Avengers: Endgame (2019)
There was an idea: To bring together a group of comic-book superheroes into a shared narrative continuity in which plot elements from their respective stories would overlap with one another, each converging & contributing towards a much wider & consistently evolving universe. This was an idea to see if the comic-book genre of filmmaking could become something more. If it could accomplish on the film celluloid what the pages of those comic-book prints achieved many decades ago. An ambitious but groundbreaking move to say the least, for something of this scale & magnitude hadn’t been attempted on film before, it gave birth to what is now known as Marvel Cinematic Universe and its astounding success didn’t just change the superhero genre forever, its influence was felt throughout the Hollywood industry.
Marvel Studios’ game-changing vision began over a decade ago with Iron Man, which didn’t just provide the ideal start the studio was looking for but also paved a very stable & strong foundation for subsequent instalments to stand upon. However, it wasn’t until The Avengers that the shared universe concept went mainstream. Once their crossover feature proved that the journey the studio had embarked on is not only feasible but also ensured a regular cashflow, every major Hollywood studio jumped aboard to cash-in on this idea by going back to the drawing board to start their own mega-franchises and so far, none have succeeded. Marvel Studios has come a long way since, having given us 21 interconnected films, many of which work just as well as standalone chapters. And this year with their latest entry, the entire saga comes full circle.
Avengers: Infinity War marked the beginning of the end of an era which, over the last decade or so, allowed the comic-book genre to soar heights it had never attained before and in the process, changed the landscape of superhero filmmaking forever. But Infinity War was more than just another instalment in the ever expanding Marvel’s universe. It was less a film & more a cinematic event that was ultimately going to pay off a decade’s worth of our investment in not just these characters but the saga as a whole. And it did. Despite a few shortcomings, the film lived up to the hype, delivered on the expectations, and left everyone shell-shocked with a brutal ending to set a perfect stage for the grand finale that is Avengers: Endgame. This is the last stop. This is where it all ends. Sure the journey will continue for years to come but nothing will feel the same anymore.
The 22nd instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the final chapter of their Phase III plan, and a culmination of all the narratives preceding it, Avengers: Endgame follows the aftermath of the tragedy that transpired during the final moments of Infinity War when Thanos successfully wiped out half of all living beings in the universe with a single snap of his fingers after retrieving all the six infinity stones. The story concerns the surviving Avengers who are still reeling from their failure and mourning the loss of their friends & family who all disintegrated into dust after the snap and follows their attempts to find a way to undo the whole devastation. When an opportunity finally surfaces, they are more than willing to do whatever it takes to avenge the fallen, and assemble the team for one last mission which, if successful, may restore order to the universe.
Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo, I already mentioned in my review of Captain America: Civil War that the fate of the grand finale of Marvel’s saga is in capable hands after they proved their mettle with their clever handling of the Captain America sequels, and then settled that debate last year with Infinity War. Tying up virtually all the arcs of a narrative that spans 11 years & 22 films with a single film is no doubt a herculean task and the fact that the Russos managed to pull it off in a grandiose fashion is no short of a miracle. Endgame isn’t different from the norm as it adheres to the same Marvel formula and yet it just works. It is a celebration of everything that Marvel Studios had built over the last decade. It delivers the epic extravaganza that is to be expected from a finale. It provides a sense of finality to all the original players in this cinematic universe. And it concludes the decade-long journey on a memorable high by giving the fans exactly what they wanted.
However, despite getting so many things right and delivering on audience expectations, there are still a few shortcomings that are worth mentioning. What Infinity War created in its wake was an existential crisis for our characters who saw half the population turn into dust right in front of their eyes but what Endgame attempts to do from the moment it begins is to quickly skim through that dilemma instead of actually exploring that post-apocalyptic scenario some more to give us a sense of how they have been grappling with the consequences of their collective failure. With its 3-hour runtime, there definitely was enough room to tackle that aspect but maybe the studio didn’t deem it worthy, which is a shame because that would’ve provided an additional emotional weight to their course of action, thus making their attempts to undo Thanos’ destruction all the more rewarding & gratifying. It may not affect the entertainment value but its absence does play a role in determining the quality of its storytelling.
