*It is literally impossible to talk about Avengers: Endgame without including spoilers. Almost every element of the film is super secretive, so you should only read this if you have seen the film.
**One more time for good measure: SPOILERS!!!
The anticipation is over and we finally have some answers to the myriad of questions posed by Infinity War. The film opens up right where they left off: the remaining Avengers are trying to regroup and find Thanos to see if the snap can be undone. With the help of Captain Marvel and Nebula they locate him and head into space for a confrontation. It’s a bleak intro that is gravely disappointing for our heroes in the wake of the catastrophe.
Ultimately, killing Thanos is not the cathartic activity they expected. When the job is done, a darkness falls over the team that takes them to their very bleakest place. The film essentially boils down to coping with failure and going through the stages of grief.What at once was disbelief turns to despair and anger for many of the team, and so on down the line. With one crushing blow, Thor murders Thanos and, in essence, shatters the team.
We pick up 5 years later in a world that is still coming to terms with the aftermath of Thanos. And even worse, we have a team of superheroes that are scattered and frail with nobody left to blame but themselves. Each member has become a manifestation of their personal feelings of loss and failure. Cap becomes a grief counselor who preaches optimism but keeps none for himself. Natasha assumes Nick Fury’s position as the director of the remaining Avengers in search of her lost family. These are people we’ve lived with and watched triumph over evil for years, and it’s demoralizing to see how far they fall.
The catalyst for the redemption plot comes from an unlikely hero: Scott Lang aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). His experience with the quantum realm in Ant-Man and the Wasp sets the entire plan in motion and validates the importance of those mid-credit stingers beyond a wink and a nod to the audience. Scott comes up with an idea of using the quantum realm to pick out specific dates and places where the infinity stones are so they can bring them together in the present to undo what Thanos did. He calls it a time heist.
Paul Rudd could easily be glossed over as the goof ball in a film where the literal fate of the universe hangs in the balance, but he is the secret all-star of Endgame and a true joy to watch. He plays the “every-man” character in a room full of gods, biologically and mechanically enhanced soldiers, a Hulk and a raccoon, and he plays it with a child-like enthusiasm. Not only is he essential to the plot and routinely gets the biggest laughs, but he is also every bit as heroic as anyone else in that room.
Marvel has become adept at weaving cathartic moments into some of the more dramatic and heavy-handed material, and actors like Paul Rudd, Chris Pratt and Robert Downey Jr. serve their purpose beautifully. For example, Tony, Steve, and Scott are teamed together to travel back to 2012 during the battle of New York and fetch the tesseract and Loki’s scepter. We’re used to Tony making quips along the way, but this is the first time we’ve seen Scott in the mix and he joins in on a joke about how Steve’s 2012 costume isn’t flattering for his ass. Minutes later, after fighting his 2012 self, Steve takes a look at his younger counterpart and cracks a joke about his ass as well.
That joke played to a huge laugh at both screenings we attended, and it starts with Rudd. He has that kind of infectious presence; of a young boy who wants to seem cool in front of the popular kids so he makes awkward jokes but deep down knows he doesn’t belong. He is the best avatar for the audience, and he sure as hell belongs with the cool kids.
The entire film is a love letter to the fans. And, honestly, if you aren’t a fan of the MCU and aren’t up to speed on most or all of the films, you’ll likely feel left out. Many of the moments I’ve described in the previous paragraphs had their seeds planted several years ago in films that have been relegated to a chapter in this larger, expansive universe. Marvel has changed the way a narrative can be structured in cinema, and we’re left with a film with possibly the largest backstory of any film in history. That’s not to say serialized films will be the new norm, but in a film with so much happening you never feel the need for exposition or need to cut away to a flashback of a scene from a different movie to get the audience up to speed.
This is a good thing. The issue with many action and/or sci-fi flicks is the trope of explaining a convoluted plot. The bad guy has the hero in a certain-to-be-doomed situation and proceeds to explain the entire plot and plan, which is insulting to the viewer and is genuinely lazy storytelling. In Endgame, the events that happened previously are not discussed at length, the relationships are not reviewed, and the characters don’t need a refresher.
The only expository scenes involve the rules of time travel as they pertain to the plan in this film. Admittedly, the time travel logic is a bit murky and there will be some head-scratching. It’s the one narrative crutch the Russo Brothers exploit, but it’s done in a fun way that doesn’t detract from the big picture.
In short, the film is super fun and you can tell Marvel was giddy to play in this sandbox. Many of the choices they made are absolutely bonkers, and yet somehow they made it work. They took an iconic character (the Hulk) and removed his rage, merging the beast and Bruce Banner into one single, rational entity; they gave Tony Stark a daughter and a home in the country, thus removing his defining trait (his ego); they stripped the humanity from a family man, Hawkeye, turning him into the murderous assassin, Ronin; and they introduced the world to fat, drunk Thor, a god completely devoid of heroism.
All of these choices serve the unifying themes: guilt, grief, failure, redemption. These are some wild choices to make in an Avengers film, but as Steve succinctly states: they all lost. The effect is the humanizing of characters who are superhuman. And when redemption comes, it’s both triumphant and sobering. They become more than heroes in the aftermath of universal catastrophe: they become human.
It takes a deft touch to juggle all of these characters and storylines, and the Russos mostly pull it off. Captain Marvel, for instance, feels shoe-horned into the story so they could use her for dramatic effect at the end of the film. One of the reasons the Captain Marvel movie didn’t quite work is because we don’t know her, and we learn nothing new about her in Endgame.
A few gripes aside, the word that best describes the feeling of watching Endgame after the build up of 21 previous movies is simple: satisfying. There are so many wonderful moments in this film that were set up over the course of the past 10 years: Thor learns a lesson from his mother, Tony talks the importance of family with his dad, Steve gets his dance with Peggy, Natasha and Clint embark on one last mission together, Tony and Peter Parker share an embrace, Pepper dons an Iron Man suit of her own….and the list goes on. They didn’t cheapen their product with the finale. If anything they enriched it. It’s a good time for fans to soak it all in, because we won’t see something like this ever again.