Standing shoulder to shoulder, or all on their own, Marvel’s Avengers have gotten a lot done in the eleven years, and 21 films, that delivered us to Avengers: Endgame. Yet, one of the juiciest unspoiled mysteries remaining to be solved in this film was whether the superheroes could undo the calamitous results of the snap heard ’round the universe in their last outing, Infinity War.
Endgame (★★★★) emphatically resolves that mystery, and myriad other quandaries surrounding the MCU — while, of course, planting a few new ones. It’s an epic franchise finale that cuts straight to the heart of what it means to rise from the ashes of defeat.
Whether or not those heroes who survived Infinity War are somehow able to restore life to the unfortunate billions, including their fallen comrades, who were snapped out of existence by titanic foe Thanos (Josh Brolin), one can rest assured that the Avengers left standing will devise a plan to get back what they lost. Or will they?
Subverting expectations of a quick rematch, Endgame lingers for more than a moment in the despairing aftermath of the battle that wiped out half the MCU. Survivors Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) grieve their substantial losses, and struggle alongside other survivors to regain the clarity and the confidence to figure out how to move on.
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo, who have helmed some of the strongest entries in the Marvel canon, including Infinity War and Captain America: Winter Soldier, layer the sci-fi fantasy of reality-bending gemstones and a wisecracking, gun-toting space raccoon with thoughtfully written and well-acted human emotion. Composer Alan Silvestri’s score occasionally underlines the angst too heavily, but, for the most part, the pathos feels earned. Before these wounded souls can harbor any real hope for renewal, each one is forced to stomach the bitter taste of failure.
And failure goes down especially hard for Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Although, in a winning subplot, the God of Thunder’s post-Thanos malaise is cleverly played for laughs, allowing Hemsworth to prove, yet again, to be the most reliable comedian in a crew that also includes Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man.
Much of the snarky, deprecating humor here, and throughout the series, works for the same reason that the heartfelt drama works — because of the actors’ easy rapport in depicting characters who treat each other like family. And audiences have invested a decade of interest, and billions of box office dollars, in following this mighty, makeshift family to the end of their spectacular journey.
Ultimately, after guilt and remorse have been paid their due, when thunderous spectacle finally does arrive, the ecstatic rush of super-powered action feels earned as well. There will be a battle royale to determine whether it’s the Avengers or Thanos who are dealt the most resounding defeat.
Continuing his brilliant turn as the mad, blue Titan, Brolin imbues the CGI creation with presence and even heart, making Thanos the most fully realized motion-capture character this side of Andy Serkis. An impressive achievement by the same Weta Digital f/x masters responsible for Gollum in the Rings films and Caesar in the Planet of the Apes movies, Thanos is every inch a formidable foil for the intrepid Avengers. He is, in fact, a problem the whole universe must solve, referring to himself as “inevitable.” He’s right: some evil is inevitable.
Thanos definitely seems insurmountable, which casts reasonable doubt that the heroes will eventually succeed. That doubt is a welcome rarity in a superhero blockbuster, an element of suspense that Endgame pulls off exceedingly well — among other tiny suspenseful moments, and large-scale showdown setpieces. Uncertainty looms large over the Avengers’ last stand. As they and fellow survivors struggle to restore balance, their efforts constantly are put in jeopardy by their emotional ties, both to one another, and to the fallen. But the heroes can only save humanity by relying on their own, so they’ll need compassion.
Whatever becomes of the Avengers and their fight, their pain is inspiring, their resolve is triumphant, and the movie is exhilarating. But all good things, like films, do come to an end, and note that this three-hour film ends without a post-credit coda.
Avengers: Endgame is rated PG-13, and is now playing everywhere. Visit www.fandango.com.