Warning: contains spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019).
The cultural impact that the MCU has had on cinema cannot be overstated. The idea of an interconnected web of films was simply unprecedented back in 2008, and yet the MCU has successfully ushered in a new era in cinema, paving the way for the likes of Legendary’s MonsterVerse, the Conjuring Universe, even the DCEU owes its existence to its competitor.
Avengers: Infinity War truly surprised me. It doesn’t hold such a special place in my heart for simply being the last film I watched with my Dad before he died, or for being so much better than it had any right to be, but mainly because it was the first MCU film to get me properly excited for its follow-up, which I was praying would deliver on the hype. And deliver it did. Avengers: Endgame is an overwhelmingly satisfying, action-packed, and bittersweet – albeit bloated – conclusion to the first chapter in the MCU saga.
Endgame picks up where its predecessor left off, with the team – or what’s left of it – low on morale, defeated, resentful, and guilt-stricken. After their interstellar rescue at the hand of Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula/still just Nebula (Karen Gillan) reunite with their allies and – rather quickly in terms of run time – find and kill the mad titan Thanos. Without the stones and at a loss for what to do, they come to accept their new life and do their best to protect a beleaguered planet. That is, until Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) returns from his trip to the quantum realm (Ant-Man and the Wasp). With Lang’s help, the group decide to harness the power of Pym particles in order to return to pivotal moments of MCU films past to recover older instances of the stones: the New York battle in Avengers Assemble, Thor: The Dark World-era Asgard, and Vormir at the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy.
In addition to those mentioned above, contrary to the typical idea of an ‘endgame’, the film’s stuffed cast includes series mainstays Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) as well as a few returning favourites which will not be spoiled, in addition to, of course, Josh Brolin’s fantastically intimidating demigod Thanos, likely to go down as one of cinema’s greatest villains. Customary at this point, the whole cast put in exceptional performances, particularly the film’s leads; Hemsworth helps to round out some of the film’s rougher, darker edges with some light relief, while Downey Jr. and Evans shine in some of the more poignant moments, their performances hitting the emotional beats Endgame aims for.
And emotion is the name of the game in Avengers: Endgame (does that count as a rhyme?). The veins of parental love and passing the torch run deep here, be it Thor’s ultimate acceptance of his mother’s fate, or Tony repairing his relationship with his father, perhaps a nod to his current position as a paternal figure to so many, and of course a resonant plot point for myself. But the films biggest success is in cathartically (and tear-jerkingly) closing the character arcs of the MCU’s biggest leads – Tony Stark, initially a haughty, self-obsessed billionaire playboy, when faced with the destruction of the people he loves, makes the ultimate sacrifice; while Banner and the Hulk ultimately find a middle ground and learn to co-exist; Thor comes to accept that he is far from simply “God of Hammers,” and can be whatever he wants to be; Steve Rogers, a man out of time and place, is finally reunited with the woman he loves; and Nat is transformed from the perfect killing machine into a genuine human being. Laudably, these arcs aren’t exclusive to Endgame, they’ve been set up and explored across eleven years and 22 films, making them that much more impactful. All I can say against the film is that the film does try a little hard to cram too many of these ideas in at times, but it’s only barely noticeable.
The CGI is top-notch like the rest of the Marvel saga, which has always pushed the limits of our expectations – and rendering power – while Alan Silvestri’s thrilling – albeit forgettable – score propels the action forward with astounding momentum. Also, before I forget, it is worth mentioning what a key role the MCU has played in the debate over representation in cinema, creating a diverse line-up of colourful role models for children the world over.
Like Infinity War, on paper Endgame shouldn’t work. It’s copious in cast members and storylines, but the conclusion of a decade’s hard work winds up a historic entry in not just the MCU but in the history of cinema. I can say little else than the twenty-second Marvel movie is, for the most part, nothing short of an unequivocal triumph.