REVIEW: Avengers: Endgame (Spoiler Free)

Well, this was inevitable.

In the aftermath of The Decimation, which saw half of all life in existence extinguished by the manipulation of the Infinity Stones by Thanos, the remaining Avengers and various ragtag survivors are unified with the single goal to restore harmony to the universe, once and for all.

I don’t think its an understatement to call Avengers: Endgame a cinematic event unlike any other. The culmination of twenty two films, consisting of eleven separate franchises and existing over a period of eleven years, Endgame is the film people have been waiting to see ever since Tony Stark escaped that dark cave, somewhere from within the Middle East, all the way back in 2008. From that significant moment onwards, we have seen the impossible like super soldiers traversing through time, gods falling to the Earth, raccoons and trees embarking on vast, endless space adventures, garden-variety dads shrinking down to the size of atoms, neurosurgeons mastering magic and hidden African nations flaunting their highly advanced technology. Whether you love or hate the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for a film series to get this far is an achievement, unlike anything before it – and Avengers: Endgame is the very face of that achievement.

This is it. This is where its all meant to pay off. All the hard work of world-building, character building… it was Marvel’s plan all along to reach this very point. So for that reason, I shall refrain from spoiling this movie. Avengers: Endgame is an event made purely to surprise and shock audiences with all its built-up material and so, in respects to Marvel, I want to be able keep their secrets and review this film in its most distilled form. Obviously, I will have to talk about some things that could be considered as very light, mild spoilers, but trust me when I say that nothing I write shall overly ruin the film experience for you. But just as a full warning, if you really want to know completely nothing about Avengers: Endgame before seeing it, then turn away now, go watch it and make up your own opinion… then come back and read mine.

Ok, if you’re still with me guys, we’re officially in the endgame now…

Avengers-Endgame-Review.jpg
(Marvel Studios 2019)

So, I saw Endgame twice in order to review it. Usually I don’t need to do such a thing when I go to critique films, but with Endgame, I knew I wasn’t exactly dealing with a “film”. Endgame was more the grand finale episode of a long running television show – and with grand finales, usually the creators aim to pack in as much as possible to both entertain and fulfil. Being a fan of the MCU, I entered Endgame for the first viewing with the anticipation levels of a fan, first and foremost. My mind was frazzled and unfocused, purely because, for that first viewing, I was thrusted back into my nine-year-old self watching Iron Man for the first time in cinemas. Not to say I didn’t have my own complex thoughts and opinions on Endgame the first time around, it was just that there was so much movie to digest that I couldn’t consume it all in one sitting. A second viewing was necessary to more-or-less reaffirm my beliefs and correct some of my earlier naïve thoughts on Endgame to ensure that my opinions aligned with what I had originally watched. And sure, opinions morph and change over time – that’s the beauty of great art – but the thing with a review is that I’m meant to capture a singular moment in time where my opinion was cemented… so here I am.

To put it plainly, I really, really, really liked Endgame. I didn’t love the movie, but I really, really, really liked it. To best explain my basic thoughts on Endgame, I would have to compare it to its spiritual sibling: Infinity War. In my opinion, I thought Infinity War was a masterclass in storytelling, character work, world-building, thematic study and crafting vast epic stages for a film of such magnitude to exist upon. Almost everything in Infinity War worked, not only as a Marvel movie and a love letter to the fans but also as a brilliantly crafted film. Endgame, meanwhile, was ‘not’ Infinity War. An entertaining movie, don’t get me wrong, Endgame inhabited elements of what made Infinity War great, but it undertook a more daunting mission than I think Infinity War could have ever dared to take… Endgame‘s main purpose was, without a doubt, to be a love letter to its fans.

