Avengers: Endgame simply can’t be judged by the normal parameters we use to evaluate films. With each installment, Marvel’s crown jewel has crossed the threshold from movie to cinematic event, a certainty as undeniable as death or taxes. Even if the movie turned out to be a stinker of epic proportions, we’d all still fork over our $50 (that’s what movies cost now, right? I wouldn’t know), hold our bladders through the three-hour runtime (yes, it really is that long), and immortalize every superpowered moment as a meme the next day on Twitter. Think about it: if this review claimed that Endgame was bad, would you... not see it?
Thankfully, Endgame is a great movie — and not just a great Avengers movie, or a great Marvel movie. It’s a great movie.
When we left them in Infinity War, Earth’s mightiest heroes were reeling after Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) infinity stone-powered snap decimated exactly half of all life in the universe. Thankfully, the core team — Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) — all miraculously survived, and after an initial bump in the road they set out to bring back their fallen comrades.
To give away all but the barest hints of the plot would be cruel, and not because I’m scared of leaking secrets — I am the queen of spoilers — but because this movie is teaming with truly jaw-dropping moments that every audience member should be allowed to experience for themselves: you will laugh, you will cry, you will burst into applause, you will literally scream. If you want to know the intricacies of the plan to save the universe or which beloved characters die (and yes, they die) you’ll need to look elsewhere. The same way I can’t imagine anyone going into this movie without having consumed the entire Marvel canon thanks to the borderline indulgent amount of payoff, I can’t imagine going into this movie the first time knowing every twist and turn of the story. The suspense is just far too much fun.
The end of the Avengers coincides with the final season of Game of Thrones, another genre juggernaut that has been filling its final episodes with moments of character and plot line payoff that are the epitome of fantasy fan service. But while that indulgence has been a bit cloying on a show as historically bleak as Thrones, it just works for Endgame. This is a comic book movie! Of course the heroes are going to swoop in to battle the bad guy in some stunningly improbable fashion; it’s why we bought the tickets! And Endgame dials those moments up to 100, wringing out every last tear, cheer, and jeer. And though Marvel films have always found the perfect balance between action and humor, I was still surprised by how funny the movie is.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. The first act is very strong (there is a title card about 15 minutes in that made the entire audience gasp) and the final hour is thrilling. The epic final battle this whole series has been building towards is so intensely exciting that my heart is racing just thinking about it. But the middle third of the film is a bit slow and plodding thanks to the intricate plot and over abundance of characters. There has also been a heavy amount of misdirection on the part of the cast and crew in their endless rounds of press, and the characters who are crucial to the story are not necessarily the ones we’ve been led to believe. Most disappointing of all is Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), who is all but devoid of personality, which makes sense once you learn that Larson filmed Endgame before she’d even seen a script for Captain Marvel. Coming off such a soaring, triumphant arc in her solo debut, Danvers falls rather flat among the heroes whose stories we’ve been following for years.
But the ways in which Endgame wraps those stories up are, for the most part, so satisfying that there’s no need to forgive its minor flaws. The film is an undeniable success, an incredibly fitting and endlessly enjoyable epilogue to a franchise that has irrevocably altered the landscape of contemporary cinema. It also just might be the gayest Marvel movie yet (get back to me once you’ve processed Hulk and Thor’s... makeovers).
Well, the gayest Marvel movie besides Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is essentially Timtales with a bigger budget. But then again, Winter Soldier didn’t have Gwyneth Paltrow. Touché, Endgame.