‘Avengers: Endgame’ is Breathtakingly Epic, Emotionally Resonant, and Satisfying

16 min read

Wow. Really. Just wow.

If you know me at all, or if you read my Captain Marvel review, you probably know I love the Marvel films. While there’s not a single installment of the MCU that I actually disliked, it goes without saying that some are better than others. But as high as the bar was after Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame exceeded every expectation I had, offering a powerful story that’s operatic in scale yet extremely resonant and totally earned.

Before I begin, let me just say that Endgame is an extremely difficult film to review. For one thing, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s the culmination of 11 years of storytelling across 21 other films, so there’s a lot of context outside of this single film. For another, Avengers: Endgame could almost be given the alternate title of Fan Service: The Movie because it’s basically a compilation of scenes and plot points that we, as fans, have been begging to see for years.

In its opening weekend, Endgame pulled in $357 million domestically and over $1.2 billion globally.

In its opening weekend — which, mind you, is only four days — Endgame absolutely obliterated box office records, both domestically and globally, and now holds the record for biggest opening weekend of all time. In just four days, Avengers: Endgame jumped to the fifth-highest grossing film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, pulling in $357 million domestically and over $1.2 billion globally. Just for comparison, Avengers: Infinity War, which was no box office slouch and had broken all these same records last year, pulled in $257 million and around $640 million, respectively, in that same amount of time.

If you’ve seen Endgame  —  which you should have done by now… and if you haven’t, get to your nearest multiplex immediately! —  then you probably know how difficult it is to talk about. Because virtually the entire three-hour runtime is worth discussing, and yet I don’t want to just give a detailed rundown of the plot. But I’m going to do my best.

There are minor spoilers in this review.

Last year’s Avengers: Infinity War was an action-packed, relentless heist movie that introduced us to Thanos. Portrayed with incredible nuance by Josh Brolin using motion-capture technology, Thanos spent Infinity War collecting the ultimate MacGuffins: six Infinity Stones that Thanos needed to rebalance the cosmic scales by wiping out half of all life in the universe.

With the snap of his Gauntleted fingers, Thanos achieved his goal, reducing the likes of Spider-Man, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and nearly all the Guardians of the Galaxy to dust in the final moments of Infinity War. As the film ended, we were left with the Marvel Trinity  —  Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor  —  as well as Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hulk, and a handful of characters introduced in more recent installments (e.g. Ant-Man, Rocket Raccoon, Captain Marvel).

Part of what made Infinity War work was that it was actually Thanos’ story. Until Infinity War, there had never been a comic book movie in which our protagonist was simultaneously the villain. Additionally, Infinity War marked the first time our heroes charged into a conflict that they actually couldn’t, and wouldn’t, win.

Sure enough, the Avengers lost. And that’s where Endgame picks up, showing us how each of the characters dealt with this most epic of failures.

Story Structure

As much as the Russo Bros., writers, and Kevin Feige tried to make Infinity War and Endgame two separate films, they definitely feel like two parts of a single, continuous story. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, but it’s worth pointing out.

I’m curious whether some of Endgame‘s impact is due to the fact that we had to sit with the weight of Thanos’ snap for the last twelve months.

Once Endgame hits home video, I think the best experience — provided you have a solid six hours to spare, of course — would be to watch Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, back-to-back. However, I’m curious what (if any) effect watching them together, along with the passage of time, might have on Endgame. I can’t help but wonder whether some of the impact of Endgame is due to the fact that we just sat with the emotional weight of Thanos’ snap for the last twelve months. In other words, how much mileage does Endgame get from the anticipation we’ve been feeling since Infinity War?

Even if the anticipation that was built up over the past year heightened our enjoyment of Endgame, part of me thinks that was by design. Because in Endgame, there’s a five-year time jump that occurs about 20 minutes into the film, mirroring the year we’ve waited for the conclusion to this story. So just as the characters who survived Thanos’ snap — referred to as “the Decimation” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe” — tried and failed to move on during that time, similarly, everyone who’s been a fan of the franchise has been trying to manage their anticipation for the conclusion to this epic story.

