*** SPOILER-FREE REVIEW ***
Even before Avengers: Endgame made its way to cinemas, the much-anticipated closing chapter of Marvel Studio’s decade-spanning, 22-movie story arc – the Infinity Saga which started in 2008 with Iron Man – was already breaking records. The trailer views set a new benchmark, the marketing campaign is estimated to be Marvel’s most expensive, and the ticket presale record smashed that set by Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Clocking in at just over 3 hours, it’s also the longest movie in the franchise this far.
When all’s said and done, Endgame is the nec plus ultra of review-proof juggernauts, so didn’t have to be a great film to succeed; it would do gangbusters regardless of critical appraisal. What a relief it is then to report that the cheek-punishing three-hour threshold is necessary to satisfyingly wrap up character arcs and to ensure that this is the strongest conclusion to a blockbuster series since The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King.
It’s a hard film to review, as to discuss plot, strengths and weaknesses in detail would be to do the film a disservice; its surprises – both playful and shocking – deserve to be kept intact. Suffice it to say that directors Anthony and Joe Russo pick up the story where they left off at the end of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, which can now be looked back on favourably as one half of a bigger whole. The surviving members of the Avengers are dealing with the fallout of their defeat against Thanos, the purple groove-chinned megalomaniac with a stone fetish who decimated half of all life across the universe. All that shall be revealed here is that Earth’s Mightiest Heroes plan to pull a “time heist” and come to terms with the fact that “Back To The Future is a load of bullshit”. They are aided this time by Hawkeye and Ant-Man, who were on the bench for Infinity War, as well as a sparingly-used Captain Marvel, who has been space-bound ever since the events of her solo film.
Crucial to the impact of Endgame was its capacity to be bold on a narrative level and not play it too safe. Previous instalments have impressed – namely when the Russo Brothers revealed SHIELD to be a nefarious front for HYDRA in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and when the same directorial duo orchestrated Infinity War’s cliffhanger ending – but a frequent criticism levelled at Marvel has been the studio’s reticence to take some perdurable risks, especially when it comes to characters biting the dust. A further risk was that once time travel was introduced in the mix, cheap resolutions and retcons would inevitably ensue. An obvious blueprint was there to diligently heed and while some predictable beats are embraced, Endgame is audacious enough to employ the storytelling device of time travel to playful effect and to convincingly grapple with the themes of remorse and grief.
The opening act is so astonishingly good that later crinkles are more noticeable, even if ironed out by the film’s most powerful weapon in its arsenal: its tone. The Russos deftly balance the humour, pathos and dramatic bombast in a far more satisfying manner than Infinity War, and it’s hard not to be dazzled by the way Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay smoothly interweaves the many character strands. Buttressed by some excellent performances – in particular from Scarlett Johansson and Paul Rudd, who steal the show on several occasions – it truly feels like the epic, exhilarating and cathartic payoff it needed to be. It’s hard to imagine how other franchises – present and future, new or rebooted – will be able to match the impact of the MCU’s most impressive achievement to date. The (Infinity) gauntlet has been thrown down.
Avengers: Endgame | Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo (US, 2019), with Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth. Starts April 24.
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