After 11 years and 21 films it is fitting that Avengers: Endgame brings to a close its lengthy saga not with a wall-to-wall spectacle, but with nuance and reflection. It is a film that ponders how one finds closure in the face of great loss?
As with the best Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films, the action and humour, while present, feel second to the inner turmoil at the film’s core. While its predecessor, the overstuffed Avengers: Infinity War, coasted on name recognition, audiences got to see all of their favourite MCU characters co-exist in the same film, Endgame feels like a different beast entirely. Not burdened with having to force feed character introductions and establishing drama in-between numerous action set pieces; directors Anthony and Joe Russo are finally able to let their characters breath.
Endgame is one of the rare MCU films that allows the consequences of heroism, including its failures, to truly sink in. Much of the three-hour runtime is observing the characters confronting the nightmare of a world where half of the population has disappeared. One where the grief of loss and survivors’ guilt are equally devastating.
The film may pick up 21 days after Thanos (Josh Brolin) changed everything with a snap, but the meat of the story takes place five years later. A shell of their former selves, the Avengers are barely coping. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and other heroes are trying to keep the peace; Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is counseling survivors about grief in a support group; Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has resorted to a quiet life in a cabin with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow); Thor is a recluse in the new Asgard in Norway; Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has accepted the Hulk side of himself and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) has become a lethal vigilante named Ronin.
The pain of defeat, and the fallout it caused, still stings. Feelings remain hurt and former friendships remain fractured. Complicating matters further is the question, for those who have moved on with their life, of how do they bring back those who vanished without impacting the present? However, an unexpected flicker of light glimmers in the dark tunnel their lives are in with the re-emergence of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd).
After escaping the quantum realm, where he was stuck for five years, Lang has the idea to undo Thanos’ actions by traveling back in time and retrieving the infinity stones before they were ever in the tyrant’s hands. Of course, it is a risky endeavour as no one has figured out how to build a successful time machine at this point.
Using the time travel narrative as a catalyst for redemption, Avengers: Endgame is as much a trip down MCU memory lane as it is the final chapter to a story that changed cinema forever. Endgame takes the time to acknowledge the past, which allows its climatic battle to carry far more weight than anything in Infinity War, and also celebrates the freedom that the future will bring.
While the MCU has a shoddy record in its use of women and minorities, including a problematic trope regarding the soul stones in this film, there is something gratifying about having a moment where the women literally carry the football forward. The same can be said for the handoff of power that opens the door to exciting new possibilities moving forward.
Endgame may not be a perfect finale, the Barnes’ arc has its share of problem and the body count is no where near it should be, you can blame the forthcoming Disney+ streaming service and the already announced MCU sequels for the latter, but the film truly earns its moments. One walks away from Endgame not thinking of the epic confrontation between good and evil on the battlefield, but the character relationships formed over 21 films. It is why the Nebula arc in this film works better than the Gamora one in Infinity War. It is why Tony Stark coming to terms with his daddy issues, and Steve Rogers realizing there is more to life than duty, resonates the way it does.
For better or worse the MCU has pulled off what many have failed to replicate, they created a franchise that is critic proof and audience proof. Even the worst films in its canon are guaranteed to be box office successes. Endgame rewards fans for their loyalty while not sacrificing its storytelling or character depth in the process. Much like Captain America staring down seemingly insurmountable odds, Endgame is a testament to perseverance even when success seemed like a faint pipe dream.