Ten years. Twenty-two films. An army of characters that outnumbers a pro-life march after its attendance figures have been inflated by RTÉ. All of this has been leading to Endgame, if you ignore the chronological inconsistencies that show that they were making it up as they went along. This film had a hell of a lot to do; bring a ten year arc to a satisfying close, shock the viewers who post theories on Reddit and give each beloved character enough screen-time to make their stories feel complete, especially considering the fact that we won’t be seeing a lot of these characters again. This is a lot of pressure for two guys who came from directing episodes of Arrested Development.
We can safely say that the Russo brothers juggle all of these cosmic gems more than proficiently. In the aftermath of Thanos’ snap wiping out half of all living creatures, the original Avengers need to find a way to bring everyone back and defeat Thanos for good, and not just comic book “for good.” That they’re fighting to save their fallen friends and not just saving the world from ominous sky beam number 437 grounds the film’s wildly zany flourishes and multiple timelines with a bright through-line of heartening heroism that feels authentic.
Not everything works, of course. Some of the film’s flaws (so, so many plot holes) can be attributed to the sheer amount of moving parts, as well as to the limits of the Marvel formula. Some things, though, feel like simple bad taste. There is a running joke at the expense of a character’s weight gain as a result of PTSD that invokes late period fat suit wearing Eddie Murphy in its lowbrow tastelessness. Then there’s the gratuitous Girl Power scene, which falls short due to its lack of internal logic and comes across as unearned back-patting for the sake of splash-page spectacle when the film mostly sidelines its female characters. Let’s not even get into that pathetic attempt at LGBTQ+ representation.
“The stakes of Marvel films have been gradually ramped up to a near-operatic level, but this is a film that truly feels like it was all leading somewhere”
Despite this, the film’s sheer number of satisfying pay-offs makes it all worth it. There are so many genuinely affecting and punch-the-air moments that the film doesn’t feel like its three-hour runtime. None of these moments could have been achieved without the actor’s fully lived-in embodiments of their characters and the amount of world-building that has been done over ten years. The final moments of Endgame are truly heart-rending, and the sense of catharsis is undeniable. The stakes of Marvel films have been gradually ramped up to a near-operatic level, but this is a film that truly feels like it was all leading somewhere, that it wasn’t spectacle and portent for the exhausting sake of it. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, the last decade of Marvel on screen feels like this generation’s Star Wars.
The question is, where to go from here? It probably isn’t a spoiler to say that some of our heroes end up out of commission in a way that feels pretty permanent, and that in itself is refreshing; an actual ending, a closing of the book, something that the source materials with their deathless heroes and endless battles and frustrating ret-conning could never do. For a while it felt like these characters would make like the comics and go on forever, but if Endgame gives us one last reason why the films have intrinsic value separate from the printed page, that is that they’re films, and the arc has to come to an end.
“heartening heroism that feels authentic”
Captain Marvel is a character with a lot of potential (the hair from the comics? We have to stan), as is Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, although those who have seen Endgame will wonder how his ordinary school life could possibly continue as normal in Far From Home. Apart from them, we can definitely expect a Black Panther sequel, but what else? Will Marvel finally make the Black Widow film that should have been made years ago? Will they feature an LGBTQ+ character in a bigger role than glorified extra with forty-eight seconds of screen time?
A big if is whether they’ll come through with the rumoured all-female ensemble featuring Captain Marvel, Scarlet Witch, Valkyrie, and more, it would now make sense for these characters to come together and flex their power. All this is to say that Marvel could go anywhere now, and that feeling of possibility could only have come from a true, satisfying ending.