When I began writing this review, Endgame had just toppled Avatar as the highest-grossing movie of all time, a mammoth task that comes from 11 years of buildup and over 20 other movies. From modern-day spy thrillers to goofy heist movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has never conformed to a set brand, even if their movies have usually adhered to a preconceived formula. While Anthony & Joe Russo’s film takes many of the same risks we have come to expect from a Marvel movie, it just can’t avoid driving down a road well-travelled.
Following on from the events of Infinity War, the remaining Avengers must handle their grief from saying goodbye to so many of their friends while hunting for Thanos and a way to reverse his actions. When the last chance emerges, the original team must band together to try and fix their mistakes and confront an enemy who has defeated them once before.
While that might simplify a film that most have already seen by this point, the movie has been out for almost 3 months after all, it does point to an element of Endgame that restricts its movement. The idea of inevitability plays often throughout the film but this notion of a train reaching its foregone conclusion means an ending that should feel triumphant and adventurous just feels expected. While the journey came with surprises and unique detours, it ended up in a place that feels too protected and safe.
Facing an impossible task of pleasing everyone, the Russo brothers have crafted a film that both serves its purpose and attempts to say something meaningful about how these characters act when they have lost, what their undying optimism turns to when it is tested. While this isn’t new territory for comic book movies, just watch any of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, the fresh approach writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely take feels new in a film overflowing with nostalgia.
Full of little moments of full circle comedy, Endgame feels like an easter egg hunt at times and while the ambition is noteworthy the overall structure of the film is disjointed. The three-act structure used here feels more like three separate episodes of a television show with a first act that proves vastly superior to what follows. The opening, dealing entirely in the after-effects of Thanos’ Snap, is a chilling discussion of how people move past tragedy and the slow methodical way it moves through its characters worst vices is a nice reminder of how far these people have come and how far they have to fall. Leaning heavily on gallows humour and feigned optimism, this has a sour taste that proves irresistible
The way McFeely and Markus have evolved familiar characters gives rote heroes the chance to play in a different sandbox and thanks to this many of the played-out tropes feel new and exciting. With some excellent performances from the likes of Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson, who finally feel utilised in a series that has frequently sidelined them.
The look and feel of this new world order are built using some stark visuals, something that persists throughout the movie with the Russos proving once again they have a stunning eye for detail when playing around with the concept of scale. Grand moments are used for visual buffoonery while quiet, contemplative moments seem almost shocking in comparison. This is Marvel’s closest attempt at relationship drama, wrapped up as a superhero movie.
While the buildup provided is first class, Endgame struggles to contain it’s tone as it moves into familiar territory with a 2nd act that feels more like a zany sitcom. Stealing from the Ant-Man playbook, this playfully meta section of the film destroys any sense of tension or pathos in favour of belly laughs and while the comedy is well crafted and sentimental it strips the film of narrative focus. This all rolls into a finale that feels stunted, trapped in the obligations of future films.
Moments of shoehorned catharsis and badly constructed set up are rushed through during a finale that returns to the Marvel formula. While it proves hard to ignore some impressive action beats, some stunning visual wizardry and some satisfying closing comedy, Endgame ends on a note of quiet desperation. While this might be the last we see of this band of heroes for the foreseeable future its hard not to wish they had aimed a little lower and played into the human element of their story just a little more.
Blaming a film for being too ambitious is a dangerous proposition though, considering the multitude of films that actively try to say less, dumbing down for an audience they assume knows less than them. Endgame begs to be seen multiple times to fully appreciate it but even then you might find yourself wishing for fewer callbacks and a keener devotion to the here and now.