Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin, Benedict Wong, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow
Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
181 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.
Well, here it is. I’m going to try not to use the word culmination like everyone else has, but I cannot make any promises. This is the end of The Infinity Saga, the twenty-second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The culmination-dammit…
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes, Chef) is drifting through space with Nebula (Karen Gillan, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, TV’s Selfie). On Earth, what’s left of the Avengers have collected at the compound, unsure of what to do next. Thanos (Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men, Deadpool 2) succeeded in his plan, obliterating half of the universe in a single snap of his fingers. As they each come to terms with the enormous loss that they and the universe have incurred, an old ally appears with an idea, a crazy crackpot idea that has no chance of working. Well, almost no chance. The Avengers, or what’s left of them, assemble on one final attempt to fix everything, and if they fail, they’ll do that together.
I’M TRYING TO AVOID AS MANY SPOILERS AS I CAN, BUT BE WARNED THAT A REVIEW LIKE THIS WILL ALWAYS HAVE SOME SPOILERS. SEE THE FILM FIRST IF IT CONCERNS YOU.
THIS IS YOUR SPOILER WARNING.
Avengers: Infinity War set up an almost impossible task. Let’s give the villain his own movie and test out characters like they’ve never been tested before. I think that’s the importance of the Avengers franchise of the MCU. Much like any team-up movie, I think it’s important to have the team tested in a unique way, and they should almost always come out of the film with more people on the team or less, because that’s one of the only ways to change the story trajectory. Well, Infinity War had tested the Avengers, and they certainly came out of the film with less characters, but it was also an even bigger test for Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me, and Dupree, Welcome to Collinwood) as well as the writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Pain & Gain), who now had to bring in the fourth Avengers film on a solid landing and end the story. We knew that they had to do something to save some of the dusted Avengers. Hell, there was a Spider-Man trailer out weeks before the film’s release, and even though we joked about it possibly set before Endgame, everyone knew that Sony would not let Marvel kill their most popular character. Certainly, Black Panther’s story would not end after one solo film, but how was this all going to happen, and what’s the cost?
So let’s start with that impossible task. Knowing all the things that had to happen in the follow-up, it’s incredible how the Russos and the writing team actually pulled it off and made it captivating, exciting, and heartbreaking. From the shocking opening of the film to the final act, a dauntingly epic ending that takes up a large chunk of the film’s three-hour runtime, Avengers: Endgame just cruises on by. In a lot of ways, it’s the flipside of Infinity War’s coin, and it’s a good thing that they changed the titles from Infinity War Part 1 and 2 because as much as they rely on each other, Endgame is a completely different film, and that’s why it works so well. Infinity War was a film that gave each of its characters at least one moment to shine, and Endgame does that too, but Endgame even gives each film before it time to shine. There’s references to Iron Man 3 in this film and Thor: The Dark World, two films that don’t even end up in the upper 80% of most MCU fan rankings of the franchise (full disclosure, though, I love Iron Man 3). It’s a love letter to the 11 years of this franchise and the fans that stuck with it for so long.
The performances from the entire cast are solid, but I want to discuss the ones that I think deserve to be discussed, good or bad. Let’s start with Robert Downey Jr. His performance here is a series best (quite a feat for the actor that has not beaten Hugh Jackman for most appearances as a superhero in a franchise), even better than Tony Stark struggling with PTSD in Iron Man 3 (see, I love that one). There, he’s dealing with the knowledge he obtained in The Avengers that Earth is not alone in the universe, and now, he’s dealing with the failure in saving billions or trillions of lives. He becomes weak, and he cannot hold blame. He keeps going back to wanting to put a suit of armor around the world with Ultron. He’s beaten and broken and still hasn’t forgiven Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Gifted, Before We Go) for abandoning him even though he is just as responsible. He’s also dealing with the loss of Peter Parker on Titan. Tony needs some hard truth at this point on his journey, and he gets it in Endgame.
Steve Rogers watched many of his friends die right in front of him. He’s a man who fell out of time into a confusing one and did the best he could, but he comes to realize that his failure to stop Thanos has hit him just as hard as Tony, but in a different way. He’s running a group that helps people to cope with the loss, and he’s going just as much for himself as anyone else. Chris Evans consistently does the impossible with Steve Rogers/Captain America; he makes this superhero a human. He makes the goody-goody Rogers an actual human being, with plenty of flaws and pain. This is the story that tests him and his need for hope, and there’s no one I’ve seen outside of Christopher Reeves playing Superman that embodies that struggle for hope so well.
Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, Her, Sing) has taken control of the remaining Avengers, and she’s stopped taking care of herself. She’s dealing with the loss by diving into work, hunting down a rogue Avenger who needs her help, but she’s sputtering on exhausted wheels. She’s just looking to make right on a career filled with wrongs. All the bad things she has done before finding her home with the Avengers have led her here, and she couldn’t do anything about it.
This is a film that gives Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right, Now You See Me 2) so much to do with the Hulk character, probably the most unique shift for the character in the MCU, and he does a spectacular job with it. It isn’t what I would have done, but I admire the character arc he takes.
One character that doesn’t get much to do is Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Snow White and the Huntsman, 12 Strong). This is a man who lost his father still very recently, his brother died in front of him, and half of his people are slaughtered after losing their home. He’s another hero dealing with failure. He should have aimed for the head. He came so close to saving everyone and then he didn’t. He should be dealing with the most pain of anyone in the story. Instead, he is used more so for comic relief than anything else. I get it, Chris Hemsworth is really funny, but I know he can play to drama as well. He just doesn’t get the emotional beats that I wanted him to have. It’s similar to what is done with him in Infinity War, where he just doesn’t get the time to develop his trauma. His alcoholism in Endgame could have some serious consequences and bearing on him, but it just doesn’t.
Lastly, I want to talk about Karen Gillan’s performance as Nebula. I’ve never been a big fan of the character, either the way she’s written or the performance. Nebula always reminded me of a fly that comes in the window in the middle of the night when you’re trying to sleep. You swat and swat and just can’t get rid of her. In Endgame, though, her character is expanded upon so much more because of how we see her and the presentation of how far she has come as a character since we saw her in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2. People forget that vol. 2 takes place just a few months after the first one, so it’s been a long time since we’ve really seen Nebula in the MCU, and Gillan’s subtle broken performance is terrific.
From behind the lens, the Russos directed the hell out of this thing, and there’s a lot to be said about the strength of their storytelling as it has evolved over the years. Their cinematography is so clean, especially when it needs to be, in some of the heavier action set pieces. It’s safe to say that there’s a lot going on in this film; there has to be, but the way the Russos keep the focus on where it needs to be to progress the story is great, and the way they handle the set pieces are very focused and strongly laid out. There’s a heavy possibility, especially in the third act, to lose sight of what’s going on and where we’re at from a narrative perspective, but they never let the film lose sight of its goal, a tremendous feat.
With that visual storytelling comes the editing, which is very strong. The film never feels long. It’s the enjoyment factor, no doubt, but clocking in at just over three hours, the film almost should feel long, but it doesn’t. Not once. After seeing it twice, I can say with certainty that there’s only one scene I would cut earlier in the film to tighten it more, and it probably would only save 30 seconds or so.
No offense to Danny Elfman, but I’m really happy to hear Alan Silvestri’s score here after being absent from Age of Ultron. Silvestri’s score takes notes from The Avengers and especially from the ending of Infinity War, but it dives deeper into the depression, loss, and hope that permeates the film, and his score has a note of finality to it. If this is indeed the last time we’ll see some of our favorite heroes, Silvestri sends them out on a high note.
Avengers: Endgame accomplishes the most difficult task assigned to it. It has an ending. This is the end of a big part of this franchise without feeling the need to really set anything else up. For the most part, there isn’t an MCU film that hasn’t had the need to at least set up something in the end credits, but not Endgame, and that’s a strong and restrained decision because the film should speak for itself and everything that comes before it, and boy does it have a lot to speak on. This is an absolute cinematic achievement, and barring a few small hiccups, it comes off without a hitch. The ending raises some questions that we won’t really have answered until Spider-Man: Far From Home (the true last film in Phase 3), but beyond all that, I loved watching this movie and cannot wait to see it again, if only to catch some more of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. If you haven’t yet, then seriously, why not?
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger, click here.
For my review of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s Captain Marvel, click here.
For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.
For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.
For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.
For my review of Leythum’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer, click here.
For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.
For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.
For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.
For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.
For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.
For my review of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, click here.
For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.
For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.
For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War, click here.