Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Directed by The Russos
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language
Running time: 3 hours and 1 minute (Jay-zus!)
by Hunter Bush
It's fair to say I was suffering from a spell of Franchise Fatigue leading up to my viewing of Avengers: Endgame but...that may be the perfect headspace to go into it with?
Do you realize it hasn't even been a full year since Avengers: Infinity War came out (or Endgame: Part One if ya nasty) but in that time, two other Marvel movies have hit theaters? Wanna know where Ant-Man was when Thanos blew into town? You've gotta see Ant-Man and the Wasp. And then you've gotta go see Captain Marvel (who was teased in the Infinity War post-credit stinger) so you'll know...who the hell that even is. It's starting to feel like homework.
SPOILERS FOR INFINITY WAR (NOT THIS AVENGERS MOVIE, BUT THE LAST ONE):
A big purple alien (Josh Brolin as Thanos) showed up outta nowhere with an endless army of CGI nonsense creatures and beat our heroes half to death. Then he put on his fancy glove (the Infinity Gauntlet), snapped his fingers and half of all life, not just on Earth but everywhere, turned to ash and blew away. As you may have seen in the trailers (or read in my most recent Everything Old is New Again column), Endgame largely takes place five years after that.
There was a lot of discussion, mostly online, of how Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) were absent from Infinity War's events. There was a throw-away line about Hawkeye being under house arrest, but that's it. We never saw what happened to them. Now, if you saw Ant-Man and the Wasp (if you did your homework) you found out why Ant-Man was missing from the action (he was very very tiny and trapped in a very very tiny place called the Quantum Realm where your average, everyday atomic particles are as large as planets and time doesn't function normally) but until now we haven't learned anything about Hawkeye. Endgame starts by showing you exactly where he was, putting us right back at the moment of The Snap.
It was an eerie thing to watch on a big screen, and amazing. Infinity War, this tent pole franchise film, not only bucks a happy ending in favor of a downer one, but unceremoniously kills heroes that audiences had fallen in love with. Of course they're coming back, these are movies based on comic books after all, but that's not the point. It was brave; a ballsy way to end that movie. I was impressed. Endgame starting with Hawkeye, yes under house arrest, with his family on their farm and watching him experience that same shocking, inconceivable loss is an equally impressive start to this film.
There are a lot of very impressive, smart and brave choices made in Endgame, from a filmmaking point of view. Of course I can't openly discuss most of them in this review or you'll get all mad at me for spoiling things. Sure, characters die, others return, torches are passed, relationships are begun or begun again but all that isn't why you're here. You're here to see how. How do they come back? How do they die? And I can tell you that Endgame constantly kept surprising me.
Ant-Man's return, for instance, was a surprise. It felt kind of too silly for an Avengers movie. It only took me a minute to realize that it would have worked much better and fit the tone of an Ant-Man movie perfectly. That's one of the things Endgame does better than, I think, any previous crossover movie: balance disparate tones in a way that is only a little bit jarring. I think that fans will probably have more of an issue with the tone of Thor's storyline through Endgame, cuz it's a bit silly, y'all, but again: it would work perfectly in a movie like Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok (the most recent Thor flick). Balancing goofy light-hearted humor (and not just snarky quips) with the dour, serious stakes in Endgame could not have been an easy row to hoe.
Screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely took none of the easy outs built into a story like Infinity War. If you're not hip to what I'm putting down, I'll explain. The Infinity Stones that Thanos gathers for his fancy gauntlet are all kinds of powerful. They control key forces within all of existence: Time, Soul (whatever exactly that means) and even Reality itself among other things. As a screenwriter, that gives you a lot of options for story mechanics. As breezily as some of the Stones' power scopes are defined, The Avengies could use any one of them, theoretically, to "fix" things. But the first act pretty handily establishes that this isn't a situation that can just be fixed.
In fact the first act is largely watching the characters sit in this awful situation, in a world which they failed to protect. This is some of the strongest emotional storytelling the MCU has delivered and while I think some folks might have a problem with Endgame being "slow to start", I really think that by leaving these characters, and by extension us, stewing in these bad feelings it allows us more effectively to get our hopes up about the second act's harebrained scheme to set the world right and then to steel ourselves for the possibility that those hopes may once again be dashed in the 3rd act's mega-battle.
While the structure itself isn't exceptionally surprising, the way Endgame navigates it is. The Harebrained Scheme leads to a real MCU's Greatest Hits sequence, which in most things would kind of annoy me. But here it's handled so delicately. All these 'Famous Moments You Remember From Movies Past' could just have been a glorified highlight reel and people would still have loved it, but here they're largely sidestepped, showing events happening on the fringes and allowing connections we didn't foresee to be made. It's actually very satisfying, fleshing out the universe's history in interesting ways as opposed to just reveling in past glories.
When all was said and done, the thing that stood out to me the most about Endgame was just how much it felt like comic books. Not only the big "splash page" action scenes, the callbacks & references (both visual & aural) giving the last decade-plus run of films a sense of cohesion, but the little moments: Rhodey (Don Cheadle) bonding with Nebula (Karen Gillen) over their both being mechanically enhanced was not only genuinely sweet and touching, but felt perfectly like the little one-panel bits of character development comics do so well.
I won't lie, Franchise Fatigue or no, I fully enjoyed myself. I teared up, I'm not entirely ashamed to say, multiple times (both happy & sad tears) and clapped a LOT throughout. If you haven't cared about the MCU or superhero movies in general, Endgame won't change your mind but it does manage to do a lot of character development, including giving much-deserved closure to some stories, while finally turning the page on the MCU thus far. A friend asked me if I liked it more than Infinity War and even adjusting for the shiny newness and the overall more positive, redemptive vibe Endgame left in me, I think I actually do. And I enjoyed Infinity War quite a bit. But whereas Infinity War felt like the end of an era, Endgame ultimately feels like a beginning.