Whatever the case may be, I’m pleased to confirm that Endgame not only met but exceeded every expectation I had. Although, in the spirit of honesty, it’s not a perfect film (and I’ll soon address some of the plot holes that become apparent as you start digging a little deeper). But capping off the Infinity Saga was such a monumental task that I don’t think anyone expected absolute perfection. We simply wanted a film that brought a satisfying conclusion to all the character arcs and plot threads that had been introduced since 2008’s Iron Man, tied together in a nice, neat bow.

The fact that the bow in question is also an incredibly sincere love letter to the fans just makes it that much better.

Fan Service

Captain Marvel, Black Widow, War Machine, Thor, Captain America, and Rocket head to space in the Guardians' ship.
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

Endgame is epic, almost overwhelmingly so. Even if you’re just a casual fan of the franchise, there is so much satisfaction to be had here. Granted, I know that those who will be most affected by Endgame are the die-hard fans because the film gives you everything you could ever want from a Marvel film. And it manages to do this in a way that doesn’t feel like checking boxes off a list.

The term “fan service” is being used to describe Endgame, which I completely agree with. But because of the negative connotations of fan service, it warrants explaining that fan service doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.

Fan service is usually a negative thing because it comes from a place of cynicism. But the fan service in Endgame is completely earned and immensely satisfying.

Fan service tends to be seen as a negative thing is because it often comes from a place of cynicism. It’s a way for filmmakers to exploit fans of intellectual property (IP), allowing them to generate excitement or manipulate audiences into having positive reactions to a film despite those reactions being unearned. When used in this way, you might think of fan service as a creative shortcut.

But that’s not the case here. The many instances of fan service throughout Endgame aren’t cynical; they’re moments that the franchise has been building toward for the past 11 years, so when they happen, they’re completely earned. So whereas fan service often feels disingenuous or manipulative, it feels immensely satisfying in Endgame.

Yes, Endgame does, in fact, have a runtime of over three hours. This is going to make it tricky for anyone who has relatively young children. I was actually hesitant to take our 9-year-old to see it, so I ended up deciding to go see it myself and make sure he wouldn’t get restless. Now that I’ve seen it, I think he’ll be fine, but I honestly wouldn’t take children any younger than that; just wait for home video so you can pause and resume the film as needed. Otherwise, you could end up missing pivotal scenes when you’re forced to accompany your kid to the restroom, and you certainly don’t want your toddler to get restless halfway through and start disturbing the people around you.

But anyone who’s even moderately invested in these characters will surely find that those three hours go by in a snap. (See what I did there?) In fact, there were moments — especially during the jaw-dropping third act — when I actually wished I could slow things down and really take it all in.

Endgame isn’t as unrelenting as Infinity War, but even during the slower parts, there’s not a single scene that isn’t absolutely essential for the story.

Endgame isn’t quite as unrelenting as Infinity War. There are a couple of points where it takes a second to let the story breathe. However, to be fair, after the first twenty or so minutes, there’s roughly an hour where things become quite a bit more talky-talky and more exposition-y. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this hour is boring, but there’s notably less action and excitement during that hour. But now that I’ve seen what that slower hour was building toward, I can’t think of even one scene during that hour that wasn’t absolutely essential for the story.

Really, Endgame is a film that shouldn’t have worked. It had too much on its plate —a huge roster of characters with each needing a satisfying ending, a decade of complex narrative to conclude, a film that could function as a sequel while also standing on its own, the conclusion to the Infinity Saga, setup for the future of the MCU — and yet, somehow, it manages to achieve everything it needed to achieve and then some.

