Wow…where to begin. It’s hard to even call Endgame a movie. Even an “event” may undersell just how much went into it. This is the culmination of 11 years and 22 movies. To call it the longest continuous story told in cinema is an understatement. Most franchises run out of steam by the third movie but Marvel…they’re improving.
The main reason for that is a true commitment to character. Sure the superhero fights are fun, but instead of mindlessly check boxing iconic comic moments or blitzing from point A to point B, these movies commit to making the action character driven. The original Avengers, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye, have all seen layer after layer after layer of development in their own movies and in others. Tony Stark is one of the most well rounded and fully realized characters of all time, easily in franchise filmmaking.
The ooo and ahh action sequences in Endgame are great, but truth be told, that’s not what we’re here to see. We’re here to see how these people we’ve been immersed with for 11 years now deal with half of the universe wiped out, with losing family and friends, because in a way, they’re our family.
We all know “the snap” (not calling it “the decimation”) will get reversed by the end of this movie. We know that because there are movies on the docket featuring characters who were dusted, including Spider-Man who is very much alive and well in the Far from Home trailer. However, we don’t care because their deaths reverberate among the characters who survived, these fleshed out characters we love played by actors with the ability to make us feel that horror, like an emaciated Tony Stark so shaken by his failure that he retreats to the cabin in the woods.
Death is a minor inconvenience in comic books, and has been one of the few blemishes for Marvel as the franchise is notoriously loath to kill off lucrative characters even when the story calls for it. The first bit of Endgame goes the way we’d expect our team to react: Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, War Machine, Rocket, Nebula, and a newly arrived Captain Marvel hop on a space ship and show up at Thanos’ retirement farm to make him reverse the snap…only to find that Thanos is near death from destroying the stones. There is no way to undo this.
Thor makes good on the suggestion Thanos gave him: he aimed for the head, and relieved the Mad Titan of his purple noggin. And what did it accomplish? Nothing. Half the universe are still dead. Thor couldn’t fight his way out of his failure.
Cut to five years later, and the world has had to live with this pain. Thor is now a tubby drunk playing Xbox with Korg and drinking all day to forget his failure. Steve Rogers is trying to help people move on. Black Widow, War Machine, Rocket, and Nebula are trying to bring order to a world in chaos through The Avengers. Tony Stark has finally given up the Iron Man life and is living a peaceful existence with Pepper and their young daughter Morgan. It’s the quiet life Clint Barton retired to…before his wife, his daughter, and both his sons vanished in an instant.
Everything changes when Scott Lang manages to escape the Quantum realm with the possibility of time travel. The plan is to hop back to various points in the MCU and find the Infinity Stones. They would collect the stones in the past (which can’t affect the current timeline because these are alternate timelines), take them to the present, undo the snap, and put them back in their respective timelines.
This plot line not only allows a way to undo the snap, but it offers what Endgame has always needed to be; a love letter and a sendoff to the 21 movies that came before. Through the time hopping, we get emotional moments like Tony Stark bumping into his dad, Steve Rogers seeing Peggy Carter, Thor talking to his now dead mother. Again – it’s cool and all that we’re getting these blasts from the pasts, but they are 100% character driven.
There was also a nice callback to Winter Soldier that ties up a loose end – how did Hydra get ahold of the Mind Stone? After the end of Avengers, Jasper Sitwell, Brock Rumlow, and a host of Shield Agents who we found out to be Hydra sleepers show up and take Loki’s scepter. Cap gets on a crowded elevator with them, and we all expect a showdown like Winter Soldier, but then Cap, in a nod to the infamous Secret Empire comic story, leans in and says, “hail Hydra”.
These moments are rewarding to the people who have been to every single one of these MCU movies, and judging by the numbers, that’s quite a few people. The final sequence is fan service at it’s most extreme, a battle so epic that it almost hurts. After Hulk reverses the snap, a duplicate Nebula from the past who took the place of her redeemed future counterpart, uses the time machine to transport Thanos and his fully intact army to future Earth to take the stones.
However, with the snap undone, a revived Dr. Strange is able to open portals that drop in a massive army. We get Black Panther with an army of Wakandan warriors. Wong shows up with an army of wizards. Spider-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy are back. Falcon and Winter Soldier, too. Valkyrie rides in on a pegasus with what’s left of the Asgardians. Wong leads an army of wizards. Steve Rogers uses Thor’s hammer…STEVE ROGERS USES THOR’S HAMMER!
The resulting battle looks like something off a poster or the intro to the 90’s X-Men series. It’s epic on steroids, playing a double-neck guitar on the back of a rhino. It’s fist bumping at it’s best, and the most satisfying ending imaginable.
Again, we circle back to the characters. Tony Stark utters the immortal line that started this story: “I am Iron Man.” He snaps his fingers and makes Thanos and his army vanish, but the resulting strain kills him. He dies peacefully with his surrogate son Peter Parker and Pepper, as Pepper assures him that she and their daughter will be okay.
Steve Rogers goes back in time to return the Infinity Stones, but he doesn’t return when he’s supposed to. Falcon and Bucky find him on a park bench, an old man. Steve reveals that after his mission, he stayed in the past to have the life with Peggy he was robbed of. He grew old, and was happy. This is the ending Captain America, a man out of time, deserved.
Endgame is the most satisfying movie I’ve ever seen. Joe and Anthony Russo have mastered the big and the small. On an emotional level, gut wrenching scenes like the opening loss of Clint Barton’s family to Natasha Romanov’s sacrifice are big standout moments, but the little things, like Rocket and Nebula silently comforting one another knowing their Guardians’ family is gone, or a quiet moment between Tony and Nebula in space are what take Endgame to the next level.
The Russo brothers somehow manage to balance over 100 characters, big moments, small moments, heart breakers, tear jerkers, comedy, action, fan service, and a cohesive, character-driven story. How, I don’t know. There are a lot of really impressive experimental films, or ground breakers, but the sheer scope of this challenge and the utterly satisfying results have to give these guys a special place in film history. It’s been a fun ride. Marvel isn’t done by a long shot, but wow…what a way to cap off these first 11 years. Here’s hoping the next 20+ movies can live up.