Released: April 2019
Director: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $356 million
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, and Josh Brolin.
It’s been three weeks since Thanos (Brolin) acquired the six Infinity Stones and snapped his fingers and the Avengers are desperate to set the world right after watching their friends (and half of the world’s population) disintegrate from reality. When Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Gillan) return to Earth and Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Rudd) returns from being lost in the Quantum Realm, the Avengers must pull together every resource available in order to bring Thanos to justice.
Avengers: Infinity War (Russo and Russo, 2018) saw the Marvel Cinematic Universe shaken to its very core when the heroes we have followed over the last eleven years failed to stop Thanos from accomplishing his goal of halving the universe’s population. Since then, it’s been a long (long!) year waiting to see how these cataclysmic events are dealt with and how the MCU moves forward; Marvel Studios has done an amazing job of limiting details and spoilers regarding this film, basically marketing Endgame entirely on the film’s first half hour or so. Now, it’s time for the culmination of the last eleven years of movies and stories to be told in the grandest fashion possible.
As you may appreciate, it’s difficult to talk about Avengers: Endgame without spoiling the movie; even small details have been missing from the trailers and marketing, making the movie a rollercoaster of emotions to sit through. Avengers: Endgame opens with the spotlight on Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Renner), who is devastated when his wife and children vanish as a result of the snap, and Stark, who is on the brink of death having been left stranded in space with Nebula. Luckily, Stark and Nebula are rescued and reunited with the Avengers; Stark, however, is disillusioned and angry at Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans) and refuses to accompany the remainder of the team in confronting Thanos.
This sets the tone for Avengers: Endgame which is, by its very nature, a far more character-driven, sombre piece compared to the cosmic odyssey that was Infinity War; each of the protagonists is forced to deal with the heavy, life-changing consequences of their failure to stop Thanos: Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson) struggles to maintain order throughout the world, Barton is dealing out judgement to evil-doers left behind from the snap, Rogers is encouraging everyday citizens to find a way to move on, Stark has seemingly retired from the fight, and Thor (Hemsworth) is a shell of his former self as he struggles with his guilt at not delivering a killing blow to Thanos. Avengers: Endgame is as much about repairing the Avengers as it is about repairing the world and, through the tragedy, chaos, and insane plan they concoct to set things right, the team discover more about themselves, and each other, and find a way to stitch back together their former friendships and partnerships in pursuit of a common goal and the greater good. If massive superhero battles and cosmic, science-fiction fantasy are your thing, though, Avengers: Endgame has you covered at various key points throughout and in its climatic, dramatic moments. For a move that clocks in at just over three hours, there’s no wasted motion or time; when characters talk, it’s not to waste time or fill up space with exposition, it’s to move things forward and get things happening. Because of that, while it may not be as consistently big and loud as its predecessor, Avengers: Endgame is still an exciting, engaging, and emotionally-charged movie that never lets up for a second.
So, if you thought your favourite characters or some big-name faces got short-changed in Infinity War, Endgame shines the light squarely on those left behind and has big roles for the remaining protagonists. In this case, the film revolves closely around both Captain America and Ant-Man, with both playing key roles in Endgame’s events, while still repairing the fractured relationship between Rogers and Stark. First, though, I’ll address an elephant in the room: Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) rescues Stark and Nebula, presumably after being paged back to Earth at the end of Captain Marvel (Boden and Fleck, 2019). She then joins the remainder of the team (minus Stark, who is massively pissed off at Steve) in confronting Thanos. This fight goes about as well as I suspected it would as Thanos is easily taken off-guard, has his gauntlet arm cut off, and is quickly beheaded by Thor after revealing that he destroyed the Infinity Stones, leaving his actions unchangeable. After the five year time jump, Danvers leaves to help keep order on other worlds and doesn’t show up again until the finale where she goes toe-to-toe with Thanos but doesn’t deliver the final blow. This was interesting for me as I was expecting Captain Marvel to be integrated into the existing (and remaining) Avengers team but, instead, she is used very sparingly to keep the stakes and tensions high and, when she does show up, she turns the tide every time.
Once Ant-Man returns, his knowledge of the Quantum Realm offers the Avengers the chance to travel through time and retrieve the Infinity Stones from key points in MCU history. Splitting into smaller teams for a “time heist”, the Avengers travel back to the finale of The Avengers/Avengers Assemble (Whedon, 2012), mid-way through Thor: The Dark World (Taylor, 2013), the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014), and to Vormir to acquire the Stones and dodge their way through their history in true Back to the Future: Part II (Zemeckis, 1989) fashion. This allows for some now-dead characters to return and be retroactively slotted into previous events and forces Barton and Romanoff to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to earn the Soul Stone in a poignant, surprising moment that sees Romanoff sacrifice herself so that Barton can be reunited with his family. There are a number of other active plot threads at work during this as well: Thor, whose guilt at not having killed Thanos eventually leads him to letting himself go and becoming an overweight drunkard despite setting up a New Asgard for Korg (Taika Waititi), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and the surviving Asgardians. He reluctantly returns to the fight and takes up arms once more with more Strombreaker and Mjölnir by the finale and, after the snap is undone, leaves Valkyrie in command of the Asgardians to join the Guardians of the Galaxy. Conversely, Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) uses the five year gap to reconcile with the Hulk and the two to successfully merge into a Hulk/Banner hybrid similar to the Professor Hulk persona. During the time travel jaunt, Nebula is forced to revisit her notorious past when her past-self ends up discovering the Avengers plan and allow a past version of Thanos to appear in the present and decimate the Avengers compound. Luckily, this occurs soon after Hulk successfully wields the Infinity Gauntlet and restores all those lost in the snap.
Stark’s narrative forms one of the foundations of the film; devastated and angered at having lost to Thanos, he retires and fathers a child, Morgan (Lexi Rabe), with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and has no interest in losing the life he has gained during the five year gap. However, he rejoins the team and helps perfect time travel on the understanding that they don’t wipe Morgan from existence; his journey through time allows him to find closure with his father, reconcile with Rogers, and, ultimately, make the ultimate sacrifice when he uses the Infinity Gauntlet to erase Thanos and his armies in an emotionally poignant moment. While many speculated that Stark would die, it was still impactful to see him pass after effectively birthing the MCU all those years ago. As for Captain America, he retakes the shield and mantle and takes the fight directly to Thanos in the finale and gets two amazing, spine-tingly dramatic moments when he finally utters the “Avengers Assemble!” battle cry once all the restored heroes return and entire the battle (which, honestly, may have had more significance if he had said it in the previous films…) and proves himself worthy when Mjölnir flies into his hand for the fight against Thanos. After Tony’s sacrifice, Steve returns the Infinity Stones to their places in time to keep the timeline from being destroyed and opts to return to Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) to have a normal life, leaving the shield and Captain American mantle with Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie).
Avengers: Endgame could have easily collapsed under its own narrative weight, the weight of expectation, and the high standards set by its predecessor and the MCU in general. Instead, with a poignant heart at its core, riveting action, and some genuinely moving moments amidst its big action set pieces, Avengers: Endgame is a fantastic endnote for the first ten/eleven years of Marvel movies.