AVENGERS: ENDGAME (Directed by Joe & Anthony Russo, 181 min., USA, 2019)
BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC The end is near. It’s taken 22 films and 10 years of story to get to this moment: the titular endgame of the MCU’s Infinity Saga. Having lost to Thanos (Josh Brolin), their greatest foe, who brought “balance” the universe by killing half its population — including half The Avengers — in an instant with the cosmically powered Infinity Gauntlet in last year’s Infinity War, the surviving Avengers attempt to cope with the aftermath and undo the damage done. Given the myriad narrative threads led astray by Infinity War, Endgame’s screenwriters (Stephen McFeely, Christopher Markus) had their work cut out for them. Job one was figuring out a way bring back a number of heroes who are supposed to be dead and earn those victories in a way that still gives the sacrifice the weight it deserves. Shrouded in secrecy and shot back to back with Infinity War, Endgame is an ambitious undertaking with almost the entire MCU roster uniting to send off some of its greatest heroes as the mantle is passed on to another generation.
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Infinity War), Endgame picks up almost a month after Thanos’ snapped his finger and took out half the universe as the Avengers finally track down Thanos only to find him in retirement. As it turns out, after culling half the universe, Thanos used the Infinity Gauntlet to destroy the Infinity Stones, which took an enormous toll on his body. After exacting their bloody revenge on the half dead Titan, the Avengers scatter and the film then jumps five years into the future as the world is still reeling and attempting to recover from their losses. When, by sheer accident, Antman is released from the Quantum Realm, the Avengers learn that time there can be slowed down or even manipulated and reversed, which means it can be used as a Time Machine. And so, a good old fashioned time heist is plotted out in which every Avenger will time travel to each moment in the past where they encountered an Infinity Stone — reprising their greatest hits of the past decade along the way — and steal it so Iron Man can build an Infinity Gauntlet with which they can, theoretically, bring the dead back to life.
It’s a stretch to be sure, but thanks to some solid character work in the first act and the unexpected repercussions of time travel, the Avengers earn everything here, both the good and bad. After the anti-climactic demise of Thanos early on in the film, the Russos take some pretty big risks with the Avengers, smashing them before our eyes and doing some curious things with them that normally would only fly in comic form. Taking our heroes to that extreme place makes it even more satisfying and believable when they set aside their differences and band back together as they always do. The whole cast — Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth and Jeremy Renner — dig in deep. The brilliance of this bizarre script is that it forces each of them to unpack the psychic baggage that fuels their superhero angst by reliving their pasts from the vantage point of the future.
All told, Endgame is a highly satisfying celebration of 10 years of the MCU, and a great bookend to the first three phases. The Russos set the bar pretty high before passing the franchise to filmmakers who will be tasked with matching the intensity and the insanity of this film, which includes one of the most ambitious battle sequences ever committed to celluloid. Going in, my biggest worry was that Endgame would simply undue Thanos’ brutal, but well-intended solution to the ills of the universe, instead it reinforces what a brilliantly, mercilessly Machiavellian foe the Mad Titan was. Endgame is a wonderfully weird fan service-y salute to our heroes that is dense with deep cut call backs to a decade of comic book cinema. And now, the end is here.