Director(s): Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin
Running time: 181 minutes
“Whatever it takes” is a sentiment that’s been beating away at the heart of the MCU hero manifesto ever since an arrogant billionaire playboy by the name of Tony Stark entered a cave in the Middle-East and emerged as Iron Man. 11 years, 21 films, 6 Infinity Stones and one galactic budget later, we have sure-fire evidence that it’s a mantra shared by the folk over at Marvel Studios.
Welcome to the point of no return — or, rather, the point of probable return (Spider-Man can’t actually be dead, can he?). This is the Endgame: the climatic showdown to end all showdowns that brings the curtain down on over a decade of interweaving, intricate storytelling. At the click of a finger, in the most wonderfully literal sense, Marvel have achieved something more than mere movie; they have harnessed the power of the cultural event. In doing so, they have set the stage for pop-culture’s equivalent of the Solar Eclipse: a moment so significant it comes but once a decade (if we’re lucky), where millions of eager viewers pump their bodies to the brim with caffeine while depriving it of sleep and toilet breaks in order to bear witness to a modern moving picture phenomenon. Whatever it takes, you say? Whatever it takes, indeed.
Thanos’ universe-shattering snap on the plains of Wakanda at the cliff-hanging climax of Infinity War might have soared the narrative stakes to intergalactic heights, but it’s in the aftermath where the truly intriguing prospects lie. Our entry into the fallout — the Endgame —begins on earth, a world engulfed in decay, festering in the shattering devastation caused by a galactic tyrant’s jewellery collection.
Equally decimated is the morale of the surviving Avengers. With 5 years having elapsed, Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) has cut ties with his comrades, relinquishing any dreams of reviving the fallen in favour of preserving his new-found family life. Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) occupies the position of de facto leader of what remains of S.H.I.E.L.D. Hawkeye (Renner) — notably absent from Infinity War — takes revenge on the world that cruelly took those closest to him (including his hair dresser, apparently); while the characteristic optimism of Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Evans), is slowly eroding away under the corrosiveness of his own lingering sense of failure.
Elsewhere, existence on earth is ravaged by depression and denial, by grief and guilt, by anger and alcoholism. Hope is but a distant, dwindling myth. That is until Scott “Ant-Man” Lang (Rudd), long presumed dead, unexpectedly returns from the quantum realm with an idea that might just change everything.
Amidst the gargantuan excitement from MCU aficionados the world over, there was always a persistent, muted trepidation that Endgame would ultimately buckle under the sheer hulking weight of expectation. By its very nature, it left itself with a mighty task to overcome and a hefty chunk of story still to get through in order to reach a satisfying conclusion. It’s testament then to meticulous craft of Russo brothers Joe and Anthony, as well as writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, that Endgame appears to welcome the challenge. In fact, it revels in it, plotting a 180-minute course through a hugely dense narrative fuelled by fist-pumping action, deep-running emotion and the silliest humour. It’s a tonal concoction that should never work; but, just like the Avengers’ very make-up, which pits a mythical Norse God alongside a talking space racoon, it does. That’s because, from its unexpectedly measured, arguably more impactful, character-driven first act, to its rousing, kinetic finale, this is a film that truly understands its own magnitude. In keeping with Thanos’ ideals, it’s all about balance, and Endgame almost always knows when is a good time to refine the focus and when it needs to ramp things up a notch. Crucially, though, it never loses sight of what is most gripping: the high stakes the narrative exclusively deals in.
Somewhat inevitably, in a film of so many connected characters, dilemmas and sub-plots, some players are utilised more than others. A handful of heroes — namely those from the original Avengers ensemble — get a larger bite of the central narrative cherry, while the antics of the rest feel more like glorified cameos. Similarly, the film carries an unevenness: one masked by the film’s gleeful, nostalgic voyage down MCU memory lane. In particular, the film’s slightly sagging mid-section which works far less effectively than the two acts that bookend it, sending us down a messy, restless, relentless wormhole of quantum physics and intertwined timelines, with plot holes wider than Thanos’ chin.
But to dwell on such things would be to distract from all that is great here. Endgame is a rich, bold, delightfully bulky cinematic spectacle which, in the most fitting way possible given the unifying, reverberant cultural impact of the MCU, places family firmly at its core. New ones, old ones, shattered ones, pseudo ones — the glory and pain of family is at the heart of everything in Endgame, unleashed in a flurry of joy, laughter, tears and spandex. There is plenty to process and much to discuss, but if this really does mark the end of a decade-long era of Superheroes, we simply wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Funny, preposterous and earnest, Endgame is a fitting farewell to this phase of cinema’s beloved comic book classics.