**This is review contains MAJOR SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: ENDGAME. If you have not yet seen the film, you have been warned...**
Avengers: Endgame, perhaps the most anticipated film of all time (with the only competitors for that title likely being Star Wars Episodes I and VII), has finally released in theaters. This three-hour epic, directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, stars Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man., Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye, Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man, Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine, Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Josh Brolin as Thanos and Karen Gillan as Nebula (among a larger, extensive ensemble cast).
Avengers: Endgame has received extremely positive reviews from critics and fans alike, with many praising its concluding nature. Many have lauded it one of the best entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), with the film currently holding a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
With such high praise being heaped on Endgame, it is certainly worth examining the film critically. With so much to unpack, I highly suggest giving it multiple viewings, in order to best draw your own conclusions about the movie.
“Dear Mr. Fantasy, play us a tune
Something to make us all happy
Do anything, take us out of this gloom”
Endgame’s opening credits (devoid of any of the “snapped” characters from Avengers: Infinity War) feature the 1967 song “Mr. Fantasy” by the British rock band Traffic. The moody song immediately sets a darker and more tragic atmosphere for the movie, as the credits transition to a stranded (and nearly dead) Tony Stark and Nebula aboard the Benatar.
Endgame attempts to balance the darker tone of a post-apocalyptic world with the humor and “one liners” that characterize typical MCU films with varying results. The film’s application of humor is to mixed results - some of the jokes, particularly the ones pertaining to the film’s “time travel” scenes (such as Peter Quill’s dancing from the opening credits of the 2014 film Guardians of the Galaxy, or Captain America fighting a past version of himself during the time of The Avengers ), were used to maximum comedic effect, while others, such as fat Thor, were initially funny but ultimately overplayed and inconsistent with the overall tone.
Despite being the longest film in the MCU, clocking in at 3 hours and 2 minutes, the main problem with Avengers: Endgame is that it is just not long enough. The film has so many storylines to wrap up, whilst still providing adequate character development and a satisfying overall conclusion to the MCU’s first three phases of movies. If it had more time, perhaps characters who did not get a final, definitive redeeming moment in the movie itself - Thor overcoming his obesity, for example, or Drax the Destroyer assisting the Avengers in killing Thanos so as to avenge the deaths of his own family - could have been given satisfying moments.
Personally, I still feel that the film could have better treated the aforementioned characters within the same runtime, through some relatively minor alterations to the battle in the third act. This would mostly entail the replacement of the blatantly and annoyingly overpowered Captain Marvel (Who, for those of you who did not read my review for her solo film, I am not a fan of her portrayal). Perhaps Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers was turned to dust at the end of her own film instead of surviving Infinity War’s “decimation,” or she simply did not arrive as a deus ex machina in the third act - either way works. In my version of the film, Thor, instead of Danvers, would have destroyed Thanos’ ship, the Sanctuary II, as it rained fire on the battlefield. Additionally, instead of Captain Marvel holding the gauntlet and preventing Thanos from snapping, have Drax the Destroyer avenge his family by stopping the killer of his wife and daughter from decimating the universe a second time. All of this would not affect the runtime at all, and provide a far more concluding story for two overlooked characters. (*Disclaimer: I am not a professional screenwriter and I am not that I would be able to write or direct a better film than anyone associated with Endgame’s production*)
Despite the lack of a conclusive arc for Thor, Drax, Star-lord or (arguably) Hulk, Avengers: Endgame is undoubtedly a hero’s film, especially in comparison to Infinity War - a villain's film, told from the perspective of the sympathetic yet misguided Thanos. The two best treated characters in Endgame are Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, which is logical, considering they are the two leads of the MCU (Although this doesn’t mean that the other characters couldn’t have been treated better). Stark concludes his arc that began in 2008’s Iron Man - by sacrificing himself to save the universe, he fulfills Ho Yinsen’s request to him in the 2008 movie - “Don't waste it... don't waste your life, Stark.” Steve Rogers also has a fulfilling storyline in the film. As always, he selflessly fights to save the universe - but at the end of the film, he finally commits a well-earned selfish act: travelling back in time to live out the rest of his life with Peggy. Iron Man and Captain America’s storylines are inverses of each other - Stark starts out as selfish, and ends his life with a selfless act, whereas Rogers starts out as selfless, and retires with a selfish act.
There are other elements of Endgame that deserve praise. Alan Silvestri’s score was truly brilliant, and well deserving of an Oscar win for its sheer genius and callbacks to other MCU films. Acting was also a standout in this movie. In my mind, Robert Downey Jr. should at least be nominated for Best Actor at next year’s Academy Awards, although I highly doubt they would go through with this. His career-saving performance in the MCU is brilliant and deserves formal recognition. Scarlett Johansson, despite only being in about half of the film, also provides a notable performance - as with the rest of the cast.
I was also pleasantly surprised with the decision to kill of Thanos at the start of the movie, although I feel his 2014 version that served as the antagonist of the final act was far less interesting. 2014 Thanos was far-more of a “mustache-twirler” than 2018 Thanos from Infinity War. While 2018 Thanos certainly was egotistical, and like Captain America, self-righteous, he was also extremely easy to sympathize and understand. Thanos held respect for the people he fought against, only killing as a form of revenge or if someone stood in his path. He truly thought that eliminating half the population of the universe was the only way for the universe to be saved, and it was clear that he would never waver from his goal.
In that sense, 2014 Thanos is a far weaker villain, and therefore hurts 2018 Thanos’ portrayal. 2014 Thanos does not respect his opponents, and he easily decides to give up on his goal of eliminating half of the population to simply re-starting the universe. I understand that the stakes had to be raised for Endgame, but that does not mean they had to trample on Thanos’ character. I feel that Thanos is a far more interesting villain if he always was fully committed and sympathetic - not just when he began collecting the Infinity Stones, as demonstrated in Infinity War.
Endgame also leaves behind some concerning questions pertaining to the future of the MCU. The films now must be primarily set in 2023 and beyond, in a post-apocolypitc world that must now support the burden of having double the population that it has had for five years. I fear that future films will not adequately address the questions of the social and political strain of having to rebuild society again, which seemed to be surprisingly functioning well after the 5 year time jump in Endgame (Another nitpick of mine: there are businesses, such as the diner where Hulk is introduced, functioning 5 years after 50% of the world’s population disappeared. In the real world, the economy and governments would collapse, leaving riots and fighting over the overabundant resources). This could easily have been addressed by the Hulk restoring the universe back to 2018 when he used the Infinity Gauntlet to bring back half of the population, and possibly make most of the decimation survivors forget that it even happened. This would have it far easier for society to function in the aftermath of Endgame.
I’ve spent most of this review nitpicking, and for that, I apologize. While not nearly as good as Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame still mostly lives up to the hype (despite several flaws). The callbacks and references to the MCU are enjoyable for die-hard fans, but the film still works on its own. The Russo brothers have done a great deal of good for the Marvel franchise, and while I would have preferred that the MCU ended with Infinity War (Which would have been bold to the point of not being able to happen), I am still intrigued as to the future of the MCU.