Where do we go from here?
It’s a question our heroes ask each other in the first act of Avengers Endgame, and its a question audiences will ask themselves now that a decade long infinity saga has been concluded, one way or another. Whether you’re looking back on the past with fond memories, dealing with the present fact that we will not experience something this vast, complex or emotional in super hero movies for a long time, or looking forward to existing characters’ new adventures or even new ones introduced, Avengers Endgame is a fitting conclusion and achieves an almost impossible task that barely shows that it wasn’t intricately planned out this way from the very start.
At this stage, it’s all about pay off. Managing to stitch the multiple threads that make up the tapestry of the MCU together, and regardless of bias, Avengers Endgame is an incredible climax to the most ambitious cinematic journey of this generation. Like Return of the Jedi or Return of the King before it, the return (or avenging) of the fallen also brings with them a wide range of ramifications and resonance for a number of characters seldom attempted, let alone achieved in the medium.
Not all those who wander are lost. All of the survivors are wandering, lost or both. After an equally ominous flip side of Infinity Wars rousing, bombastic opening, Endgames seemingly ordinary yet haunting opening sequence is no less impactful. We then go into space, catching the last few moments of an uncharacteristically sentimental Tony Stark stranded and almost alone. Needless to say it doesn’t take long to get back on Earth, but the initial exchanges when the team inevitably reunite are as tense as when they were discussing the Sokovia Accord, and the increasingly desperate search for Thanos rely on surprise knocks at the door of Avengers HQ as well as getting emails from an anthropomorphic racoon.
With Thanos seemingly at peace and marvelling at his plan to bring balance back to the universe, the tired and battle-scarred Mad Titan is unceremoniously confronted early on and suffice to say that the good cop bad cop exchange is frustrating for our heroes, and shocking within its own bubble. A hasty and almost selfish attempt at retribution as a direct reaction to the climax of Infinity War leaves the team splintered, without direction or hope. It could be argued those who wanted redemption more have suffered the most, dealing with failure, guilt and loss.
Moving forward five years- a once tight knit and successful group of extraordinary people resort to any scrap of a lead and deal with the lingering consequences from the snap and their fruitless pursuit.
Everyone is dealing with grief and guilt differently, from a voluntary exile, trying to have a ’normal’ life or trying to be a rock of support. Either trying to forget or looking for a shred of hope, everyone lost someone and the team have to unite in the fight to get them back.
Everyone has their role to play, whether its sheer cosmic power, the facade of strength in times of grief or the greater good, the main players get the screen time they deserve. The script is loaded with tiny little lines referencing all manner of past encounters, and someone saying ”I don’t care” has never been more reflective.
If Infinity War was Thanos’ story, exploring his motives and journey, then Endgame is definitely dedicated to the core group that started it all, and to that end, its as close to a perfect bookend as anyone could have hoped for. The manner in which the unresolved issues from Civil War, as well as the reunion of Black Widow and Hawkeye in particular are handled gently, with heartfelt memories, empathy and mutual feelings even the most hardened of fans will struggle with.
On the flip side, there are plenty of comedic moments and deep fan service that are intricately woven and superbly timed, with many cute or downright hilarious subversions of character, using physical humour or references to and from the entire saga that has played out to this point. Just when there maybe a sense of deja vu, theres an extra twist or spice to keep you guessing.
Going from sly grin noticing a cameo to genuine pathos, this movie deals with themes in such a mature and textured manner it transcends suits, serums and capes. It was never simple, there are sacrifices and always those left behind. It turns out to be tragically ironic that Caps rhetoric of winning or losing together requires the team to separate and return, with new sense of loss and poignant realisation. From Tonys estranged personal relationship to revisiting the premise of the soul stone.
Explaining rules is a narrative and practical minefield, especially dealing with going from the concept of time travel, quantum realms and chaos theory, but being gloriously self aware with a slew of previous pop culture experience, from parody to epiphany, the emotional journey is what keeps the heart of Endgame beating when the time jumping, history altering heist comes into play. In the words of the Ancient One- “Not everything makes sense. Not everything has to.”
It’s not a perfect journey, though. There is running gag that outstays its welcome by the ceremonious crescendo and Captain Marvels late introduction could have been a little more earned, as it felt too convenient, especially in the third act.
I’d like to have seen Banners character “evolve” a bit more rather than Scott Langs 28 days later moment. Endgames “fields of Pelennor” sequence is a panoramic, bludgeoning final set piece set against huge emotional gut punches.
It’s undoubtedly a standout but a fitting narrative final stretch, almost redefining the word epic and invoking more triumphant shrieks of pure fandom joy than previously thought possible, despite its few faults. Running to the endzone rather than end game, it felt a little by the numbers, being preceded by a series of movies pushing the action scene envelope over the last decade and at times feels too “harem scarem”, but it’s the heartbreaking and heartwarming climaxes to particularly two of the original team, that bring it home.
The Russos have upped their game time and time again. They require and expect the leg work. Their trust has been earned, and the faith among audiences has been well deserved. There is layer upon layer of relatable themes, emotion and ideologies here, under the disguise of a thrilling, action packed spectacle that’s tying bows, dealing with failing at responsibilities, being a king or a mentor, finding some definition of peace, having the final conversation you wished you had or the life you dreamed of.
Where do we go from here?