Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame

2019, PG-13, 182 min. Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Voice by Bradley Cooper. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Danai Gurira, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Karen Gillan, Brie Larson, Don Cheadle.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., April 26, 2019

Thanos won.

That was the denouement of Avengers: Infinity War, last year's epic opening to the resolution of this arc of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Mad Titan (played through motion capture as the living, breathing embodiment of measured conviction by Brolin) had snapped his fingers while wearing the reality-shaping Infinity Gauntlet, and half of all life in the universe disappeared.

Endgame, the Russo brothers' massive payoff to that emotional hammering, that final failure of the heroes, brings that moment back to what it means. A family, unaware of what is happening in Wakanda, unaware of the cosmic battle playing out, suddenly split asunder. How do you come back from that?

That's where Endgame's heart is quickly found. The surviving Avengers – Black Widow (Johannson), Thor (Hemsworth), Iron Man (Downey Jr.), Hulk (Ruffalo), War Machine (Cheadle), and good old Captain America himself (Evans), plus honorary inductees Okoye (Gurira), Rocket (Cooper), Nebula (Gillan), and Captain Marvel (Larson) – set off on a mission to stop Thanos again. But what if that is not enough? What if they have to live with the ashes of their defeat? And even if a potential solution does come along, are they prepared to roll the dice and lose the other half, which is now all they have?

At a weighty but textured three-hour running time, Endgame has to pull off an astonishing feat: not only to give a potential farewell to characters in whom we have been emotionally invested for 11 years and 21 films, but also to pull together all those plot strands, and ensure that (in at least some cases) dead means dead. Otherwise, there are no stakes here. The lack of an immediate solution means that they can't just run to the one out of 14,000,605 potential futures that Doctor Strange saw that can rewrite what Thanos did, or at least undo some of the damage. The script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who have been running the core show since Captain America: The First Avenger) sets the limits of what the Infinity Stones can do, and the writers yet again hit that sweet spot between magic, mysticism, science, and action to do so. They even smartly manage to fill in a few continuity errors, turning them instead into plot points, and in doing so potentially set up future stories within Disney's new slate of announced Marvel TV shows.

The trigger is the already-heralded return of Ant-Man (Rudd, still giddily out of his depth), who returns from the Quantum Realm to find a very different world. Once the Avengers realize exactly what happened to him, there's a chance for one last reunion, one trajectory that weaves through key past events and binds them all together.

What's best about Markus and McFeely's script is that they understand the characters. If Rocket suddenly started not hiding his compassion under a layer of sardonic humor, we'd know. If the god of thunder wasn't, at a certain level, that same vain, greedy, cruel boy from the first Thor, we'd know. If Tony Stark wasn't still pulling together that technocrat ego fractured in Iron Man, we would definitely know. It's how they handle what has happened to them that makes them heroes – and what Evans does with Cap in this new age of defeat is such a perfect throwback to what made audiences love him. It was never the shield; it was always the man.

Then again, the shield may not maketh the man but it definitely helps in the epic fight sequences. The battle of Wakanda at the end of Infinity War was a warm-up for the inevitable next clash. And while that fight was a fantastical re-creation of old-fashioned, large unit conflict (with a few undoubted nods to The Phantom Menace), this is a meat grinder, where every hero gets their moment and their comeback. It's clear that there's at least a chance that this will be the final time the franchise's big three – Cap, Iron Man, and Thor – will stand shoulder-to-shoulder, and this grand last stand is payoff enough. But Endgame has a few tricks up its sleeves that keep going right back to the heart.

Ultimately, this is the end of the three-phase Infinity Saga. Some heroes rise (yes, of course you knew that). Some fall. Some rewrite their destinies. Some complete the path they have always been on. From here, there's a whole new universe to explore, but Avengers: Endgame gives us one last look back at where we came from.

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Avengers: Endgame, Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Danai Gurira, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Karen Gillan, Brie Larson, Don Cheadle

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