Incredible Screenplay

I’ve gotta give major props to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who are arguably the real heroes here. The duo penned the scripts for both Infinity War and Endgame as well as directors Joe and Anthony Russos’ other Marvel films, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War. They scripted Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The First Avenger, too.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are the real heroes here. They’ve given fans almost everything they could have wanted in this epic conclusion.

Every studio in Hollywood is surely clamoring to hire this screenwriting duo; because in any other hands, Endgame would’ve been a disaster. But the script for Endgame shows not only immense respect for the world that’s been built but also for the fans. I’ve got to applaud Markus and McFeely because they managed to give fans almost everything they wanted while still packing tons of surprises into the 180-minute runtime. Even if you aren’t a movie buff like myself, it’s hard not to be impressed.

Leading up to the film’s release, Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios and the architect of the MCU, repeatedly referred to Endgame as the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it. If the Marvel Cinematic Universe were a television show, then it seems like Endgame would be the series finale, and to an extent, any films that follow would constitute either spin-offs or soft reboots. So this film needed to provide some semblance of closure for the three main Avengers, and I can happily say that it does.

In fact, most of Endgame’s runtime is dedicated to giving the Marvel Trinity their much-deserved sendoffs. Without going into too much detail, I’ll say this: Two of the three main Avengers get incredibly poetic endings. Considering what had been speculated, you may find those characters’ conclusions to be somewhat unexpected; however, I personally feel they make a lot of sense and are very satisfying.

For the third character, Endgame seems to be hinting at an exciting new era for Phase 4. If you’re familiar with recent storylines from the comics, then you probably know what the title of that film might be.

The remaining original Avengers — Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Hulk — don’t get quite as much closure as the main three. It’s difficult to say what kind of presence (if any) they’ll have in the MCU in the future; however, if reports of an upcoming film and a Disney+ limited series are any indications, we’ve probably not seen the last of them.

One of the most exciting things about Endgame is how it plays like a guided tour or the greatest hits of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But even more impressive is how the film adds unexpected depth to seemingly irrelevant events from many movies ago. Even frequently overlooked installments like Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The First Avenger, Iron Man 3, and even the Agent Carter series are made more relevant, sometimes even crucial, over the course of Endgame. In this way, the film is highly rewarding for those of us who have been with this franchise from the beginning (or who have at least seen all 21 preceding films).

Marvel’s use — by some accounts, overuse — of humor has been one of the chief criticisms of the franchise and is probably why the competing DC Films franchise has been notably darker. When Infinity War ended up being rather dark and brutal, I half expected Endgame to be a much more lighthearted, triumphant story. That was not the case. I’d argue that Endgame is even darker than Infinity War, which was already quite a dark film for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

But that darkness absolutely worked for me. From start to finish, you actually feel what the characters have gone through since the Decimation. There’s a sense of hopelessness and desperation that is palatable from the very first scene. Meanwhile, the film references consequences from events that occurred in even earlier films in the franchise, which is particularly evident in Thor’s storyline.

Speaking of Thor, some have taken issue with the creative choices made for the character, calling him a caricature that makes fun of people who are overweight. However, in spite of the jokes, there’s actually a lot of depth to Thor’s arc, which might even be the most compelling of the entire film. If you scratch just below the surface, Thor’s story in Endgame is about coming to terms with some momentous failures in his past, and how someone with the kind of raw power Thor has is utterly unable to cope when confronted with the inevitability of his own limitations.

Performances

The actors are at the top of their games here. I really can’t think of a single bad (or even just subpar) performance in the whole film. Even characters who don’t have a whole lot of screen time — especially Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, Brie Larson as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, Zoe Saldana as Gamora — make strong impressions.

Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

He’s always stellar in the role, but Robert Downey, Jr. has a truly career-making turn as Tony Stark/Iron Man in Endgame; although I don’t actually see it happening, I would love to see Downey get an Oscar nom for Best Actor for this performance. And Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America is at his most relatable here and actually gives Downey a run for his money.

