It’s quite possible Avengers: Endgame will be the biggest blockbuster event in our lifetime. Chances are you’ve been exposed to the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe before, whether you’ve seen just parts of one of their films or avidly watched all 21 installments leading up to the finale. But the interconnected universe is unlike anything that’s come before it, and while it will undoubtedly continue for as long as entries continue to earn Marvel and Disney a billion dollars (or close) apiece, there’s no denying Endgame is a finale of sorts – at least for the equivalent of season one of the series.
Those flocking to theaters expecting more of the nonstop colorful action of last year’s Infinity War that brought together over two dozen heroes from previous installments may be taken off guard, because Endgame is a very different movie from Infinity War. (This review will not contain spoilers for Endgame but will for Infinity War, so if you’ve been meaning to catch up on it, don’t read on). Infinity War ended with the triumph of Thanos, James Brolin’s purple mad titan. He was able to dissolve half of all life in the universe, which included a good number (way more than half) of the heroes we’ve spent years watching develop.
It was a brilliant move by screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who wrote both installments, and narrowed down the playing field to the core heroes who have been with the universe in the beginning. These include Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Evans’ Captain America, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, each putting forth some of their best dramatic work here. It may not have always been obvious among the barrages of aliens and robots, but the MCU has always made developing its characters the top priority, above action scenes and set pieces. Endgame may not be the pinnacle of action or storytelling in the universe (that goes to Infinity War), but it’s the best character piece the franchise has produced.
Discussing the plot of Endgame without divulging spoilers is a fool’s task. The movie opens in a universe that is reeling from the effects of Thanos’s decimation – and no one feels it more than the heroes who were on the front lines and failed to stop it. It’s a loss Tony Stark has been anticipating since somewhere around Age of Ultron in 2015, when he tried to build a robotic system that would protect the earth from such threats. Endgame may be a self-contained adventure, but its characters are not. Some element of importance can be pointed out in each of the preceding 21 films in how they contributed to this finale, most prominently the arcs of Stark and Steve Rogers, the two leaders of the universe who never saw eye to eye in superhero politicking. Their disagreements have consequences – consequences that rippled in Ultron, in Captain America: Civil War and consequences that are the main driver in Endgame. As Stark points out in a monologue within the movie’s opening minutes perfectly delivered by Downey Jr. – they’re the Avengers, not the preventers. They act only when damage has already been done.
Of course, the film includes flashy action – Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, an archer with no significant powers, is finally given due credit with some of the chill-inducing action beats he’s given. Those who wait patiently for action scenes on the scale of Infinity War and Civil War will eventually find what they’re looking for. But above that, this is a character piece that celebrates the investments audiences have made over the past 11 years. Everyone involved – directors Anthony and Joe Russo, producer Kevin Feige and of course the cast – can rest easy now, overlooking fans of a grateful cinematic universe.