Extravagant, indulgent and somehow perfect: we’re truly in the ‘endgame’ now

May 3, 2019

“Because if we can’t protect the earth, you can be damn well sure we’ll avenge it.” So said Tony Stark to a petulant demigod seven years ago—and with the release of “Avengers: Endgame,” that day has come. In the wake of last year’s “Infinity War,” and its unmatched, snappy cliffhanger, returning directors Anthony and Joe Russo, along with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, envision “Endgame” as the finale of a story started 22 movies ago.

I loved every single second.

It’s difficult to articulate exactly why without getting into spoilers (though I’ve done my best to refrain). Basically, this is both the payoff for “Infinity War’s” heavy-handed plot movements and the true conclusion of some major arcs. Those with a lot invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (like myself) are sure to be pleased, as the Russos stage a grand evaluation of everything that’s come before. The whole thing is blatantly self-reflexive and self-indulgent, and I’m genuinely curious to see where it’ll meet those with a mere passing interest in the Marvel pantheon.

I’m inclined to believe “Endgame” will still land, because of how much care is given to these characters. The film gives Steve, Tony, Thor, Bruce and Natasha plenty of time to reckon with their colossal failure—unlike “Infinity War,” “Endgame” lets its heroes breathe, reflect and simply be. That’s especially gratifying when the focus shifts to Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, each delivering their best individual performances as Iron Man and Captain America. These two are the backbone of this entire tapestry, and for good reason: Both actors are equipped with a real grasp of the psyches of these flawed, exhausted paladins.

The rest of the cast keeps up, too. Since “Ragnarok,” seeing Chris Hemsworth carry Thor’s hammer—er, axe—has been a delight. Karen Gillan, meanwhile, has located the emotional center of cybernetic survivor and ex-guardian of the galaxy Nebula, and Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang still boasts endless charm. Jeremey Renner’s Hawkeye proves yet again how much a regular guy can bring to the table in these movies, and he gets a potent and tear-jerking scene with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, though the latter still isn’t given quite enough to work with (it seems we’ll have to wait for her solo outing). Overall, the ensemble’s screen-time is well-balanced—never an easy feat for a blockbuster working on this scale.

Indeed, the Marvel Movies have always thrived on their oscillation between character beats and action; “Endgame” is no exception. There’s been a lot of conversation around the three-hour runtime, but the structure is rock-solid and engaging throughout: The beginning subverts expectations, the middle is a fast-paced romp through the relationships that mean the most to our protagonists and the climax is… an enormous, CGI showdown.

Like “Black Panther,” “Endgame” doesn’t break the Marvel formula but elevates it. On the other hand, some of the story mechanics don’t quite make sense (though I can’t pretend it bothered me). I do wish the Russos were interested in making their movies as colorful as their source material, though the compositions are (thankfully) starting to resemble memorable panels from a comic book. Then again, the somewhat-bland visual style makes sense here, considering how much of the film exists within the context of established, earlier stuff. “Endgame” may be the opposite of self-contained, but that doesn’t make it any less effective—on the contrary. The avenging was inevitable. Who knew it would be so satisfying?

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