The stakes have been raised so many times with event flicks that, when approaching one, hope is always tempered with experience about what to expect, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson. With AVENGERS: ENDGAME, though, hope wins out. The spectacle is everything it should be, and the story, of necessity a meandering thing, is nonetheless sustained by its fast clip and sheer fun that makes the three hours fly by. It’s jam-packed with multiple individual storylines of most of the Avengers, but with a plot that picks up the Thanos (James Brolin) storyline and runs with it. Where does it go? Everywhere. It’s as though the writers came up with an image of the gawky, wide-eyed Peter Parker’s Spider-Man (Tom Holland) catching a ride with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) on a winged steed and said to themselves, how do we get there?
As for why the Avengers have those nifty new white uniforms, who cares? They look good.
To give as little away as possible, suffice to say that the seven infinity stones figure prominently, and time travel is used as a way to bring back the 50% of humanity that disappeared when Thanos used the stones in his snap of doom, not to mention giving the film an excuse to drop in one some of the previous films. Fair warning: despite a recap by Rocky Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), unless you’ve seen the other 21 films, there’s a lot of nuance you’re going to miss. Never mind. The characters, and the actors playing them, make this an exercise in pure popcorn fantasy doused in just enough sentiment to keep us engaged between wisecracks and yet another eye-popping effect.
If Chris Evans’ Captain America is a scooch wooden as a brooding stalwart of an optimist with little emotional affect, there’s Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) embracing his inner Hulk enough to be the big green guy all the time. He’s even wearing shirts now, though still eschewing footwear. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is spending lonely nights at Avengers HQ dining on peanut butter sandwiches and pining for Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who’s gone over to the dark side after his family became part of the 50% that vanished. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has become a devoted family man living in bucolic splendor, but with that mischievous spark still sparkling as he banters with a five-year-old daughter who has him wrapped around her little finger. On the other extreme, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has transmuted into The Dude, albeit with beer instead of White Russians, as he eats and drinks his feelings in the aftermath of a final confrontation with Thanos.
Throw in Ant Man (Paul Rudd) brought back by a rodent’s providence, Captain Marvel (Brie Larson in much more polished hair and make-up than in her stand-alone film), and cameos from the previous films to provide the main cast a chance to confront their pasts. It’s these confrontations that drive the film as much as the mission to undo Thanos’ draconian attempt to create order out of chaos. The sight of Stark meeting his emotionally unavailable father (John Slattery) back in 1970, just before Tony was born strikes an unexpectedly moving chord with Downey’s impeccable ironic detachment masking the welling of an overpowering filial longing. Nebula (Karen Gillen), dubbed the Blue Meanie by Tony when they are both stranded in deep space at the start of the adventure, becomes an equally unexpected central element to the story as she confronts her past self and that self’s slavish devotion to Thanos, the adoptive father who rebuilt her from scratch while putting her through an emotional wringer. Gillen is all the more impressive for engaging our empathy considering the amount of effect makeup she sports that leaves it to voice, body language and eyes to convey the characters inner turmoil of roiling anger, need, and resentment.
The finale is suitably extravagant, full of surprises, and virtually the entire Marvel filmic universe. It’s almost a sensory overload, in fact, but done with excellent pacing, nice twists, and the sort of life-and-death scrapes that make you wonder whose number is up. No spoilers, but not everyone makes it. Fear not, though, despite the AVENGERS: ENDGAME moniker, there are enough loose ends to insure that this is anything but the end for the Marvel universe on the silver screen.