When the credits roll on the just-over-three-hours Avengers: Endgame, one can’t help but be struck by what a staggering achievement this film represents. This is the 22nd (!) Marvel movie in eleven years, and yet somehow Endgame delivers a satisfying, emotional and unexpectedly thoughtful conclusion to a series of films that began in 2008 with an unlikely little flick about a comic book character no one particularly cared about, Iron Man. We say “conclusion” because even though the Marvel films continue – hell, Spider-Man: Far from Home drops in just a few months – the events of Endgame fundamentally change the Marvel Cinematic Universe in profound ways.
The story of Avengers: Endgame picks up after the bleak, soul-crushing ending of Avengers: Infinity War. You know, when Thanos (Josh Brolin) clicked his fingers and disintegrated 50% of life in the universe, including many of our favourite Marvel characters. Well, as you can imagine, everyone’s pretty gutted about the whole affair, particularly Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) ie: the original Avengers lineup from 2012. Naturally Earth’s mightiest heroes aren’t going to take their most recent staggering defeat lying down, but how do you solve a problem like Thanos?
After the seemingly endless battle scenes of Infinity War, Endgame spends much of its runtime on more personal journeys. Don’t get us wrong, there’s a shitload of brightly-coloured superheroes bashing the crap out of baddies, but it’s more focused and intimate, somehow. The stakes here are universe-saving, yes, but the way they’re expressed feels more nuanced, with genuine moments of honest pathos. This is a celebration of what has occurred thus far in the MCU, and a love letter to the fans, but also a farewell, and those are always bittersweet.
Performance wise everyone’s at the top of their game, with Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans delivering particularly strong performances. Jeremy Renner is finally given something to do, with a surprising arc, and Chris Hemsworth showcases a slightly more comedic side to Thor, continuing the fine work from Thor: Ragnarok. The only dud note is Mark Ruffalo who does what he can with a rather muddled subplot that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, which is a pity because his Hulk has always been a series highlight.
Avengers: Endgame is epic in the truest sense of the word, spanning across space and time, both in story and reality. This movie is three hours long, and though it never really slackens the pace it may test the bladders and patience of those who are still bemused by the staggering success of the MCU. But then, if you’re in that rather joyless demographic, Endgame was never going to be the film for you. This is a delicious platter of delights designed specifically for the fans, that only very occasionally begins to feel like fan service.
Ultimately, Avengers: Endgame manages to run the gamut of emotions, from existential dread to giddy joy, offering a messy but utterly compelling denouement to a fascinating, and successful, experiment in longform cinematic storytelling. It’s bold, gutsy and profoundly moving and if you find yourself ugly crying through the final 30 minutes, know that you’re not alone.