Twenty-two films later, a chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe closes with Avengers: Endgame.
2018’s Infinity War obliterated the foundations laid all those years (and teases) ago, with supervillain Thanos (Josh Brolin) surpassing expectations and becoming a long-awaited worthy foe. Armed with all six infinity stones, his murderous plan came to fruition, ruthlessly turning half of all living creatures to dust.
Endgame’s seemingly impossible task was to compellingly undo the vast majority of the damage in the aftermath of Thanos’ massacre. From the offset, any inkling of how this would be approached is decimated as the film begins on an unanticipated note, but the sombre tone we left on remains and in spades. Endgame pauses long enough for the impact of Infinity War to be sincerely felt, with long-serving Avengers Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Captain America (Chris Evans) really hammering this home as guilt gradually consumes them and the lingering bitterness from their Civil War battle simmers beneath the surface.
Lifting the solemn fallout, there is still fun to be had and its source may surprise, with certain characters’ paths taking an unexpected turn. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) hits rock bottom and the bottle and while I assumed Hulk’s (Mark Ruffalo) abilities were being preserved for Endgame after his grating antics in Infinity War. Instead, he’s now strangely calm and comfortable in his green skin.
When out of second gear, Endgame is an overall more scrappy affair. While it may not be as finely tuned as its predecessor, the frenzied chaos is strangely fitting as the remaining heroes clutch at straws in attempts to resurrect their fallen comrades. While eventually slipping into CGI overload territory, the finale is still peppered with memorable, grandiose significance (with the exception of a clumsy, crowbarred-in moment of supposed female empowerment) and the high stakes at the core of this epic are never forgotten.
While late arrival Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) thankfully wasn’t the undermining difference-maker, she’s also used so sparingly that she verges on being cut-and-pasted into the plot. It’s a no-win situation in which Marvel seemingly backed themselves into a corner with the release and integration of their first female-led superhero film. Perhaps rushing in an attempt to compete with DC’s Wonder Woman, despite having the means to produce one prior and somewhat organically with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow (who really shines here). Instead, Natasha Romanoff’s origin story will be released as an afterthought prequel sometime after Endgame, even though her backstory could have brought yet more weight to her part in it.
As was the case with Infinity War, characters that may not carry their own film entirely (such as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr Strange), each has their firm place within Endgame. Here, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is utilised well, seamlessly coming into the fold from 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp and is one of the better examples of continuity that is less rigid than previous attempts.
Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, a prominent character that never garnered much attention, is given a renewed purpose in the wake of personal tragedy, but his transformation felt rushed. In a film that remarkably didn’t feel its three-hour runtime, this subplot felt deserving of more time. Although overall, returning directors Anthony and Joe Russo once more manage to cram everything in, and on balance, create a well-paced blockbuster.
Regardless of how deeply you invested in the past decade of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, Endgame is a hugely satisfying conclusion in which mantles are passed and the battle-scarred gracefully bow out.