Chris Hemsworth — who has shown serious comedic chops with his roles in Ghostbusters (2016) and Vacation (2015)— cuts through the situational comedy that could’ve overtaken his narrative arc to deliver a performance as potent as the Norse god he plays. Again, some have criticized the creative choices for Thor in Endgame, but there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye.

Karen Gillan is an unexpected standout, offering a nuanced performance as the tragic villain-turned-anti-hero, Nebula.

Karen Gillan was an unexpected standout as Nebula. Some are even saying that Endgame is as much Nebula’s film as anyone else’s, providing commentary on the journey this character has taken, from her introduction as a villain/henchwoman in Guardians of the Galaxy to the reluctant, tragic anti-hero she becomes by the time we see her in Infinity War and Endgame. Gillan plays the character with nuance, particularly when the story requires her to masterfully alternate between the villainy projected on her by her adopted father and the agency that comes from finally forging her own path.

Minor Problems

But no film is perfect, especially when you’re trying to weave more than a decade of stories into a single epic conclusion. So, yes, Endgame does have a few minor (read: minor) problems.

One issue I some people might have is how certain plot points in the film fall into place a little too conveniently (e.g. the rat). Sometimes you can justify it by thinking about how much time has passed and how long it took for that super convenient thing to happen. But there are other instances where the logic kind of falls apart under just a little scrutiny. (Like how a superhuman character doubles over in pain just from holding all six Infinity Stones, but a mere human doesn’t experience any adverse effects until actually using them.)

However, the overall story is so strong and comes together to such great effect that I think most people — especially fans of the franchise — are probably willing to suspend their disbelief a little more than usual.

Though unavoidable with a cast this size, certain characters fade into the background.

Then there’s the issue of certain characters getting short-shifted. To be fair, this is unavoidable when you’re working with a cast of characters this size, and I really think Markus and McFeely did the best they could without making Endgame a five-hour film. Almost every character gets at least one moment to shine, but there are certain characters who fade into the background a bit and could’ve had more prominent roles.

Danai Gurira’s Okoye survived Thanos’ Decimation at the end of Infinity War and barely has two minutes of screen time despite being featured on posters. Similarly, Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel gets short-changed although, to be fair, the character’s off-the-charts power levels probably made benching her a necessity; otherwise, she would’ve been a deus ex machina who immediately saves the day.

At varying points, Endgame seems to break its own rules.

It’s extremely tricky to do time travel in film. You’ve got to set up the rules, and then you have to stick to those rules while avoiding many of the contradictions that are virtually inevitably with time travel. Unfortunately, Endgame falls victim to many of the same problems as other films that do time travel.

In Endgame, the characters attempt to use time travel to reverse the Decimation. This is something many of us had expected after Infinity War showed Thanos defeating the heroes and enacting his plan to wipe out half of all life in the universe. On the plus side, the rules of time travel are established pretty well from the start , often with some relatively inoffensive exposition. But sometime during the second act, we get contradictory claims about the mechanics of time travel, and we end up not knowing which rules are the “actual” rules. Then at varying points, the film seems to break its own rules, which is even more confusing.

Markus and McFeely are reported to have worked on the script extensively for several years, even recruiting members of the production team to look for inconsistencies and time paradoxes that they could address and incorporate into the script. In other words, the writers tried to provide answers to questions that we, the audience, would have when watching the film. So for now, I’m giving the film a pass because, generally, the script is extremely smart, so things that seem like plot holes today could actually have logical explanations. Or else, we may get answers to our questions in future films and series.

Technical & Artistic Achievements

On every level, Endgame is a momentous achievement. If you were impressed with the effects in Infinity War — from Josh Brolin’s motion-capture performance as Thanos to the musical score to the visual effects in the many battle scenes — then prepared to be even more impressed with Endgame.

Almost every single frame of Avengers: Endgame is a work of art.

