How do you follow up the fourth highest grossing film of all time, a monumental cultural milestone and the culmination of 10 years of cinematic franchise building?
The answer is by releasing the most powerful money printing machine in the history of the world just one year later.
Avengers: Endgame has exploded out of the gates harder and faster than any other film in history, as eager audiences flooded theaters to see how our heroes would rebound from their first major defeat, and how the heck Spider-Man would be brought back in time for him to jet off to Italy and face off with an illusionist wearing a fishbowl. Additionally, it has delivered everything that Infinity War was thought to deliver: it is a triumphant film which celebrates the characters that have been carrying this cultural monolith for more than a decade and wraps up one of the most popular and long awaited film storylines in film history.
The spoiler free version is that this film is good.
The first half is unexpectedly funny, as since their films have mostly covered the more serious Captain America, it is easy to forget that the Russo Brothers have a history in comedy directing episodes of Community and Arrested Development among others. Parts of this section are framed around Ant-Man’s perspective, and seeing as how he is the most average dude of the entire cast, it enables us to see just how absurd some of this can get when you really think about it.
The middle section of the film drags a bit, as the sequences playing out can ultimately be reduced to spiced-up exposition. They are platforms for some character moments before heading off to the big finale, and boy oh boy, is it a doozy.
The end. In many ways it is the exact opposite of Infinity War, which after watching our heroes lose over and over doesn’t leave us with much to cheer about before shoving us out the door so that the theater staff can sweep up all the dust. Endgame is nonstop cheer moments. With some frames feeling tailor-made for posters and computer backgrounds in a few months once the anti-spoiler crusade has died down. By the time the big battle has died down and we head into the epilogue, the stories for most of our OG Avengers have seemingly come to an end, as they make way for the next wave of heroes who will more the MCU further into the future. There is some wiggle room here and there, but for the most part, be prepared for the characters from this shot to head into retirement. I guess that is technically a spoiler, but if you expect all these characters to still be rockin’ after this film then you are a dang fool.
Overall, this will go down as one of the best that the MCU has produced. It has tons of memorable moments which make up for some of its shortcomings in the center. It is not quite the best, but it should be near the top, and is a perfect way to see our original Avengers off into the sunset.
Alright, the spoiler-free section has come to an end, so now we can focus on the most important stuff:
Fat Thor is the best Thor.
Banner Hulk giving Ant-Man a taco is one of the best little shots in the film.
And Steve Rogers is truly in possession of America’s ass.
Moving onto the spoiler discussion more seriously, we should go ahead and start with the beginning. The film picks up where Infinity War left off and exposes us to some of what the post-snap world is going to be like. This more serious tone continues right up to the point where Thanos is killed- yep, it takes like 10 minutes- right up to the point where Ant-Man joins Black Widow and Captain America. From there we shift from the wallowing section of the film to the fun one with Scott Lang/Ant-Man serving as our guide.
Allowing us to view this section of the film from his perspective is terrific as it gives us the absurdist angle of the MCU that we really haven’t gotten from anyone but James Gunn. The scene where Nebula and War Machine land on the lawn, which causes Scott to drop his taco before being handed another one by Bruce Banner who is now in full control of the Hulk body. The tone and style of this scene seem impossible from the promotional material for this film, yet here we are, watching Rocket Raccoon trying to convince a now fat and out of shape Thor to stop playing Fortnite.
This more humorous tone continues through most of the middle phase of the film, aka, the Time Heist. The preparations for the heist allow the newly bloated Thor to have some of the best comedic moments, not just in this film, but in the entire MCU. One particularly dramatic close-up of an apparently passed out Thor in his chair is perfection beyond words. Most of the time heist continues as a combination of this humor and character moments for Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow and Haweye. Bruce Banner-Hulk has a discussion with The Ancient One to assure both her and the audience that the Time Heist will result in no paradoxes, so don’t even ask.
Who would’ve thought that the pot of gold sitting at the end of Thor’s character arc was actually The Dude.
It’s all fun and games as our heroes travel through time to find the infinity gems until they have to get the Soul Stone. Black Widow and Hawkeye are given that unenviable task, and when they are told that a sacrifice must be made, it becomes a battle to figure out which one of them will take the plunge-with both trying to be the one save the other from the responsibility. The “winner” of this battle is Black Widow who becomes the first of the original Avengers to conclude their run in the MCU. This moment is where the film shifts away from its fun romp through time into the battle for the fate of the universe…part two.
