by Alan Yudman
It has been 11 years since IRON MAN first opened our eyes to what we now know as the MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE. That’s 22 movies, the final episode in this chapter of the MCU being AVENGERS: ENDGAME. So that’s characters from ANT-MAN to VALKYRIE. The potential for a bloated mess is absolutely there as Marvel brings this saga to a close. AVENGERS: ENDGAME is a near perfect example of how to button up a story.
What some fans may miss is the intimate storytelling in the first part of the movie. Well, maybe they won’t miss it but they may forget about it as the intensity grows and it returns to the expectations placed on Marvel movies. These are flawed people. No matter their extraordinary abilities they are dealing with failure, grief and loss. Those are not themes you come to expect in this genre. These heroes are supposed to be able to solve any problem by punching it, blowing it up or “superheroing” it into submission. The Avengers failed at the end of INFINITY WAR. They all feel the loss and guilt. None feels that failure more than Thor. Tony Stark is rescued, but his anger toward everything is overwhelming.
So when they find Thanos and decide to kill him, take back the Infinity Stones and snap the world back into existence it doesn’t seem like one of their normal, well thought out plans. It feels raw and not fully thought out and possibly doomed to failure. A second failure or an extension of the previous one is too much. We jump ahead 5 years and some have tried to move on, but Thor has turned depression into a kind of art form.
They all seem resigned to the existence they are living, until Ant-Man arrives with the greatest title for a plot device in Marvel history… a “Time Heist”. The scenes where they try to recruit Thor and Tony Stark to help out are great, especially when Tony figures out how it can work.
It’s challenging to write how great this all plays out without spoiling large chunks of the film. The “Time Heist” plan brings resolution to several threads, but also gets hijacked by Thanos with the help of Nebula. Again, you are just going to have to trust me here because I don’t want to spoil anything.
The plot takes turns that I didn’t see coming (and some that could be anticipated based on knowledge of projects that are already in the works). Once the Avengers begin their redemption arc it is an incredibly satisfying thrill ride. Every set piece works. The end of the line for certain characters works. It doesn’t feel like fan service and it is most certainly not forced or out of character. Each feels logical and earned.
There were moments in the theater when the entire audience cheered or screamed with joy. There were others where I could hear definite sobs (some may have come from me.. maybe..). You knew instinctively that characters would reappear, but that didn’t make it any less thrilling when they did. Everyone get their moment to shine. Not one character’s appearance felt forced or like the Russo brothers were merely fulfilling fan service. There were some corny bits but it was a kind of sweet cornball and given that they were few and far between in a 3 hour movie, well all is forgiven.
Joe and Anthony Russo should get some kind of award. To take characters from 21 previous movies, at least 21 arcs and expectations of millions of fans around the world and put it all together in a package like this is remarkable. Here’s the thing. This is not just a great genre movie. This is a great movie period. There are some great performances from Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo (you have to see what they did with Hulk.. it’s great!) and Josh Brolin. But Robert Downey, Jr. is unbelievable. I doubt they’ll talk about an Oscar nomination, but maybe they should. He has played Tony Stark now in 3 Iron Man movies, 4 Avengers movies, 1 Captain America movie and a brief appearance in the newest Spider-Man (I think that’s it, hard to keep track at this point). What new could an actor bring to such a familiar character. But Downey does it. There’s parts of Tony we’ve never seen before and Downey, who could have just phoned it in, goes deeper into the character than we’ve ever seen before.
The end of this chapter of the MCU is a turning point. We will go forward with Black Panther, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, the Guardians of the Galaxy and Dr. Strange. There is nostalgia for what was, but not sadness. A perfect end to a great story is satisfying. And AVENGERS: ENDGAME may be the most satisfying end to a film series I have ever experienced.