Now, servicing your fans is not a bad thing. After eleven years of dominating the cinematic landscape, if Marvel truly have anyone to thank for their success, its the fans who have stuck by them and supported them for over a decade. It’s perfectly natural that in their finale, Marvel’s main goal was to service all their fanbase’s greatest wishes, gifting audiences with the most impactful fulfilments possible. Think of it this way: remember the scene in Infinity War when Thor, Rocket and Groot land in Wakanda via Stormbreaker opening the Bifrost as the Avengers theme swirls whilst the God of Thunder calls out Thanos as storm clouds and lighting surge through the sky? Yeah, Endgame was that moment, but in every scene. Endgame was a film strategically built to systematically supercharge its fanbase with dopamine rush after dopamine rush. Everything you have ever wanted or hoped to see in an Avengers movie could definitely be found in Endgame and, as a fan, I was ecstatic to watch all my dreams and wonders visually come to life. Although, as a film nerd, I couldn’t resist feeling as though there could have been more.

I loved Infinity War, not just because of its scope, but mainly because, despite how large and excessive it got, it always felt in touch with its themes. Infinity War dealt with ideas and concepts revolving around what it truly means to be a hero, predominately through the act of sacrifice. And trust me, Endgame continued the themes of Infinity War throughout, but rather loosely. Endgame was more plot heavy – it made room for more moments to please audiences rather than cherish its thematic strengths. Infinity War was a film that understood balance (visually shown through a character trying to attain balance) whilst Endgame was a movie that (funnily enough) kind of broke that balance. Chiefly, a lot of the character arcs set up in Infinity War did not all feel entirely fulfilled in Endgame as, again, the movie would utilise its time to fast track an entertaining, finale adventure for the protagonists to undertake instead. And although, I could say I was disappointed that Endgame was not as intellectually refined as Infinity War I am not going to.

Endgame may have been a bit looser in its ability to tell a thematic story rather than just a literal story, whilst also failing some of its characters to instead service plot… but, at the end of the day, Endgame was always meant to be about fulfilling the hopes and wishes of its fans overall. It may have been a direct sequel to Infinity War, but there was a reason Marvel renamed the movies from their original “Infinity War Part 1” and “Infinity War Part 2”. If Endgame had a purpose it was to service its fanbase and the best way to do that was to put as much passion as possible into its central six original Avengers…

Infinity War may have been Thanos’ film, but Endgame was very much designed to suit the stories of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, Thor, Bruce Banner and Clint Barton – the first lineup. It has been long predicted that Endgame would be the end of the road for at least most of these six heroes and, I’ll tell ya, if Endgame truly is the concluding chapter for some of these characters, then I would say the filmmakers did a masterful job of achieving an essence of closure for them. The standouts would have to have been Stark, Rogers, Romanoff and Barton, without a doubt. These four shun, unlike ever before… but being as though I know they mean so much to so many people, lets break them down individually (again, no spoilers).

Starting with Stark and Rogers – arguably one being the heart of the MCU and the other being the soul – the two character’s have undoubtedly experienced some of the most celebrated character arcs in modern film history. The unnatural attachment people have gained to these two heroes has shown over the last eleven years, so strongly, that somehow, Marvel heard audience’s cries and worked tirelessly to make Iron Man and Captain America the show stealers of Endgame. The journey these two characters went on in Endgame was unparalleled and the way the two reached the film’s conclusion was indescribable and utterly perfect. And yet, maybe even the best moments involving Tony and Steve were their separate more human moments – when they weren’t kicking ass or taking names (or kicking names and taking ass, as Mantis would put it). When Stark and Rogers had their characters distilled for moments at a time, it was like watching your real life heroes acknowledging their very own humanity – so powerful and, yet, fragile. And at the heart and soul of it all were Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans giving the strongest performances they could have ever granted us.

There was also Romanoff and Barton whom were written and performed, greater than they ever have been before. Not only did Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner quite possibly give the best performances of the entire film, but their characters were pushed to boundaries I didn’t think either of them could have been pushed to. Introduced originally as two deadly, unflinching assassins early on in the MCU, some of the best material in this series has been watching Romanoff and Barton unsheathe their undeniable human qualities to reveal neither of them to be the cold, unfeeling mercenaries they first appeared to be. In Endgame, we see Romanoff and Barton as stripped down and as desperate as they come. Reduced to two vulnerable creatures, the scenarios that Endgame placed Black Widow and Hawkeye in resulted in the truest unravelling’s of their characters yet. Johansson and Renner performed beautifully the two’s various desperations and fears as Endgame also finally gave context to the nature of the pair’s relationship, staged in a pivotal scene mirroring a crucial moment from an earlier Marvel movie. The father/daughter-like relationship of Romanoff and Barton shined in Endgame and could easily be seen as one of the film’s highlights.