The time Heist, while fun, is probably the weakest part of the film. There are very little stakes during this section such that even when something goes wrong, it is quickly rectified and resolved. The exposition and character moments all pay off in the end, but they come at the expense of tension, and strongly driving the film forward. It is a soft, but necessary stepping stone to the end of the film for the characters, as well as a means to bring Thanos back into the fold after having his head cut off. Once the heist is over, however, and the second snap is performed by Banner Hulk, it is all hands on deck for the big finale. The conclusion to nearly a dozen years of filmmaking (suck it Boyhood) is where the film drops the fun and games, gets serious and makes room for some of the best shots and moments from the entire MCU.
Throughout the film, each of the original Avengers gets at least one big moment. Black Widow got hers first where she sacrifices herself to not only save those wiped out by the snap, but also to save Hawkeye and enable him the chance to return to his family. Hawkeye himself opens the film as he loses his entire family to the snap and then goes on a five-year rampage taking it upon himself to kill any criminals still lingering in this new world order. Then after Thanos attacks our heroes, he is the first to take hold of the infinity stones and run them away from the Titan. Immediately before that, the big moment went to Bruce Banner who was the only member of the Avengers who had the physical strength and resilience to withstand the power of the Infinity Stones and conduct his own snap to undo the work done by Thanos five years earlier.
After that, the only characters left for their big moments are the big three of Iron Man, Captain America and a blubbery Thor who now wields both Stormbreaker and Mjolnir. Despite the three fighting together for the first time since Age of Ultron back in 2015, they are still not a match for Thanos who knocks out Iron Man and Captain America before reversing the roles he and Thor shared at the tail end of Infinity War. When it appears that Thor is about to meet his end, Cap is able to realize something hinted at in Age of Ultron as well and wield Mjolnir against Thanos in what is sure to be the first of two raucous moments Cap has with the second coming shortly after while facing down Thanos backed by the entirety of his forces. The shot is sure to be copied and recreated by imitators and fans for years to come.
Finally, we have Iron Man, the character who started the MCU and thus set us down this path to Thanos is the one who ends this story. With Thanos on the verge of completing his goal once again, Iron man steals the stones from Thanos before conducting his own snap to eliminate his entire army as well as putting an end to the mad Titan for good. This does not come easily however, as the move proves too much for his body to handle, and he becomes the second of the original Avengers to fall in the battle to beat Thanos. A poetic bookend to this long saga is complemented further by replacement of the traditional post credit scene with the simple sound of a hammer bending metal from the very first Iron Man film where Tony Stark built his first suit in that cave.
The only character not mentioned above as having their own big moment is the slightly more rotund Thor. Of the original Avengers lineup, he is the only one whose future is still in flux. The characters who survived the encounters with Thanos are entering retirement: Hawkeye is sure to return to his family, Banner, who never cared for fighting, now has control of his strength and an excuse to shut things down, and Captain America took advantage of his newfound access to time travel to go back and get the life that he missed out on 70 years ago. All of their stories are complete…except for Thor. His character was reenergized in Ragnarok, as such, his story is the only one that is incomplete. Instead of heading into retirement, Thor is heading off to find himself as an apparent member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. He may have to lose some weight first.
So now we’ve come to the end- almost. Technically the next Spider-Man film is the end of this phase, but we’ll go ahead and consider this the conclusion. 22 films over 11 years have left us right here wondering what the heck is going to happen next. We know there are more films coming out, but what remains to be seen is where this franchise goes from here in terms of the big picture. Assuming this thing is going to go on for another decade, they are going to have to come up with another nasty cat to put the fate of the universe at stake.
Perhaps that oft spoken of super hero fatigue will finally set in a couple of years from now without the likes of Robert Downey Jr charming the pants off everyone to keep it at bay, and this entire thing will fall apart before the next galactic threat can even be decided. Regardless of what comes next, there is no denying the impact of this series. There will always be detractors, and some of it is earned as these films are still commercial products made for mass audiences and not the kind of cinematic art that some folks want. But the reach of these films is almost unmatched. Marvel Studios, though now backed by the awesome power of Disney, set out more than a decade ago to attempt something that had never been done before: to create a shared cinematic universe where all of their characters are free to interact and grab lunch together. There is undoubtedly a formula to many of the films the studio has produced which has come at the detriment of some of their films, yet it is also something which no one has been able to replicate. Marvel has been at the center of popular culture ever since Tony Stark hammered together that first Iron Man suit in a cave with scraps, and even if this should be one of the final chapters of this epic, it has been a historic journey that may never be matched for another century of filmmaking.