In some ways, it is difficult to look at Avengers: Endgame as a traditional motion picture.
It is epic in sweep — more so than even Avengers: Infinity War — and it continues the tradition of top-notch Marvel Studios filmmaking Joe and Anthony Russo began in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But it terms of story, it was more of a series finale for a series not yet concluded and more the final issue of a major crossover event like Crisis on Infinite Earths or Secret Invasion. In fact, its resemblance to the latter is staggering despite the film’s complete lack of Skrulls.
That comparison will make more sense when you see it.
The plot, for as much as we can say, resolves the issues presented at the end of Infinity War. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) make their way back to the Earth, where they and the other surviving Avengers (plus Brie Larson as Captain Marvel) vow to take the fight back to Thanos (Josh Brolin). Then, a series of unexpected and truly impressive things happen, leading to situation which prevents Thanos’s Snap from being completely undone.
And, as a consequence, Endgame ends up a better conclusion than a lot of event comics. Stories with big stakes like CoIE, House of M, and the 2015 Secret Wars have a habit of using the reset button to do away with all of the chaos and, sometimes, even the character progression. But Endgame smartly avoids a complete reset. Consequently, the changes to certain characters in the aftermath will be important parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the years to come. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) particularly benefit from surprising changes to their pre-Infinity War status quos. Other changes, however, may leave some wondering if the planned Disney+ Marvel Studios limited series will take place prior to the events of Endgame.
Questions like that may be one of Endgame‘s biggest faults as Marvel has trained viewers to ponder the future even as big, epic events unfold. Just as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and the Black Panther sequel muted some of the reaction to the Snap, these future thoughts have the potential to prevent Endgame from being as emotionally resonant as it tries to be.
Are there good character interactions? Definitely. Pick just about any combination of Infinity War survivors and you’ll get at least one scene in which they get to quip at each other or question their motives in a really essential way. But the ever present consideration of Phase 4 and Marvel Studios’ next ten years may leave some looking more for clues than getting with the film’s heart.
So does the film have a heart? Yes. Like an epic DC Comics crossover, it is honoring the history of the entire MCU endeavor. Call backs to just about every film proliferate — including the studios’ least successful efforts — and the film goes out of its way to remind you where the characters were when audiences first met them. For some, it sets up their impeding demise. But for others, it sets up a bridge to living. At the same time, the heart of the picture depends on how much you actually like the characters the film decides to focus on. Consider the way both Kingdom Come and Underworld Unleashed turned their focus toward
Captain Marvel Shazam. If you were a teenager at the time those stories were published in the mid-1990s, Billy Batson was a fairly minor character being honored by a previous generation. The emotional connection to him was non-existent; dulling the impact of those climaxes — although, it’s fair to say Kingdom Come weathers that better than Underworld Unleashed. Similarly, Endgame‘s key storyline depends on your affinity for certain characters among its sprawling cast. For many, it will be an easy sell. But for some, the landing will be softer.
On the flip side of that, some of your favorite characters may get little more than a nod or a single line of dialogue to resolve story points from their previous appearances. The lack of focus on these character may also dull your reaction to the film since your investment is in something the movie really doesn’t have time to pay off despite its three hour runtime.
And if there is one conventional criticism one can apply to the film, it is in regard to its pace. Endgame is less a conventional blockbuster than two films awkwardly smashed together. It cuts between characters at odd moments, leaves storylines on pause for long stretches, and makes you feel every second of those 183 minutes — even if you made sure not to buy a drink beforehand to save your bladder! But since Endgame is not a conventional blockbuster, its odd structure and pace may not upset fans caught up in its spectacle or emotions. Nonetheless, the pace is worth noting because people less invested in the MCU will definitely find it to be a problem.
But for those who obsess over the series and its quirks, Endgame will be an overall satisfying conclusion to the 22 film cycle began in Iron Man. It will still make you laugh and, possibly, make you cry. The performers, as always, make their characters undeniably appealing and the Russo Brothers sense for action makes the battle sequences very entertaining. The result is a new and somewhat difficult to quantify film epic.
Avengers: Endgame is in theaters now.