Review: Avengers: Endgame

Where do I begin?! An incredible conclusion to a 22 film, 11 year series the likes of which filmgoers have never seen, Avengers: Endgame is near perfect.

In the aftermath of Infinity War and Thanos’ erasure of half of all life in the universe, the remaining Avengers and other heroes struggle to deal with grief and their failure to stop him. They work together once more to try to reverse his actions, whatever it takes…

Following Infinity War’s shocking conclusion might appear a steep task, but Marvel, directors Joe and Anthony Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely had this planned. While the Infinity Stones saga harks from the comics, the studio and creative team have meticulously set everything up uniquely from the source to offer a surprising yet tangible series conclusion.

(Note: Marvel aren’t stopping, far from it – it’s just this particular storyline that concludes (there’s a film out in July, though looking it up might be a spoiler for the next few weeks))

An incredible focus has been paid to honouring what the series has done best – zeroing in on the characters themselves, unerringly human despite incredible abilities. What surprised me so much is that Endgame gives a generous amount of time to their grief, reckoning with events and the damage done to those who thought they could have stopped what happened.
The directors once again show how good two can be when they work well together, the Russo brothers harking back to their track record with ensemble comedies and other Marvel films to make you feel (almost) that every character has got their due, and no stone has been left unturned. These scenes and the interaction between unique groups were a large part of what made Infinity War work, and Endgame is certainly no different.

Action scenes are a dazzling but spectacular mix of low key and ingenious, and monumentally bombastic and fist pumpingly thrilling, utilising the very best of special effects to hit home. Markus and McFeely very nearly perfectly land the series storyline here, their script a brilliant blend of comedy, tragedy, optimism and tension.
Plot holes notwithstanding, their sterling work is as usual in character interactions, some barbed and fiercely emotional, others snappily witty and memorably hilarious. Shot through the whole film is that strong handle on characters; while quieter, emotional and shocking scenes are testament to the Russos and writers knowing full well that the characters are the centre, not the punch ups.

I was quite surprised where the film went, what the heroes decide to do, and how quickly it all seems to flow despite what some might think of as a slow start and “gradual” conclusion. It’s three hours long, though it doesn’t feel like it (go to the loo before, trust me). What it does so well is tie up story elements from characters’ first, second and third films, repaying the faith of those who’ve watched since Iron Man.

Avengers_Endgame_poster

Visually, cinematographer Trent Opaloch manages to achieve (as with Infinity War) a sense of place on the alien planets, but this time gives Earth a different, “earthier” feel. The excellent work of editors Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt makes light of a supremely challenging plotline, and keeps it feeling propulsive and tense.

Musically, Alan Silvestri brings back his famous theme but layers in quieter, softer and more soulful elements before and after a rousing crescendo, as the heroes’ plan reaches its peak. Themes from Infinity War reappear, as do others from earlier films, giving that sense of connection to what came before.

The original Avengers are front and centre, and their personal ties with one another and those they love (and lost) are strongest. It’s some of the best work that Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Chris Hemsworth have done in the series, and all six get their time in the sun and an opportunity to show far more depth than before.

Downey Jr is synonymous with the success of these films, and Tony Stark’s selfishness and arrogance has long given way to a pragmatism and maturation the actor effortlessly portrays. He’s unsurprisingly great as the hero damaged by what he hasn’t been able to do since the first Avengers, but who can’t quieten the need to step up and take responsibility, despite what he could lose.

Evans gets equal prominence and deservedly so, having been equally indistinguishable from his character for a long time (follow him on Twitter, and tell me you don’t see that, especially his views on a certain arsehole President). Mirroring Stark, Rogers feels like he could have done more, but as before Steve takes it on his shoulders to do what he can to right those wrongs, and inspire others to do the same.

Ruffalo and Hemsworth deserve an equal mention for having continuously taken their characters in surprising directions, and Endgame is no different. While slightly lesser in the main group, the two have taken their chance to create complex, hilarious and rounded characters, and where Thor and Hulk/Banner go in this film were a complete and enjoyable surprise to me.

Finally, Johansson and Renner have had hard jobs painting characters without powers or detailed origins, but it’s testament to the stronger way that Black Widow and Hawkeye have been written here that you empathise with their own particular struggles, and it’s probably as good as they’ve both been able to be in the series.

Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper and Don Cheadle stand out by relieving the dour atmosphere, and all get the chances to shine dramatically. Rudd (Paul RUDD! Brian Fantana! That bloke from Friends!) plays a central role yet fits in perfectly; Cooper’s sardonic Rocket is both hilarious and touching; and Cheadle’s War Machine finally gets the time to shine, having been so often forgotten.

One of the more surprising appearances comes from Karen Gillan as Nebula, who genuinely impressed given her position post-snap and her isolation amid the Earthbound heroes. Gillan was great on Doctor Who, and despite a radical appearance has developed over multiple films a pained, damaged but redeemable woman. Josh Brolin is still very good as Thanos, and his role here may surprise you. He still manages to give his giant, unnervingly tangible CGI Bruce Willis a sense of pervading, evangelical menace.

You might have thought, given Captain Marvel, that Brie Larson would be front and centre, and that’s sadly not the case, though this is the main group’s fight. It’s definitely not to say she’s not involved, far from it – you do get a strong sense Carol is here to stay. Danai Gurira’s Okoye, however, is sadly neglected, in a real failure to seize on the character’s success in Black Panther.

If I had any complaints, it’s that such characters are backgrounded, though doing justice to those who have the limelight was likely enough of a challenge I suppose! In turn, elements of a very complex plot do fall down as soon as they’re interrogated – your mileage may vary on whether you can let them slide, but it smacks of trying to (in the words of Homer Simpson), tie everything up in a nice little package.

Endgame for me though was nearly perfect, and is hands down one of the best films I’ve seen since…well, Infinity War! Don’t let anyone spoil it for you, and take the time to reflect on this excellent film, the culmination of an incredible series.

(P.S. There’s no post credit scene, but the first half of the credits are worth a watch)

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