Disclaimer: As the film is out on home media, this review will contain some spoilers.
Finally, we’ve made it to the endgame. It seems hard to believe that, from Tony Stark’s bold declaration of “I am Iron Man”, we now have a cinematic universe that includes Norse Gods, green rage monsters, and space racoons. Following shortly after the tragic conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), we find an unlikely duo, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), adrift in space with no food or water, and a dwindling supply of oxygen. Meanwhile, the remaining Avengers – Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremey Renner) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) – are trying to figure out a way to bring back their vanquished allies and defeat the Mad Titan, Thanos (Josh Brolin).
Like Infinity War before it, Endgame (mostly) pulls off the unenviable balancing act of giving each members of its ridiculously huge cast time to shine, while also serving as a fitting conclusion to the 22 film-long Marvel Cinematic Universe (or, the Infinity Saga). Although Infinity War also had this mammoth task (and nailed it), I found it benefited greatly from its tragic conclusion, which solidified it as a great standalone movie. Endgame then, not only has to conclude the story of the MCU, but also follow up one of the best ensemble (let alone superhero) movies of recent memory. Thankfully, the Russo Brothers (Joe and Anthony) didn’t just stick the landing, they hit the ground running, but not without taking the time to reflect on the aftermath of Infinity War. Despite its three-hour run-time, Endgame‘s three acts are all distinct from one another, allowing for shifts in tone and scale.
Following the surprisingly fast resolution of the “Thanos problem”, the film’s first act is a somber reflection on the aftermath of the Mad Titan’s actions. We cut to five years later, and we find an Earth (and universe) that is still shell-shocked and in mourning for those that were dusted. Several of the remaining Avengers (including Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon, Danai Gurira’s Okoye and Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes/War Machine) are putting up a strong front, attempting to keep the peace as best they can, led by Natasha Romanoff. Stark has settled down with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and has had a daughter, while Steve Rogers is holding support groups, both still refusing to make amends after their falling out in Captain America: Civil War (2016).
This changes though, with the arrival of Paul Rudd’s delightful Scott Lang/Ant-Man. A man placed literally outside of time (see the post-credits scene of 2018’s Ant-Man & The Wasp), Lang quickly catches up and tracks down the Avengers with a desperate plan – a time heist! This is where the film changes gear, and the humour the MCU is known for is allowed to creep back in. The tonal shifts the Russo Brothers continue to pull off is astounding in and of itself, as the film starts to enjoy itself and have fun just like they did in the good ol’ days. What made this impressive though, is that the film doesn’t let the characters forget what they’re fighting for; for every fun moment (Professor Hulk dabbing, anyone?), there’s an overweight Thor, coping poorly with PTSD. Furthermore, although the time-heist quickly breaks its own rules, it allows for a literal trip down memory lane. This gives us some fantastic moments of unabashed fan-service, from seeing the Battle of New York in The Avengers (2012) from different angles, to Ant-Man’s salute to America’s ass, to Rocket Raccoon dragging a mopey Thor around Asgard.
Although these moments are entertaining, the film is resolute in its dedication to pleasing fans, not just with these, but in the continued development of these beloved characters. As mentioned, Endgame gives us a Tony Stark that’s finally settled down and (mostly) retired from the superhero game, and a Bruce Banner that has made peace with the Hulk, a development that, for me, occurred frustratingly off-screen. In contrast, Thor has to learn to work through his depression and trauma following the events of his previous MCU outings. Meanwhile, following the film’s brutal cold open, Clint Barton has become Ronin, a vigilante who’s devoted to killing those (i.e. criminals) that he felt should have been taken by the Snap. As for Natasha, whose character seems to change from film to film, depending on what the writers need from her, is instead the Avengers’ rock, serving as the team’s leader and watcher on the wall. As always, the core cast bring their A-game, giving great performances to close out their Infinity Saga arcs.
The supporting cast, likewise, do their fair share, with Don Cheadle, Sean Gunn/Bradley Cooper (as the motion-capture/voice of Rocket Raccoon, respectively) and Paul Rudd getting their time to shine. In particular, Karen Gillan delivers a strong performance as Nebula, finally getting the chance to truly leave behind her comparatively one-note performance from 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. As this was filmed before Captain Marvel, I did feel that the writer didn’t quite know how to handle Carol Danvers, possibly not wanting to step on the toes of the creatives behind her solo movie. Even though some characters inevitably get more time than others, even among the original Avengers, this is their swan song, and everyone clearly put everything into making the most of it.
The Russos’ direction is on point yet again, with their experiences from Civil War and Infinity War helping the film in balancing its character arcs, different tones and pacing. That said, the latter isn’t always as consistent as one might like, in an ideal world, but considering the behemoth challenge this film sets, it’s hard to hold that against them. The VFX teams behind the scenes, again, deserve a tip of the hat (and then some) for their efforts, with Thanos once again being an incredible achievement in CGI; this time Brolin plays the younger Thanos as the power-hungry intergalactic tyrant he was before his monk-like experiences prior to and during Infinity War. The film is bolstered by Trent Opaloch’s cinematography and Alan Silvestri’s score, both of which capture and enhance the sheer epic scale of Endgame. Speaking of, the spectacle in this film is a treat, with some great action sequences (particularly during Steve Rogers’ time travelling adventures), all of which culminate in the film’s epic final act, a battle for the fate of the universe that doesn’t disappoint whatsoever.
As someone who has been keenly following these films since 2008, I’ll happily admit that this was an emotional experience for me. Ultimately, Endgame is an epic, fan-service filled love letter to the MCU and its fans, serving as a thrilling conclusion to the grand experiment of the MCU and its Infinity Saga. Kevin Feige, the Russo Brothers, and the rest of the team at Marvel Studios deserve full credit for what they have achieved. Despite what may come in future projects, Marvel are safe in the knowledge that this part of the MCU will be remembered fondly for many years to come.