On paper, Avengers: Endgame is a proposition that really should be laughable rather than something you can pull off. Continuing off the cliffhanger ending of Avengers: Infinity War, a fun movie that did have a bad habit of throwing away characterization at the expense of spectacle, that saw so many beloved superheroes perish after Thanos (Josh Brolin) used the Infinity Gauntlet to snap half of the universe out of existence, Avengers: Endgame decides to expand its scope even wider Infinity War’s already expansive storytelling canvas. This should result in excess to the nth degree, but instead, Avengers: Endgame winds up as something extraordinary, a blockbuster movie that can touch your heart so profoundly and also make you giggle with giddy glee at what fun is transpiring on-screen. As someone who frequently enjoys these Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, this fan-service heavy entry is aimed squarely at me, and there’s plenty of moments in the film that made the nerdy side of me break out into convulsions of joy for sure.
However, Avengers: Endgame is honestly such a well-made and enjoyable movie that its qualities can’t merely stem from this film shoving familiar callbacks or personal fan-favorite characters onto the screen. Much of the joy comes from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, under the direction of Anthony & Joe Russo (this being the fourth Marvel Cinematic Universe movie the four of them have worked on together) delivering a screenplay that takes plenty of time for little character beats that have always been my favorite part of these Marvel movies. As for what exactly what happens in the plot, for the first time in God knows how long, I’ll deviate from my standard movie review structure and not offer a plot summary of what transpires in the screenplay penned by Markus & McFeely, Thanos demands your silence and all that jazz.
I will say, though, that the film’s story makes great use of the characters interactions being impacted by the events of Avengers: Infinity War or Captain America: Civil War. Viewers who often critique these MCU movies for not having their characters go through much in the way of long-term change (a criticism I personally thoroughly disagree with) will be pleased with how much prior movies, particularly Infinity War, have taken their toll on the surviving Avengers. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, they’ve all grappled with the loss of loved ones at the hand of Thanos in varying ways and the surprisingly thoughtful way in which Endgame approaches these individual grieving processes captures the recognizable humanity that’s always made these Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes so interesting.
Though Avengers: Endgames initial scenes take more cues from Manchester by the Sea rather than the original Avengers movie, this actually comes off as a more light-hearted Avengers movie on the whole compared to Infinity War. There’s another part of the whole feature that feels like it should end up feeling like nonsense but actually works well in execution, somehow Avengers: Endgame is able to transition from poignant depictions of coping with loss to wacky antics involving Paul Rudd or Mark Ruffalo (both of whom serve as probably the biggest sources of comic relief in the story) without undercutting either element. Like the best magic trick, the tonal balancing act of Avengers: Endgame constantly keeps you dazzled while making you wonder “How are they pulling this off??”
Also dazzling in Avengers: Endgame is the assorted performances from the massive collection of actors assembled for this production. In a gargantuan cast list that makes the cast roster for a Robert Altman movie look like the cast roster of All is Lost, MCU MVP’s Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans impress the most, with Downey Jr. springboarding off his more morally complicated work as a performer in Captain America: Civil War to realize the conflicted nature of Tony Stark in this particular Avengers installment. As for Evans, he remains as stoic and inspirational as ever and the eventual primary storyline of Endgame offers him several chances to flex his comedic muscles to impressive results.
Just like Downey Jr. and Evans, Avengers: Endgame directors Anthony & Joe Russo are returning after numerous Marvel Cinematic Universe efforts to deliver some of their best work yet. The Russo Brothers have gotten only more and more ambitious as filmmakers over the course of their four MCU motion pictures and the script for Endgame offers them plenty of chances to further expand their filmmaking horizons. Though they entered the MCU by doing more grounded gritty imagery & camerawork in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (a trait put to good use in the gut-wrenching opening scene of Endgame), Avengers: Endgame sees the Russo’s embracing beautifully realized grandiose mythic imagery that feels perfectly appropriate for a similarly bombastic storyline.
The Russo Brothers also maintain in Endgame one of the most wonderful visual traits of their prior Marvel Cinematic Universe directorial efforts concerning how well they execute memorable grand entrances for superhero characters. Theatricality is an element to be embraced, not avoided, in Avengers: Endgame and reveling in the bombastic leads to a barrage of wonderfully realized crowdpleaser moments throughout the whole movie that had me constantly cheering. Even as someone whose predominately enjoyed the various Marvel Cinematic Universe adventures over the last eleven years, Avengers: Endgame comes off as something immensely special. It’s a feature that’s intimately moving and also something utterly sweeping in its ambitions, with both elements being so well-realized that they’ll doubtlessly wring some tears out of viewers. Maybe it shouldn’t work conceptually, but in execution, Avengers: Endgame doesn’t just stick the landing, it sticks the landing and then proceeds to do an hour or two of impressive cartwheels.