On the plus side, Endgame is a film thoroughly dedicated to the fans, the ones who have stood by this franchise and have followed the roller-coaster journey for the last 11 years, throughout 22 films. It’s for anyone & everyone who invested in this cinematic universe. And with Endgame being the final chapter of the Infinity saga, the writers knew that the hype was going to be off the charts but what they did right was to make this grand finale about the original team. The other characters have vital roles to play too but the primary focus is on the ones who kickstarted this universe and turned it into what it is today. The film indulges in enough fan service without suffocating its own narrative. There are also plenty of callbacks to earlier entries which are carried out in a way that’s vital to its own plot. And finally, there is this third act where the filmmakers decide to switch to top gear and unleash everything they have at their disposal to deliver a truly epic & jaw-dropping spectacle that will be remembered for a long, long time.
Filled to the brim with all the necessary ingredients to please, amuse, entertain, dazzle & reward the viewers, the film scores high marks on enjoyment scale, plus the way all the elements works out, all the loose ends get tied up, and the arcs of several principal characters are brought to completion, Endgame utilises its narrative structure, its 181 minutes runtime, and screen time for its plethora of characters with finesse, all the while making sure that the pace remains steady and the interest in the unfolding events is never lost. Sure a few scenes tend to overstay their welcome but there is a sense of urgency to it that keeps the story moving at all times. The final showdown is a feast for the eyes, an absolute marvel of blockbuster filmmaking that gives the fans everything they could have asked for, and the unhurried approach in the aftermath segment makes sure the goodbyes are proper, heartfelt & fulfilling. Alan Silvestri also brings out the big instruments to deliver an epic score that catapults our emotions to new heights every time that iconic theme kicks in.
Returning to the fold are Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff) & Josh Brolin (Thanos). Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) & Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) also make their way back into the team after having been absent in Infinity War. And we also have Brie Larson (Captain Marvel), Bradley Cooper (Rocket) & Karen Gillan (Nebula) in supporting roles. The original assemble takes the centerstage this time and after having played their respective characters for so long, they deliver excellent performances both individually & as a team, plus their chemistry is as effortless as before. Hemsworth is a definite standout for me, contributing with a hilarious input that only gets better as plot progresses. Evans as Steve Rogers is thoroughly committed to his role, and also happens to be the one who gives us the moment that may as well be this film’s highlight. Downey Jr. is outstanding as expected although more grounded this time than his previous renditions. Ruffalo’s Hulk is a close second to Thor when it comes to fun gags. Brolin as Thanos retains his formidable aura & intimidating quality. And lastly, both Johannson & Renner chip in with better work than ever before in this saga.
On an overall scale, Avengers: Endgame is both the celebration & culmination of all the stories that have surfaced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, and it returns our decade-long investment in these characters with an enormous pay-off that very few grand finales of any saga have managed to accomplish on such a thumping & triumphant note. It may not be a perfect film and has its share of shortcomings but the ending it delivers is so right, fulfilling & appropriate that it wouldn’t even matter anymore if Marvel Studios ultimately decides to push the stop button and discards the process of making more of these episodic films. More than living up to the hype & delivering an emotional pay-off that’s going to be immensely satisfying for most people if not all, Avengers: Endgame is a perfect farewell to a 22-film saga and an undeniably memorable conclusion of an unprecedented cinematic universe that won’t soon, if ever, find an equal. It’s a crescendo of comic-book landscape in contemporary cinema, a rare achievement of blockbuster filmmaking that dares to aim for the impossible and succeeds in every way or shape or form. To sum it up, Marvel Studios’ magnum opus truly marks the end of an era. And what an era it was. Part of the journey is the end. And this is where it ends for me. Thank you for the roller-coaster ride.