BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
MAY 2, 2019
“Whatever it takes.”— Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans)
[If you have not yet taken the ride that is “Avengers: Endgame,” please recuse yourself from this review and rectify that. That said … SPOILERS!]
Over eleven years and twenty-two films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has amassed a substantial amount of fans. Lifelong comic lovers, decadelong fans of the movies, and casual viewers that just showed up for “Avengers: Infinity War” and liked it enough to continue on the journey from there. It fits then, that “Avengers: Endgame” is, for a large part, about servicing the fans.
We started this journey by iconizing three main characters.
Robert Downey Jr. became Tony Stark/Iron Man and was approached in an end credits sequence by Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury about the “Avengers Initiative.” Chris Evans took the shield of Steve Rogers/Captain America, becoming the first Avenger after being injected with the supersoldier serum. And Chris Hemsworth immortalized Thor, by journeying from Asgard to Earth to earn back his mighty hammer, showing the Avengers that their world was about to get bigger. Wind the clock forward, and here we are, fully aware that we will be saying goodbye to some of these characters that we’ve come to love. And we did.
At the end of “Avengers: Infinity War,” we said goodbye to half of our heroes after Thanos (Josh Brolin) snapped them out of existence with the infinity gauntlet. It was common knowledge that most of them would return, but no one knew how it would happen or which ones would officially bite the dust, literally and figuratively.
Even before the opening title sequence has a chance to show us the title of the movie, the leftover Avengers find and make short work of a defenseless Thanos, who has used the infinity stones one last time to destroy the infinity stones. There’s no satisfaction in his death. The Avengers are left unresolved and in despair.
A simple “Five Years Later” card lands like a punch to the stomach.
It’s fitting that the Russo Brothers make all of us, characters and audience alike, stew in the bleakness of this new world where half the population is gone. Here, we get to see sides of our main characters that we’ve never seen before. Tony lives the quiet country life with Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) and their young daughter, Captain America fends off depression leading support groups, and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has embraced his inner Hulk, combining his smarts and brawn into one giant being. Thor grows a beer belly, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) throws herself into her work, and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), having lost his entire family to the snap, tosses aside his Hawkeye persona for his ruthless vigilante name, Ronin.
The Russos also set the stage for the Avenger’s inevitable comeback, which comes when Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) returns from the Quantum Realm, where we left him at the end of “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” in his Ant-Man suit. His return sets into motion most of the second act, which, as many guessed from the Quantum Realm suits shown in the advertising, involved time travel.
Writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus do a great job of setting up their own rules for time travel. Any changes made in the past do not affect their future, like the butterfly effect. Instead, it forms a deviating reality from that point in time in the past. The plan is to get the infinity stones before Thanos initially does, by venturing back to different moments in the previous films, including 2012’s battle of New York in “The Avengers” as well as points in “Thor: The Dark World” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Once they bring the stones to the future and use them to bring back their decimated friends, they must return the stones to the exact moment they were taken in the past, as not to deviate the past’s reality.
Of course, as with any drama, not everything goes to plan. Captain America ends up fighting a version of his 2012 self and avoids another elevator battle with Hydra à la “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Tony and Ant-Man lose the Tesseract to Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who disappears with it, fueling the hope that he may return to the films someday. This sends Tony and Cap deeper into the past to retrieve an older version of the Tesseract, this time running into prominent characters from their pasts. For Tony, it’s his father, Howard Stark (John Slattery), days before Tony is to be born. For Captain America, it’s Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), the love interest he left back in the 1940s after being frozen in ice for half a century. This should have been all the foreshadowing anyone needed to predict where these character arcs were going to end up.
Emotions ramp up from this point on. The first real loss we’re dealt is once again in connection to the soul stone. In “Infinity War,” Thanos sacrificed his daughter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), to retrieve the stone. In “Endgame,” it comes down to Black Widow or Hawkeye, with the former eventually taking the fall and rightfully so, giving Scarlett Johansson a huge savior moment. Terror ensues when the 2013 Thanos becomes privy to the Avenger’s time travel plan and sends 2013 Nebula in place of future Nebula to help strike a counterattack in the future.
“Avengers: Endgame” is the product of ten years worth of tinkering with the formula. Some of the early films suffer from too much comedy (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), uninteresting villains (“Thor: The Dark World”), and lack of a decent story structure (“Iron Man 2”). “Endgame,” on the other hand, shows the perfection in getting these elements right. The comedy lands when it needs to, thanks to the writers nailing the tone of the characters from each of their very different films and the seriousness reverberates from lines like “you could not live with your own failure. Where did that bring you? Back to me,” delivered by the dominating villain Thanos. You feel the weight of this Big Bad and fear for what will happen if he gets his hands on the infinity gauntlet for a second time.
The writers find a way to service most of the essential characters, with lines, jokes, or battle moments, including Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and the rest of the MCU’S women all sharing the screen and teasing what could eventually be an all-female Avengers team. They also find a way to service most of the previous films, with more nods and references from throughout their history together than you’ll be able to catch on only one viewing. The most significant wave of emotion comes when the battle reaches a fever pitch and more superheroes share the screen than ever before. It’s the type of moment that offers validation to anyone that ever closeted their love for the medium or felt lesser than for enjoying these characters before they became pop culture behemoths.
“Endgame” is not without its faults. With the “Infinity War” post credits sequence promising Captain Marvel, not to mention her entire origin film earlier this year proving how undeniably powerful she is, the fact that she is so underused is almost criminal. Also, Thor’s beer belly outstays its welcome, often distracting from pivotal, heartfelt moments that shouldn’t have been garnering laughter. That being said, the high points of “Endgame” greatly outnumber and outweigh the low.
No other film has ever given me more goosebumps than “Avengers: Endgame.” A wave of frisson (aesthetic chills or skin orgasms) overcame me more than a dozen times during the three-hour runtime. The dictionary defines it as “a sudden strong feeling of excitement or fear; a thrill.” Those intense feelings even evoked tears at several parts in the film, sometimes because of excitement, when all the superheroes come together for the end battle or Captain America wielding Thor’s hammer, and sometimes because of loss, like Tony sacrificing himself to end Thanos’ attack or Captain America choosing to retire in life-affirming fashion.
“Avengers: Endgame” was nowhere near what I expected and I loved every minute of it. To say it serviced the fans would be an understatement. Joe and Anthony Russo, Kevin Feige, and Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus were catering to the fans, but they were also creating a thought-provoking, awe-inspiring film that capstones one of the most consistent and groundbreaking series of all-time. No matter where this franchise goes from here, the Infinity Saga, as these first twenty-two films have been dubbed, will never be easily emulated (as we’ve seen the struggles of the DC Extended Universe) and marks a high point for any level of superhero fans.
April 26, 2019
“The Avengers” by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Walt Disney Pictures
(for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language)
Robert Downey Jr.