Where does one begin?
When it comes to Avengers: Endgame, that question is not so much an expression of wanton enthusiasm as a practical challenge in evaluating the destination toward which Kevin Feige and company have been steering story and viewer alike for the past 11 years and 21 films. Though there have been plenty of three-hour-plus movies (Barry Lyndon, one million Bollywood films) and even a few 20+ entry movie franchises (James Bond, Charlie Chan), there’s really nothing to compare with what Disney and Marvel Studios have pulled off, either in terms of size, quality and consistency of cast (a moment of silence for Edward Norton and Terrence Howard), or in how narrow the chronological window, all things considered, those movies were produced.
Though we’ve praised it often, casting remains the cornerstone of the MCU. Whether by pitch-perfect distillations of decades-old comic book characters (Captain American, Thor, Spider-Man) or charisma-fueled reinventions of same (Iron Man, Ant-Man, Star-Lord), the MCU’s batting average in terms of casting is not only practically obscene, it’s a crucial ingredient in ensuring the thematic and emotional payoff (and box office payday) of Avengers: Endgame. Moviegoers have been living with these actors, as these characters, for over a decade. For many, this version of these characters is the only one they know. This is true even for younger comic book lovers, as Samuel L . Jackson’s Nick Fury and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark have supplanted their older comic book counterparts in terms of characterization. (With characters like the Hulk, the dynamic between comic and on-screen can be a moving target, but fans of the seldom-jolly green giant will likely enjoy the iteration they find in Endgame.)
This is why the sudden ashification of so many heroes at the end of Avengers: Infinity War hit even the most cynical comic book veterans right in the feels and left less hardened viewers confused and distraught. It’s also why, as Avengers: Endgame opens (after another swift kick to the stomach just in case we’ve forgotten the toll of that snap), the audience cares about not just what the surviving heroes are going to do, but how they are doing in general. It gives the film an emotional resonance that’s unusual not only in pulpier genre offerings but in films in general. Plenty of actors have “owned” roles over the years (Jeremy Britt as Sherlock Holmes, Sean Connery as Bond, Keanu Reeves as John Wick, pick your favorite Doctor), but there have been few examples outside of Star Wars where an entire cast has achieved an iconic “stickiness” with the audience.
This connection makes the quiet moments as valuable to the viewer as the spectacle, and for all the fireworks in the third act, Avengers: Endgame is very much a film of quiet moments and small yet potent emotional payoffs. (It’s also a film full of humor, including an extended, mostly sight gag that makes me wonder how influential Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok may prove in the long run.) The Russo brothers may have a lot fewer parts to juggle for most of the film, but this relative calmness allows viewers to spend time with the core group in ways that reminded me of the after-party hangout in Avengers: Age of Ultron. (In other words, no one who has enjoyed the MCU up to this point is going to object.)
Since this review is intended to be spoiler-free, I won’t venture into specifics of plot beyond “remaining Avengers try a snappy comeback.” The core four (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Black Widow), as well as the other two (Hulk and Hawkeye), all get moments to shine and remind us why team comics are their own joy to read for many.
That last part is another reason Avengers: Endgame represents a remarkable achievement. Though Disney may not be the first studio to respect the money-making potential of the medium, they are the first to respect the power of a story-telling arc somewhat unique to comic books: the multiple-issue “event.” Comic book fans know the thrill of following all your favorite characters through a multi-issue storyline that culminates in a “universe at stake” ending. Now, thanks to 21 movies in 11 years and one massive, satisfying three-hour finale, moviegoers do, too.
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Writer: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
A thought by: Aasim Ejaz