It’s hard to image a 2019 movie with more buzz, more hype, more expectations than the 22nd film from Marvel Studios. While I still lean towards “Star Wars: Episode IX” as my most anticipated franchise event of the year, right behind it is “Avengers: Endgame”. It seems I say this with every “Avengers” picture, but this is another wildly ambitious undertaking and the culmination of eleven years worth of storytelling across the Marvel Cinematic Universe under the guidance of producer Kevin Feige.
Last year’s “Infinity War” left things hanging in a pretty precarious place. Despite the efforts of the Avengers, Thanos (Josh Brolin) successfully acquired the six Infinity Stones and in a snap altered reality causing half of the universe’s population to disintegrate including many of the MCU heroes. Thanos teleports away and sits down to soak in his handiwork. Meanwhile the Avengers are left in utter disarray and shock. It was a bold and stunning ending even though we knew the effects were only temporary.
“Infinity War” did a great job raising the stakes and “Endgame” begins by sorting through the aftermath. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) remain the leaders of what’s left of the Avengers but failed attempts to reverse the effects of “Infinity War” has left them with no hope. Jump ahead five years into the post-Thanos future and each are trying to find their own way.
Returning co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo and returning co-writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely give a lot of screen time to the effects of grief and loss. Even when the heroes inevitably get back together to work out a new plan, there are still moments that remind us of the heavy toll. But throughout the film’s first half rarely are we given time to sit with the drama and emotion. It’s often undercut by the double-edged sword of humor.
It may surprise some, but “Endgame” leans heavy on humor. The MCU has always had a lighthearted element to their movies but few have embraced it as much as this one. At times it’s welcomed and keeps things from getting too dark and dour. And in many instances it’s genuinely funny. But at the same time the steady wave of one-liners can be a bit weird considering the dire circumstances. And when it fundamentally changes a key character it moves from weird to frustrating.
I’m talking about Thor (Chris Hemsworth) who goes from angry and burdened with guilt to a clownish buffoon within the first 15 minutes or so. I won’t spoil his storyline but he’s essentially comic relief for the duration and a dramatically different character from who we saw in “Infinity War”. Clearly they’re taking the “Ragnarok” formula and running wild with it (You know it’s true when Thor pairs with Rocket Raccoon and Rocket plays the straight man). He’s given plenty of gags but never that big action moment fitting of his character. By the end it’s almost impossible to take him seriously.
You see more of the “Ragnarok” effect with Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). No spoilers but once again we get a dramatically different version of the character. Gone is the brute force replaced with what is essentially a carbon copy of Beast from the X-Men. Even Thanos loses some of the nuance that made him such an effective villain in “Infinity War”. And a handful of other characters simply fall through the cracks despite the film having a three-hour running time.
The second half takes on a more serious tone and that’s where we get the bulk of the action. It’s also where we finally get some of those huge crowd-pleasing moments and the packed audience at my screening were ready to let loose. It’s a truly spectacular final hour filled with some big character moments that brought enthusiastic cheers and more than a few fist pumps across the theater.
It’s also an emotional rollercoaster sure to touch everyone who has invested themselves into this decade-long motion picture journey. “Endgame” has been touted as the final chapter in this particular MCU saga so sticking the landing was imperative. “Endgame” most definitely sticks its landing. It’s a poignant and satisfying ending so incredibly well done and fitting of a movie event of this magnitude.
From the very beginning “Avengers: Endgame” feels like something special, something unique, something unlike anything we’ve seen before. And even in its missteps it never loses that sense of spectacle and grandeur. It works best if you gaze at it through a wide lens because if you start looking too close you’re sure to find a few holes. Instead embrace it for what it is – the closing chapter to a truly remarkable cinematic accomplishment. Sure, there will be more MCU movies. But “Endgame” marks the end of an era that deserves to be celebrated.
VERDICT – 4 STARS