11 years, 22 films, 47 hours and 58 minutes later, we reach a satisfying conclusion to a story on an unprecedented epic scale. It is a movie franchise that the world has never seen, and will likely never experience again. After all, the ambition and the complexity of the shared universe we have seen created has seen many other franchises dead in the water for failing to capture the spark and unique formula that Marvel have adopted (cough, DCEU, cough). While essentially breaking the film economy by making any other film’s earnings pale in comparison, eyes are on Marvel to see how they tie up the franchise they have spend more than a decade giving life to. Once again, Marvel redefine what it means to be a superhero movie and how, even though we are talking about superpowers and cosmic forces, you can create a story that is rooted within human emotion.
Directed by: Joe & Anthony Russo
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper & Josh Brolin (and many, many more)
Runtime: 181 minutes
Rest easy, friends. I am not about to spoil the cinematic event of the century for you. No spoilers to be found here, no siree. I wouldn’t do that to you. Or at least, I wouldn’t do that to you until at least one week after the film aired, and after putting a spoiler warning in there. Maybe.
Superhero films are a tricky thing to get right. They are based upon comic books, a format that exists in a never-ending “middle”. Whenever one storyline just about wraps up, there’s another adventure, and another adventure, and another one following that. It’s a format that doesn’t lend itself well to modern cinema, as audiences want to see development and satisfactory conclusions. Some movie franchises try to buck the trend by making their superhero films moodier and darker to appeal to a more adult audience (for example, Justice League or Batman v Superman), but Marvel embraced the trend head-on, weaving a decades-long story with many interconnected characters and plot-threads. They managed to create this idea of a comic book cinematic universe through experiencing these same characters in many different locations and storylines throughout the films, having their own solo adventures and then also dipping into each other’s films where necessary. All of this, with its huge number of plot points and character arcs, and you would be excused for thinking that every film is pure plot, but there is always a balance made within each film between elaborate action sequences and lighthearted humour, as well as character moments that enhance and round out the cast throughout. What’s more, even Marvel has attempted to break from their own formula recently. Spider-Man: Homecoming was a localised story, exploring the issues affecting a small area and neighbourhood, in contrast to Captain America: Civil War, which pitting hero against hero in an international story. Thor: Ragnarok was also tonally different, giving a sort of bromantic comedy duo in the form of The Hulk and Thor to the fore to helm a superhero film. Black Panther delved into a completely different culture within Wakanda, and even bucked the trend by taking out their own main character for the middle section of the movie. Finally, Avengers: Infinity War destroyed all expectation by having our heroes lose the fight and having the villain win in what must be the most devastating defeat witnessed. We had to watch as some of our favourite characters (such as Spiderman, Scarlet Witch, Black Panther, Falcon and Doctor Strange) disintegrated into non-existence in front of our eyes, leaving our heroes beaten and broken.
It is this concept of breaking the format that Avengers: Endgame really flourishes. The superhero genre tends to suffer from an irritating capacity from reversing character’s deaths as if it never really happened, robbing the event of its emotional poignancy. Endgame does not suffer from this, and is a film about the characters who we know dealing and resolving their feelings of guilt, grief and failure over their loss. It is a time of licking their wounds and profound emotional change within all of the core members of the cast, who are drastically altered from the heroes that we met all those years ago.
This film would not work on its own. It’s also not meant to work on its own. The carefully crafted emotional character beats are for the people who have followed these characters emotionally for years. We are almost immune to heroes who pick themselves out of the dirt, looking dead in the eyes and staring at certain death. We’ve seen it thousands of times. But when that is in stark contrast to the character who we know, that is undeniably more impactful. When we see characters like Captain America or Black Widow accepting defeat and having to move on and deal with loss instead of taking a stand, that hits us much harder than were it to be characters with whom we were unfamiliar. The entire cinematic event puts the climax of Infinity War at the heart of the story they are making here, and none of the emotional resonance is lost even when the troupe start to develop a plan of action.
Ultimately, despite some slightly dodgy plot beats that will hurt your head the more that you think about it, for all of its visual spectacle, Endgame is a satisfying conclusion to an epic movie franchise. Each character gets meaningful development and screentime as they react to the cataclysm that was Thanos’s decimation of half the universe’s population. We see our heroes at their most broken and most downtrodden and we see the story handled with the appropriate stakes and pathos. It is a story that we will never see the like of again, and its beating heart is its greatest success. A love letter to fans and the characters alike, Endgame culminates the record-breaking Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it. Every story has an ending; at least this is a great one.