilers, sweetie!). Both bring sensitive and well-rounded performances. Whether you’re “Team Iron Man” or “Team Cap”, both shine in this film. Their performances are grounded in reality, giving scale and stakes to the action playing out on-screen. It’s not a spoiler to say that there’s a very real sense of the finality of this movie. With all these factors working together, it serves to pull audiences in, getting them invested in the narrative. At this point, MCU viewers have spent years with Downey Jr. and Evans and they hold the heart of the story in their more than capable hands.
Much has been written about the length of Avengers: Endgame. Yes, the articles aren’t a joke. It comes in at a hefty three hours and no, they haven’t reinstituted the long forgotten art of the theatrical intermission. Luckily for the audience, the Russo’s skill in balancing the humor and the action allows the film to avoid dragging. It is not a slow sit and doesn’t at all feel like 181 minutes.
The question of gender in superhero films grew into a popular (and volatile) topic in the months following the March 2019 release of Captain Marvel. All the fan-favorite ladies return. Particularly welcomed is the reappearance of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers is there (and used incredibly well), but her involvement in the narrative is sparse at best. Avengers: Endgame makes a call-back to the previous movie when the ladies team up to flight against Thanos’ baddies. This time, the moment is repeated in a supersized moment of delightfulness as everyone from Valkyrie to Carol and even Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) pool their powers together. The moment is an applause worthy bit of glee, giving audiences at least a fleeting moment of girl power in a story which leans a bit dude-centric. The ladies are all there… they just aren’t the focus of this one.
Ultimately, the script is still a crowded one. If an actor played a character in a Marvel film, chances are they make an appearance in this story. Avengers: Endgame is a love-letter to the MCU. While there are definitely strong performances from the leads, the character development is not equal. Certain performers don’t get nearly enough time to shine… it’s just not narratively possible. This is once again a struggle for the movie, but it’s not a new one in the MCU (especially lately).
Avengers: Endgame brings the storied, initial arc of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a thematic close. After more than 10 years and 22 films these characters feel like family for fans of the franchise. While the experience is bittersweet, the creative team brings everything to a close with a strong, well-meaning and ultimately heartfelt movie. Is Avengers: Endgame a place to jump in if you’re new to the party? Probably not. However, fans of the MCU should make sure to check out this one on a big-screen. This is an experience not to be missed.
Avengers: Endgame opens in theaters around the world this Thursday.