Thanos demands my silence. So if you expect a lot of specific “who lives, who dies” spoilers in this review, snap out of it. However, it is fair to say that Avengers: Endgame, directed by the Russo brothers — Anthony and Joseph — with a fan’s reverence for all that came before, is truly epic and thunderously exciting. You probably won’t care that at three hours, it’s bloated, uneven and all over the place, flitting from character to character like a bird that doesn’t know where to land. And yet the movie hits you like a shot in the heart, providing a satisfying closure even when its hard to believe that Marvel will ever really kill a franchise that’s amassed $19 billion at the global box office. Of the 22 films in the MCU that began in 2008 with Iron Man, Endgame is the most personal yet — an emotional wipeout that knows intimacy is its real superpower.
With 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War as our source, what we grasp going in is that Thanos (a superb Josh Brolin giving tragic dimension to a CGI villain) has decimated half of all living creatures in the universe. Only six of the original Avengers remain: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Also in play are James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Rocket the space raccoon (hilariously growled by Bradley Cooper), Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Nebula (the sublime Karen Gillan), the supervillain’s reformed blue-meanie daughter. Their mission impossible, and there’s no question that they’ll choose to accept it, is to avenge the dead by destroying Thanos, bring back the six Infinity Stones that hold the key to ultimate control and just maybe find a way to restore a semblance of order.
With Infinity War, the Russos left audiences with their mouths open in shock as beloved characters were reduced to dust and evil emerged triumphant. Who does that? With Endgame, from an original script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the filmmakers take you places you can’t possibly see coming regarding who dies and who lives to tell their story. Don’t expect a typical happy ending. Just prepare to be wowed.
For a movie bursting with action and culminating in a one-for-the-time capsule showdown, Endgame starts on a quietly reflective note. No Avenger is left unbroken by the devastation that ensued when Thanos snapped his fingers and half the world turned to dust. (Some mild plot spoilers ahead.) The movie jumps ahead five years after that moment, with our superheroes are empty shells forced to reflect on their failures. Tragedy has set Hawkeye adrift. Iron Man has retreated into the cocoon of family life with wife Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Thor has lost his home on Asgard. Hulk has learned to subdue his baser instincts. And Black Widow wonders if any sense can be made of it all. That’s when Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, amiable as ever) shows up, fresh from the Quantum Realm, with an idea for a “time heist.” You don’t have to make jokes about the clichéd time travel plot — the film is ready, willing and able to make its own, with Back to the Future coming in for a serious ribbing.
The Russos make sure there are lots of intentional giggles, especially when Cap is told that his uniform “does nothing for your ass” or Thor lards up with bellyfat or Hulk just stands there like a big green machine. Cheers to Ruffalo and Hemsworth for getting the most laughs without sacrificing character. Downey lowers Stark’s snark quotient to create something genuinely moving. His young daughter measures her devotion to him in multiples. “I love you 3000,” she says. Fans will surely feel the same.
Audiences affection for these Avengers carries the film over its rough spots. Some characters get their due (let’s hear it for the the women of Wakanda!) , while others stay on the outside looking in. A few supporting characters who show up for the big third-act battle have big moments that feel unearned. Also, it seems like Endgame has at least six endings, when the first one handily gets the job done.
Still, this long goodbye gets to you. It’s not an ardent and artful game-changer like Black Panther; there probably isn’t a Best Picture Oscar nomination in its future. So what? You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll thrill to the action fireworks. You’ll love it 3000. And not for a minute will you believe it’s really a farewell.