I should recognize up front that, for many of you clicking on this, my review of Avengers: Endgame is meaningless. It will have no impact on whether you see, or do not see, the blockbuster of the summer April. Without giving too much away, though, this will also be the thrust of my review. Whatever you want — if you want anything at all — is present in this latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even if you come to Endgame with no expectations at all, you will find that, too. This isn’t a riddle and I’m not being obtuse; it’s just that Avengers: Endgame is one Rorschach test of a film.
You’re reading this on Fanbyte, so I probably don’t need to do a full recap. Suffice it to say that Marvel has been making movies about Marvel characters for more than a decade now. And they’ve all been building towards more Marvel movies — which in turn make bigger Marvel team-up movies that combine into tentpole Marvel movies. This is the Marvel movie to top all Marvel movies, by design, and it demands you marvel at the power of Marvel. Marvel Marvel Marvel! You’re kinda annoyed at how much that made sense to you, right? Same here.
Last year’s Infinity War delivered the first half of a story constructed to close the book on the first three “phases” of the Marvel Universe. It was a real gut-punch because it had to be. It had a decade of half-ideas and forgotten story threads to punch through. The Russo Brothers accomplished an incredible feat with that first half: pulling an entire fictional universe into alignment and somehow not require audiences to use a cheat sheet to navigate the dense story.
Darkness in the Light
But whereas Infinity War ended on one of pop culture’s darker climaxes, Endgame is trapped in the unenviable position of not just continuing this tangled web of characters and storylines — it must also wrap them up with a sense of fulfillment and closure. Endgame accomplishes that to the best of its ability (which is to say the as good as anyone could expect). What’s more fascinating is just how it chooses to tackle this task.
[Light spoilers follow. Nothing beyond the first hour of a three-hour film, though!]
Infinity War concluded with Thanos’s Big Snap: erasing half of all life in the Marvel universe. Earth, like many of planets, is in a state of total chaos. That makes for a pretty interesting setting, too, with a lot of cool ideas to explore! That’s what you might think, anyway. You’d be wrong. We apparently don’t have time for that kind of thing…
So instead, let’s cut forward five years. The world has found ways to continue functioning, but it’s in the mold of The Leftovers. Everyone is too depressed to make things work and the living envy the departed. Captain America leads group meetings and asks New Yorkers to find the positivity in life, all while privately collapsing in on himself like a neutron star. The condition of this modern world is like a more earnest dark comedy than anything — like an episode of Bojack Horseman, where talking about feelings only makes things worse and the cruelest thing you can do is offer someone hope.
Time for a Change
But then a rat crawling around on junk accidentally pulls Ant-Man out of the sub-dimension he wound up trapped in during his last adventure. Yes. All it took… was a rat. Look, some of the story beats here are better than others. Anyhow, Scott Lang is back in the real world and has a theory on how the Quantum Realm could be used as a time machine to go back and change the whole, you know, Thanos stuff. But there’s only one man who could possibly figure out time travel…
Tony Stark thrived after The Snap. He lives in a cabin in the woods with his wife and daughter. Stark has no interest in time travel because he doesn’t want to give up what he has now, and accepts that Thanos won. After a few rounds of back and forth motivational speeches between some of our Mighty Fighty Boys, Stark begrudgingly agrees to help, and solves time travel in about an hour… Again, some of these story-beats are just fine. They’re fine. We’re getting there.
With that pesky “bending the laws of the universe” thing handled, and the remnants of the Avengers assembled, we arrive at the bulk of Endgame. This right here is a celebration of every warm fuzzy feeling that any Marvel property has ever given you. Splitting off into smaller odd couple pairings, our heroes travel back within their own timelines. All of the major (and many of the lesser) films in the franchise are re-lived in very Back to the Future 2 style. Our heroes get a second chance to say goodbye to every person ever taken from them… or learn what could have been, or meet someone they wouldn’t be here without.
A Fan-Tastic Foray
There are a lot of comments on the internet already about how many people cried during Endgame. I find this weird in retrospect. It implies a sort of event-based crying — like a certain twist or loss at the end. Whereas I found Endgame to be the kind of thing you could spontaneously cry at throughout its entire runtime. It is sincere and heartbreaking and it really hurts. But none of that comes from an Infinity War place of pain. Rather, it’s the joy of watching a parade of broken characters be healed from the wounds that brought them to where we saw them fall. If Infinity War was about destruction, then Endgame is about completion, in all its various forms.
This puts me in a bit of a bind as a reviewer, because this is what I adore about Avengers: Endgame. It also makes for a noticeably lesser “film” than Infinity War. With all the time travel, magic, and magical time travel, it is nearly impossible to believe the story has any real stakes. Infinity War was about the fate of the universe and an unstoppable killing machine from space, but there is such character focus and so many loopholes in Endgame that there’s never really a moment to worry about the future of anyone on-screen. It is essentially three hours of crossover one-shots and wish fulfillment.
“What if X was allowed to meet Y and do Z” is a concept explored to its very fullest in these final few hours of the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s Enter the Spider-Verse — if you didn’t need to care about their shared mission so much as just the assorted Spider-People hanging out and talking through their feelings. It’s a scattered, nearly nonsensical linear story, but its decision to throw structure and narrative obligation completely out the window in favor of the most positive version of “fan service” imaginable is…
Let’s Just Breathe for a Second
Look, it shouldn’t be edgy or heroic to make a movie about superheroes that just lets everyone get everything they want! But it feels like it is. It is what Avengers: Endgame will be remembered for. It’s just one gigantic cup that runneth over with moments you didn’t know you wanted, but will immediately realize you needed. But it also earned this outcome. Aside from perhaps Deadpool, you can’t just start a franchise by throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the screen. Dozens of movies built up to this three-hour denouement, and Endgame spends every moment cashing in those pre-established chips. For a movie about darkness and loss, it’s just a fan’s joyride from start to finish.
Big things happen. Big things fall! You will probably scream at the screen. You’ll probably try to hide the fact that you’re crying at something. (Maybe. No one saw me. If I even did. Which I probably did…) But you almost surely won’t want to see Endgame again within the week. It’s everything, but it’s also so everything. It gives all that it has to give back to a deeply invested audience, and takes so much in return. There are a lot of questions about where Marvel goes from here, but as the lack of any post-credits sequence indicates, today is not the day to ask those questions.
Today is just for today.