From a cinematography standpoint, almost every single frame is a work of art. Endgame was shot by Trent Opaloch, who was also director of photography for the Russos’ other three Marvel films. But he really steps up his game here, conveying grandeur and scale in even the most intimate scenes. One of the best examples is one particular shot of Captain America that happens in the third act; believe me, you’ll know it when you see it — the shot is as gorgeous as it is inspiring.

The visual effects are absolutely breathtaking. There are points, especially during the third act, when you’ll look at the screen in complete disbelief that any of this is even possible, even with the magic of moviemaking and CGI. It’s going to be a lot of fun to revisit Endgame once it’s on home video so you can replay certain scenes or pause on certain frames and really appreciate the richness here.

I also want to give a shout out to Alan Silvestri who returned for Endgame after writing the scores for Infinity War, The Avengers, and Captain America: The First Avenger. I often listen to film scores when I’m working because they’re great for inspiring creativity without being distracting. But I actually can’t listen to the Endgame score when I’m working because it’s so great that it keeps pulling my focus.

In particular, I really like Silvestri’s “Portals,” which might be my favorite for Endgame. Additionally, I really like “I Can’t Risk This,” “How Do I Look?,” “The Measure of a Hero,” “Watch Each Other’s Six,” “The Real Hero,” “So Many Stars,” and “Becoming Whole Again.” But, really, the entire score is incredible. There’s not a dud to be found.

MVPs

Before I wrap up, I wanted to give a brief shout to some MVPs outside of the main Avengers lineup (since this was primarily their movie).

Photo courtesy of Gfycat

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch had an amazing scene with Thanos. Knowing what the character is like in the comics, I’ve always been intrigued by Scarlet Witch in the Marvel films. In Endgame, she gives us the best display of her off-the-charts power level. It was definitely an “Oh sh*t!” moment.

Another standout was Brie Larson as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. A lot of people were concerned — and if you read my Captain Marvel review, you’ll know that I’m included among them — were concerned that Carol Danvers would come in and single-handedly save the day; fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Carol was most definitely a team player here and gave the Trinity a much-needed assist in the third act.

As always, Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man was a joy even though he has about a much screen time as Wanda. Holland plays the character with such earnestness and charisma that it’s hard not to get the warm-and-fuzzies when he’s on screen.

Wrapping Up

Avengers: Endgame is more than a film or sequel. It’s an event in every sense of the word, and a historic moment in pop culture. I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes down in history as an iconic film that defined a generation in Hollywood.

I’m so impressed that Kevin Feige, the Russo Brothers, the actors, and producers, and everyone else involved in the making of Endgame managed to pull this off. From start to finish, Because as I said, this really shouldn’t have worked. The film had way too many boxes to check, and it not only checked them, but checked them in ways that both surprised and satisfied fans who have been waiting for this since Thanos first appeared in the mid-credits scene for The Avengers in 2012.

As someone who has invested a lot of time in this franchise — watching the films, rewatching the films, sharing the films with family and friends, thinking about the films, following news about future films, thinking about where the franchise could go next — Endgame was almost inconceivably satisfying. With breathtaking scale combined with a level of emotional depth not often seen in comic book films, this is a film that must be experienced to be believed. Because words really don’t do justice to what’s been accomplished here.

I believe everyone, whether you’re a fan of the franchise or not, needs to see this film and be part of this cultural moment. Even if Endgame doesn’t linger in the public consciousness — which I’m sure won’t be the case; this is a film that people will be talking about for years to come — this is something you don’t want to miss.

Get on the right side of history. If you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame, then do yourself a favor and get to your local multiplex to buy a ticket. And if you’ve already seen it, well…

See it again.


Also published on Medium.

About the author

Dane is a writer, tech journalist, graphic designer, and content marketing professional. He has nearly ten years of industry experience and has been published by the likes of Android Authority, Forbes, Smithsonian Magazine, Millennial Magazine, Dual-Diagnosis.org, Modernize, and Phone Arena.

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