A fitting, loving and remarkable end to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it.
And now, the end is near. And so we face the final curtain...
My, what a ride it's been. 22 films, more than a dozen TV series, 80-odd main characters, $4 billion spent and close to $20 billion made. But as Tony Stark, the man whose original Iron Man film kicked this whole crazy thing off, says: "part of the journey is the end". In Avengers: Endgame, we're given an end worthy of that extraordinary journey.
In the simplest sense, Endgame is a sequel to 2018's Infinity War, and the 22nd film in the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe. And yet, there's very little that's simple about this picture, marking as it does the extraordinary culmination of several dozen intricate and intertwined story arcs that extend all the way back to 2008. It's also, if you'll forgive the pun, a stark counterpoint in both style and content to Infinity War, presenting very much like an out-and-out drama instead of the traditional comic book spectacle. Where Infinity War was all bombast, Endgame offers reserve. Where Infinity War wrought intergalactic devastation and destruction, Endgame delivers intimacy and an examination of grief, loss and very private regret. It's comfortably the Marvel film in which the least happens, yet it never for one moment feels dull or lags — even with its 3 hour run time.
Despite Disney's best efforts, spoilers are abounding online, so in the interests of preserving secrecy for those who've managed to silo themselves away from revelations, we'll keep any plot discussion to a minimum.
The shock of Infinity War's conclusion, in which 50 per cent of all living things in the universe were snapped into dust by Thanos (Josh Brolin), looms large over those left behind. Survivor guilt affects everyone, most notably the remaining superheroes burdened with the additional feelings of failure, blame and empty vengeance. In one of the film's best scenes, Captain America (Chris Evans) sits in an AA-style support group, telling those in attendance it's up to them to move on, rebuild and make something of earth again. It's a beautiful speech and entirely true, but the hollowness behind Cap's eyes betrays his own failure to practice what he preaches. So too the rest of the Avengers.
Thanks to the trailers, it's safe to say Ant Man (the ever-appealing Paul Rudd) plays a pivotol role in kick-starting Endgame's plan to rectify the devastation of Thanos's genocide, employing what he playfully terms "a time heist". Directors Anthony and Joe Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely gleefully unpack some of the persistent myths of that particular device, ripping apart the plotholes of iconic chrono-cinema stories like Back to the Future and The Terminator. In Endgame, there's some impressive backtracking through the MCU's own history, which doubles as the launch pad for most of the film's lighter moments (a discussion about Cap's butt being chief amongst them).
The humour, though, doesn't always land, and the main offender in Endgame, we're sad to say, is Chris Hemsworth's Thor. He's taken the failure to prevent Thanos' snap particularly badly, but save for a solid sight gag early on, Hemsworth's performance feels at odds with everything else in the film. Only when he abandons the attempted comedy does he again sizzle on screen, be it in one of the rare moments of action or in a tender moment with a key character from his past.
And there are a lot of those, with Endgame drawing its cast list from the entire MCU catalogue. Most appearances are fleeting, but rather than feel like mere fan service, they serve to reinforce the scale of the franchise's achievement. With each new face we're reminded of another moment within another film from somewhere in our own past; an opportunity to engage in some time-travelling of our own as we revisit the experience of watching these films throughout the last decade. When the inevitable culmination arrives at the film's conclusion, it's so much more than a roll call. It's at once a reunion, a rectification, a resurgence and a cathartic, tearful farewell.
Yes, tearful. There are deaths here, and having spent so long in the company of these characters, the emotional resonance of their departures isn't easily absorbed. Technically, the upcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home is pegged as the official end to Phase 3 of the MCU, but emotionally there's no question Endgame lives up to its name. When the dust finally (and literally) settles, the payoff is thoroughly earned and the emotions are heartfelt and raw. But goodbye doesn't necessarily mean gone here, and in certain cases a character's departure simply means their baton is passed on to others. A few of these are shown; others, merely hinted at.
Phase 4 will mark a significant reset for Marvel, and with the recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox, the path now lies open for drawing in the X-Men franchise to the growing MCU roster. According to Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, however, it'll be a while before we see the likes of Magneto and Professor X alongside Captain America. Til then, Marvel's challenge will be to build, develop and deliver the same level of complexity and pathos into its next generation of heroes as with those we've just farewelled.