!WARNING! Massive spoilers ahead!
With the original six Avengers still left to complete their stories after the Infinity War snap, Endgame had to balance a ton of main characters while prioritizing the longest standing set ups in the franchise.
The film picks up right where Infinity War ended. Half of all life on Earth has just been wiped from existence. Endgame is a uniquely stylized sequel in that it rests its beginning on the deliberate and emotional shoulders of a cold open. On the quiet family estate of a retired Hawkeye, the impact of Infinity War’s ending is reiterated as his wife and kids turn to dust in the blink of an eye.
This somber tone, in direct opposition to the frantic pace that punctuated Infinity War, carries on for roughly the first quarter of the film, intentionally taking us where we don’t want to go: away from action and away from hope.
Five years pass.
Captain America is lending advice to support groups, Iron Man is dead in the water, hopelessly drifting through space for as long as his oxygen will last, most of the population is still reeling from catastrophic loss, and Thanos is cooking up a stew in the comfort of his log cabin with ingredients foraged from quaint gardens.
Carrying the torch of their own massive success, the Russo Brothers used Endgame to display their talent in subverting expectations while still living up to wildly high hopes. At its heart, I would credit the success of this unprecedented cinematic achievement to the directors and their understanding of their role in the film’s creation.
“Our job isn’t to simply give people what they want,” they said, “our job is to give people a thrilling story, which is often times different than exactly what they would want.”
Quantum physics and self-aware time travel movie jokes provided the perfect set up to a franchise-wide nostalgia, which called forth moments as far back as Marvel’s Agent Carter. Time travel acted like a going away present, reminding us of the good times while offering heaping servings of added substance. From Tony meeting his father to Captain America’s run-in with the woman he gave his life to, Endgame may have even retroactively made these past film better.
Everyone will inevitably have some sort of taste-related gripe here or there. No matter how hard you try to satisfy the requests of a majority, nothing can account for the individual, other than universally good storytelling. Marvel’s franchise managed to get us emotionally invested in a number of characters that few can actually keep track of. Marvel isn’t scott-free in this regard but doing it better by leaps and bounds, the stand out films will be remembered for their story first, their place in the cinematic universe second, and the subtle nods to the original comics third.
In the wake of a tragic onslaught of conclusive chapters in 2019—the final chapter of the Star Wars saga, Game of Thrones’ final season, Marvel Studio’s journey of over a decade to Endgame—it’s important to take a moment and appreciate the awesome responsibility of fiction in the real world. Without risk, Marvel’s bet on Iron Man, RDJ, and Favreau, HBO’s bet on a show where every main character gets killed off just as audiences warm up to them – there is no reward.
Was it was a safe bet to release a 3-hour superhero film that doesn’t even show an action sequence until 45 minutes in? Doubtful. So here’s to the once-in-a-generation event film, Endgame. It takes risks, it challenges itself, and it rises to the occasion. In doing so, the film will undoubtedly satisfy anyone, even the most cynical. Sure, nothing’s perfect, but within the context of both supreme difficulty and execution, Endgame gets a 5 out of 5.