Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth
I’m not the first critic to describe today’s prevalent superhero movies as machines. Often they can be soulless automatons whose sole purpose is to feed a studio’s bottom line. But they can also be well-oiled rides, thrilling rollercoasters when they have to be, insightful tours through the landscape of a character’s heart when they need to be. What makes Avengers: Endgame such an impressive work of entertainment is how many moving parts it contains. It is a story told over a decade, over 22 movies each with its own mythology and world, ranging in tones from espionage thrillers to family melodrama to screwball comedy.
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The throughline of this far-reaching story is the search for six mystical gems with overarching powers to transform the universe, the so-called Infinity Stones. And as Marvel unveiled each new post-credits sequence like the latest episode in a soap opera, the studio engaged the audience by making unusual demands upon it: Not only did you need to retain snippets of information in an increasingly labyrinthine plot, you also had to keep investing over and over in these characters. In that way, Avengers: Endgame is not only eagerly anticipated, but necessary. It is not just the climax to a story grown heavier and heavier with the weight of accumulated mythology, but a reward for devoted, near-obsessive fanboying.
Avengers: Endgame rewards in the most delicious way possible. Picking up from the end of Infinity War, which saw half of the universe’s population incinerated to ash after intergalactic villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) snapped his fingers, Endgame sees the original Avengers coping with their defeat in various ways, until the return of a character galvanizes them into devising a new plan for undoing Thanos’ victory. Ingeniously, it is also a plan that allows Endgame to give callbacks to the previous movies, allowing devoted fans to watch memorable sequences in a whole new light.
The search for the Infinity Stones is the throughline, but the core of Marvel’s ambitious undertaking has always been its characters—their massive egos, their comic foibles, and finally, their integrity. Endgame allocates space for each of its central cast to shine, and while Infinity War did its successor a favor by eliminating most of the newbies, this affectionate service to character contributes to much of the first hour’s bloat. Not that you’ll notice the minutes ticking by: the script by Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely is chockfull of humor and charm. And enough of those attributes powers the movie through its second and third hours, when all the disparate plot strands come together for the rip-roaring—and for genre films like this, de rigueur—battle.
The climactic fight isn’t a surprise; Endgame’s genuine emotion is. The most remarkable thing about Marvel’s accomplishment is how complex these movies have become as they go along, and it is that complexity which allows Endgame to earn its tears honestly. Seen another way, the remaining heroes’ gambit against Thanos is also a tribute to themselves, a nostalgic stroll through past exploits before the giant send-off. Endgame is a going-away party you won’t want to miss.