Then there was Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Mark Ruffalo’s Banner… look, let’s start with Banner. The decisions the filmmakers made in regards to the evolution of Banner’s character in Endgame could best be described as jarring. Although overall a really inventive, exciting and nuance way to view Banner’s character, I felt there was some missing transitions or appropriate evolutions to get Banner from A to B, character-wise, in this movie. Endgame took Banner down some bold ground and although it eventually worked, the evolution of the character came out of nowhere and felt in need of a more successful bridge from Infinity War to reach this point. Nevertheless, what the filmmakers did with Banner could be sidelined for what they decided to do with Thor…

Many people may honestly like the characterisation of Thor in Endgame, but I was very much on the fence about it. Thor’s character was one of the main reasons I wanted to see Endgame twice, to ensure what I initially thought was correct. Thor arguably went through one of the biggest changes both visually and figuratively in Endgame as opposed to the other characters and… to tell you the truth, Thor may have very well been one of the most disappointing aspect of Endgame, entirely. Especially coming off his amazing turn in Infinity War, Thor really didn’t quite work in Endgame. Now I understood what the filmmakers were attempting to do with Thor, on a true character level, but the seriousness of what Thor was meant to go through in Endgame was undercut constantly by what seemed to now be Thor’s trademark comedy. For what was initially funny and offered some truly entertaining laughs, Thor quickly became the butt of most of Endgame‘s jokes and being as that its “the endgame” this movie just wasn’t the time or place for such a characterisation to take shape. Even in looks, Thor’s visual designs never allowed him to be taken fully seriously which, again, was purposely done for laughs, but eventually undid a lot of the emotional weight to Thor as a character. Despite the fact I liked how Thor appeared at the beginning and ending of his arc in Endgame, it was that mushy centre that brought the character down for me.

To touch on the rest of the central characters in Endgame, I have to say I was predominately pleased with what was given. Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang was possibly the best of the Avengers outside of the original six; given emotional weight and appropriate comedic levity, Lang was a welcome edition to the cast of characters. If anything Ant-Man did initially prove to be a bit of an expositional dump, but the sheer charisma of Rudd kept him at a certain level of entertaining. Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes existed in his typical ‘supporting role’ position but had his moments, here and there. Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers though really shun – brighter than even in her solo movie. From her visual design to the writer’s restraint from using her in every possible situation to solve problems, Captain Marvel may have not been a heavy presence in Endgame but she did command the screen whenever she flew into orbit.

I will though admit I was slightly disappointed with the two remaining members of the Guardians of the Galaxy: Rocket and Nebula. I hoped that Endgame would give the two lonely characters a deeper exploration of what made either of them ‘tick’, but the film instead opted to keep them just as supporting characters. Rocket, although extremely fun and enjoyable to watch, felt like a subdued version of what Infinity War promised he would amount to. Honestly, Infinity War set up quiet an interesting arc for Rocket to have in Endgame, but for him just to be a bit of  a ‘sidekick’ in the movie, really disappointed me. Nebula, meanwhile, was quiet literally a plot device in Endgame before upholding any sense of the word ‘character’… so that was a shame.

Thanos was also in Endgame, but didn’t play as big a role as he did Infinity War. Still a demanding presence due to Josh Brolin’s grandiose portrayal, Thanos was an endearing villain, but, still, this wasn’t his movie. I could talk on and on about how I felt some characters weren’t as strongly fulfilled in Endgame as they possibly could have been, but, at the end of the day, this film belonged to the original six Avengers. Like how I was disappointed initially with the downplayed roles of characters like Rogers and Romanoff in Infinity War, I came to realise there was a purpose – and that purpose was being that the film didn’t belong to them, but instead Thanos. One day, maybe I will find comfort in the fact Endgame wasn’t meant to be for anyone else but Stark, Rogers, Romanoff, Thor, Banner and Barton, but for now I will acknowledge my disappointment in the sidelining of some characters.

