We know almost exactly what will happen during the course of Avengers: Endgame, and yet this monumental three-hour ride results in a thrilling experience just the same: Endgame is the definitive Hollywood blockbuster, a note-perfect example of giving the audience exactly what they want and doing it in a way that still manages to captivate us at every turn.
It’s a finely-tuned machine, yes: the peak of corporate product perfection reached over the past decade by Disney and Marvel president and producer Kevin Feige, who have ironed out all the kinks in order to not make a single misstep or take the smallest of chances.
But when it works, it works: no joke in Endgame lands without an audible laugh, no emotional moment comes without the swelling of tears. At a premiere screening at Cinema City Slovanský dům in Prague, the closing credits for Endgame were met with universal (and lengthy) applause, one of the only times I’ve experienced that outside of a film festival in the Czech Republic.
There’s something to be said for mass audiences gobbling down this kind of fast food entertainment while some of the world’s best filmmakers can no longer get their movies into cinemas (if they can get them made at all), but that’s the state of the industry that Avengers: Endgame now defines. The fault lies within the system, not the product: this is the most perfect movie machine the assembly line has ever produced.
Preceded by 21(!) films leading up to it, the result of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of individual efforts, this three-hour blockbuster is nothing less than a monumental achievement, the pinnacle of everything its fans love and its critics hate.
(Note: some minor spoilers contained in below paragraphs)
Endgame picks up directly after Avengers: Infinity War, with half the population of the universe extinguished by big baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin) while Iron Man / Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) drifting away in deep space slowly running out of oxygen.
But wait! Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) arrives just in time to save the day and reunite Stark with the rest of the surviving Avengers. Surely, now they can track down Thanos and use the time-shifting Infinity Stones to undo everything and bring everyone back.
Only… Thanos, it turns out, has used the Infinity Stones one last time – to destroy them. And any hope of reversing the damage that was done is lost.
When “Five Years Later” flashes across the screen, it’s one of the hardest-hitting time transitions imaginable. Tony Stark, now out of the Avengers game, has become a father happily married to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Captain America (Chris Evans) is now hosting support groups dealing with loss. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is trying to track down Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who lost his whole family and has now become a murderous vigilante.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has shut himself off from the rest of the universe in New Asgard, complete with beard and beer gut. And Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has finally learned to combine his intellect with the monstrous Hulk, turning into a jolly green giant.
But when Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) miraculously re-appears after spending the last five years in the quantum realm, which was only five hours for him, he brings back a faint glimmer of hope – – and, in Endgame’s heist movie second act, its greatest sense of comic book fun.
Avengers: Endgame is the movie that all 21 previous films in the franchise have been leading up to: screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (in their sixth MCU outing) beautifully weave in elements from all the previous features, completing some narratives full-circle while continuing others and even opening up new story possibilities.
And directors Anthony and Joe Russo, as in Infinity War, deliver a genuine cinematic sense of grandiosity that many of the previous Marvel movies have lacked, and one that isn’t reliant on CGI effects or otherworldly landscapes but instead deep within meaningful character arcs.
Only quibble: there’s less slam-bang action in this three-hour Marvel movie than most that have come before it (and it’s a better movie because of that), but a 20-minute sturm und drang climax delivers little beyond eye candy. I wish these action scenes told a story within themselves, but they ultimately boil down to invincible supermen beating each other until the filmmakers decide it’s time to move the story forward.
Is Endgame the best film the MCU has produced? I might prefer the villain-focused narrative of Infinity War, along with some of the lighter, stranger movies – Ant-Man, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok – that might better lend themselves better to repeat viewings.
But regardless of preference for this kind of thing – it won’t meet, for most, any notion of artistic success within cinema – Avengers: Endgame is an unparalleled achievement in the history of Hollywood, culminating a decade of carefully-crafted storytelling with billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of industry professionals. In a general sense, most can probably agree that Endgame is the best the MCU gets.
It’s bound to set all kinds of box office records this spring, and won’t be forgotten come Oscar season. Deservedly so.