WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
After the events of Infinity War, the remaining Avengers put together a last-ditch plan to undo the universe-wide damage done by Thanos.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
These mega-event films are usually pretty tough to review as you want to give away as little about their plot as you possibly can, while also acknowledging that viewing the film with your "fan hat" on is often more honest than viewing it while wearing your more discerning and more widely used "critic hat". Avengers: Endgame, however, takes this to a whole new level.
As a rule, I try not to give away any plot points beyond the first act of a film – even if those who edit the trailers seldom share my aversion to spoilers – but if you view Endgame as just a continuation of Infinity War then what we have here is nothing but a third act. Truthfully, the Russo brothers (who have returned for an unprecedented fourth time to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as co-directors), along with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, have managed to make Endgame a fairly distinct piece of work from its predecessor but, purely in terms of story, it is a direct continuation. Even talking directly about events that happen within the first ten minutes of the film would be to give away too much.
And then there’s the problem that one simply cannot evaluate Avengers: Endgame as a standalone film and one that is beholden to the usual standards of what makes a "good film". Endgame isn’t a film at all. It’s an unprecedented, none-more-epic “season finale” to some 21 previous films released over the past decade and is aimed exclusively and unapologetically at the fans.
Complaining that the film is a ludicrously indulgent three-hours is irrelevant when the greatest pleasure of the film is spending as much time as possible with characters that we have come to love over the past eleven years; some perhaps (but perhaps not) for the last time. One can scoff at the film’s utter refusal to stick to a cohesive tone but, as a fan, it’s impossible not to enjoy seeing the tonally diverse films of the MCU (there may be a "Marvel formula" but Black Panther, say, is hardly interchangeable with Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America: Winter Soldier) smashed together in a single celebration of all things Marvel. As for the film’s completely nonsensical plot mechanics – and holy hell, are they nonsensical – they only really matter if you’re the sort of “fan” who cares more about nitpicking minute details in a film than actually viewing it as a finished piece.
The only real question here isn’t whether you should see it (I mean, come on) but whether it could possibly live up to what is being asked of it. Snotty film snobs may scoff at these “throwaway” superhero movies, but it’s hard to think of any “proper” film that has so much riding on it as a completely unique piece of cinema.
The answer, I am beyond relieved to report, isn’t just “yes” but an unapologetically emotional “yes!!”. Yes, there are things that are wrong with the film (along with the above, it also has some surprisingly dodgy CGI in spots) but not only does it succeed at doing what it set out to do with many a highly satisfying twist and turn but it is emotionally rewarding to the extent that, despite what I knew of Endgame going in, still took me by surprise. And this isn’t just a question of “who will live and who will die?” but of a film paying off nearly two-dozen beloved previous movies, while paying tribute to them at the same time.
This is "fan service" as high art. Everyone involved clearly know that this isn’t going to be anyone’s first Marvel film and that those who made it this far no doubt have plenty invested in this world and these characters. There are references galore to past MCU films and past characters and the final set piece is as breathtakingly epic as you could possibly hope but however twisty the plotting, however bombastic the action scenes and however fun it is to pick up some of the endless onslaught of Easter Eggs, the greatest and truest form of “fan service” comes in the form of the spectacular character work that is the centre of Endgame and has been at the heart of nearly every Marvel film before it.
There is that universe-on-the-line mega-battle later on in the film, but the greatest pleasures actually come in the over two hours of film that precedes and follows it. There is a lot of characters sitting around and talking in the first hour – none of which being anything less than entirely riveting, funny, entertaining and/ or moving – and when the film does decide to get a bit more “plotty” it eschews the universe-spanning grandeur of Infinity War and instead opts for something much closer to Ant-Man and the Wasp that, once again, allows the focus to rest squarely on its characters.
It is in this area that Endgame especially distinguishes it from Infinity War. While the latter had to do a lot of table-setting and plot-moving to the detriment of character development (it relied heavily on existing affection for established favourites), Endgame spends a lot of time digging into these characters and casts its focus far more squarely on the now far fewer Avengers, with special attention given, as is entirely appropriate, to Captain America and Iron Man – the two characters who have been the linchpins of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for most/ all of its existence.
These actors have never been more ensconced in their roles (even “newbie” Paul Rudd as Ant-Man has already been in three previous Marvel films) so they bring an easy effortlessness and familiarity to their interactions that the (admittedly generally very sharp) writing can only take so far by itself. Though, man, wait until you see Thor in this...
And then there’s the coda to the film. Or maybe coda isn’t the right word. Maybe more like an added fourth act that adds an extra half hour to the runtime. If you thought the never-ending endings of Return of the King were a lot, wait until you get a look at this. Here’s the thing, though: that’s not a complaint. Sorry LOTR fans, I didn’t care even 1000th as much about any of those characters as I care about Marvel’s array of heroes and villains (and I say this as a much bigger DC Comics fan) so spending just a few more minutes these characters was more treat than a chore.
Oh, and it’s also heartbreakingly beautiful and should leave nary a single MCU fan with a dry eye by the end of it. I can’t and won’t say how or why but this sequence (or series of sequences) is worth the price of admission alone. As both a goodbye to the first "season" of the MCU (note, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a blood bath) and a tantalising tease of what’s to come, it could hardly be more effective or more affecting. And that’s with one or two decisions that may well piss of some fans.
So, yes, Avengers: Endgame is strictly for the fans, but it was going to be anyway. What wasn’t a guarantee, though, was that it would be "for the fans" in a good way, but, boy howdy, is it ever. MCU fans, leave your fears at home (but maybe bring a box of tissues) because this is, from top to bottom, the film you’ve been waiting for.