One year ago, Avengers: Infinity War accomplished the unthinkable as a decade of storytelling in the Marvel Cinematic Universe coalesced into a thrilling, action-packed climax. In a major departure from the usual MCU formula, our heroes emerged squarely on the losing side of the conflict as the Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) — with the power of the Infinity Stones and a snap of his fingers — obliterated half the lives in the universe.
Picking up three weeks later, Avengers: Endgame finds Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) scrambling for answers while Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) drifts through space with Nebula (Karen Gillan), a thousand light years from Earth and running out of oxygen. That the remnants of the team will miraculously be reunited hardly tracks as a spoiler — there would be no movie otherwise — but the specific details of that reunion, and the aftermath, we’ll leave you to discover on your own.
Whereas Infinity War was loaded with huge action sequences and a constant sense of momentum, Avengers: Endgame is a far more contemplative film. Save for one brief confrontation, directors Anthony and Joe Russo elect to spend the bulk of the first hour examining the mental and emotional toll exacted upon the team. Captain America leads a support group for survivors of “the snap,” Thor has disappeared with the remaining Asgardians, and Widow is trying to locate the missing Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). There are some wonderfully conceived character moments here, and some much-needed levity that arrives in the form of Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), returning from the quantum realm to a world he no longer recognizes.
But that experience in the quantum realm may hold the key to salvation, an opportunity to undo the destruction and recover what was lost. The plan that gradually comes together is the longest of long shots, an audacious scheme that only a group of desperate heroes would dare attempt. Anyone else would call it crazy, but as Widow acknowledges, “I get emails from a talking raccoon. Nothing sounds crazy anymore.”
Fans who recently took another journey through the MCU in preparation for this finale will be well rewarded: the second act of Avengers: Endgame is loaded with references and callbacks to earlier films. Much like Infinity War, the film creates multiple opportunities for ingeniously clever team-ups, but also a conflict or two that will be wildly unexpected, including Captain America squaring off against a foe that no one could ever possibly expect.
The action during the first two hours is sparsely distributed, but when the third act arrives, Avengers: Endgame unleashes its entire arsenal in a jaw-dropping battle sequence that dwarfs anything the MCU has done before — and then some. The audience in my theater erupted into shouts and applause multiple times as more then ten years of Marvel storytelling came full circle, rewarding stalwart fans for their support and dedication over the past decade in spectacular fashion, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I spent a good portion of the film’s climax wiping away tears of sheer, unbridled joy.
Avengers: Endgame not only gave me everything I could have hoped for in a conclusion to this sprawling epic, but it also gave me things I never knew I wanted — mostly because my mind had never been able to conjure them up. There are moments so breathtaking, so awe-inspiring that words could not possibly do them justice. This film begs to be seen on a massive screen with a room full of people, hearts pounding with anticipation and adrenaline running so high they can’t help but exclaim “holy shit!” when something incredible happens — which it will, frequently.
This type of cinematic event, the culmination of more than 20 films of interconnected stories and characters, may never happen again — at least certainly not on this scale — and closing the book on this portion of the MCU is both cathartic and bittersweet. To call Avengers: Endgame a perfect movie would seem a bit hasty, as I only left the theater an hour ago and am still riding a wave of emotion that will likely take several days to dissipate. But if this — with its carefully crafted emotional beats, thrilling action sequences and heartbreaking farewells to some of our most beloved heroes — isn’t the perfect final chapter for this part of the MCU, I can’t even begin to imagine what perfection might look like.
For more on Avengers: Endgame, check out Kyle’s review.