Still though, Endgame was an impressive feat unlike any other for directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, and writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. So much was asked of them for Endgame that I could not quite call this blockbuster anything below the level of ‘great’. Purely because it exists and has still managed to fulfill its purpose is enough to announce Endgame as one of Marvel’s greatest achievements and a bonified cinematic classic. The finale of Endgame alone would ensure this movie rank high in the list of some of the greatest movies ever conceived for the general public. From its insane final battle sequence to the most perfect final shot from any MCU film ever made, Endgame really held back nothing in its attempts to please the world and, to put it plainly, show off its greatest assets.

It may be crude to call Endgame a film made for a niche audience, but it really was. Infinity War was a more accessible film than Endgame, and yet the fourth Avengers movie so unapologetically relaxed onto the shoulders of its fanbase, knowing that everything it did was for a select few audiences who, as Captain America would say, could understand its references. The best way to describe Endgame was that it operated as like a greatest hits compilation album, rather than a singular flowing LP… and to tell you the truth, as much as I love the hits, I like the story of an album much better.

The opening thirty minutes to an hour of Endgame and also its concluding sequences would have to have been my personal favourite moments of the film. It was in these two spaces where I felt the narrative was more organic and poetic in its nature rather than relaying hit after hit. The opening of Endgame was like the perfect immediate follow-up to Infinity War, upholding the last film’s tone, pacing and overall seriousness and urgency. Generally, the rather cold dystopian beginning of Endgame was exactly what I wanted the entire film to be. It also included some of the film’s best direction with amazing singular frames and impressively choregraphed, sweeping one-shots that showed of the Russo’s talent behind the camera immaculately well. Some of the film’s best character moments existed in the first thirty minutes to an hour as I would have to believe that it was in this opening space that most of the genius of Infinity War was able to translate over, all too easily. And the concluding sequences played like a slow song, beautifully wrapping up characters (in particular, one of the protagonists) near perfectly. Also lending credence to I think what the film’s central theme was of ‘life’ and the character’s constant need to restore life standing in as their yearning to, hence, ‘get a life’, Endgame‘s ending hit hard because all the right notes played perfectly as its own, singular story.

And as much as I loved what happened in between the opening thirty minutes to an hour of Endgame and it’s last few moments, as I said, it did feel like Marvel were just playing their greatest hits compilation. And I loved what I was gifted (I mean, who doesn’t love a Spotify recommended playlist), but the story of Endgame was much richer from either side’s of its bookends. Thing is, you can listen to Radiohead’s best songs on repeat all you want, but nothing tops listening to ‘OK Computer’ from start to finish.

Then again, like I said, when I went in to review Endgame, I knew I wasn’t going to review a ‘film’. Endgame is the end – the end of a very long journey for millions of fans worldwide. I know people who have bonded over these movies, obsessed over these movies and cried over these movies and, for all its worth, I can’t judge Endgame poorly because it did what it thought was right – it did what it knew the world wanted from it. Personally, I was nine-years-old when I first saw Iron Man opening weekend and, without a second to waste, he soon became my favourite hero. Since then, I have followed the Marvel movies with friends and family all the way up to now. Sitting here writing this review currently, I am twenty-years-old and couldn’t imagine not growing up with the Avengers as my teenage heroes. This franchise does mean something to me – it means something to a lot of people. I know we critics throw this phrase around a lot, but I truly mean it this time when I say Endgame was “made for the fans”. And as imperfect as Endgame was, it also managed to simultaneously be, well, perfect.

You see, a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts and perfection isn’t flawless because everything is neat and tidy. This is, in a way, the best goodbye letter we could have hoped for – the best thank you letter we could have received. I didn’t love Endgame, but yeah, maybe one day, I will, but for now I know what I saw was a somewhat classic that I can’t deny.

If part of the journey is the end, then, Marvel, I can happily say I am satisfied. But, to add in lastly, just real quickly, to my heroes: I love you 3000… now you can rest.

Avengers: Endgame is, in fact… LOST ART

 

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