by Philip Price
Director: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans & Mark Ruffalo
Runtime: 3 hours & 1 minute
The culmination of 11 years and 22 films worth of story, ‘Avengers: Endgame’ concludes one of the greatest experiments in cinematic history and does so with as much grace and satisfaction as one might hope or expect a single moment to capture. That isn't to say there aren't a few hiccups along the way, but what is here to complain about feels so quaint in comparison to what the film gets right that they hardly seem worth mentioning. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo have achieved what felt damn near impossible leading up to the release of the film and that is to have met the loftiest of expectations. Having been invested in these films for over a decade now and experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows with each of the key players, ‘Endgame’ takes it upon itself to find both closure in and resolution to many of the biggest arcs that have-knowingly or unknowingly-been playing themselves out for much of this same time period. That is to say, while ‘Endgame’ more than compensates the eager opening night audiences with its pure "fan service" finale, the casual viewer or even the small remainder of the rest of the general population that hasn’t seen a single Marvel movie-should they decide to invest themselves this late in the game-might find themselves rendered surprisingly affected in these times of great trial and potentially even greater consequence. ‘Endgame’ is certainly something of its own beast in that it thrives on its own, very distinct, structure and strong individual character arcs (especially for the core group of original Avengers) and more or less functions as a stand-alone piece if not a direct sequel to ‘Infinity War’; yet it is the kind of sequel audiences always complain they don't get enough of. Meaning, ‘Endgame’ compliments its predecessor without replicating it in hopes of delivering the same type of fulfillment. In every sense, ‘Endgame’ couldn't feel more different than the largely space-based ‘Infinity War’ as that film was non-stop from the word go to the moment of the decimation. In ‘Endgame,’ our titular heroes are dealing with the repercussions of this event, the fallout of certain relationships and the idea that maybe, for once, they won't actually be able to save the day.
In 2008's “Iron Man,” Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark began as a man unaffected by the true nature of his contributions to the world; a man who couldn't be bothered by the semantics of his company's dealings and the implications they set for the future as long as there was a present profit to coast off of. Stark Industries gave Tony more money than God and the ability to do literally whatever he could want in life, but until his "funvee" was hijacked and he was forced to figure his way out of a cave with nothing more than a "box of scraps" it never occurred to him how much he could actually do with the opportunity afforded him. With this realization comes the burden of responsibility and it is within this quandary of doing what he wants and doing what he knows he must do given his knowledge and abilities that the arc of Tony Stark has gone back and forth from one movie to the next. In a way, it was always going to be the case that Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark/Iron Man would have to make a decision between his own personal gain and that of the benefit of the universe, but I don't know that either Stark himself nor his now loyal audience knew such a personal crisis would ever reach the scale it does in ‘Endgame.’ As has been every ‘Avenger’ film thus far (and even most of a Captain America one), the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a universe centered on the arrival of Iron Man and his disruption of the status quo. ‘Endgame’ is no different, but it is more mature. Tony Stark himself has matured incredibly since the conclusion of that first film and in ‘Endgame’ we first find ourselves with a man who is broken and who has seemingly been beaten by what he has been on a collision course with for some time. This is all to try and find ways to work around saying that the arc Downey Jr. and his character go through in ‘Endgame’ is one of the most gratifying aspects of a film filled with satisfactory moments. This is as much a Tony Stark film as it is a Steve Rogers film and this is more a Stark and Rogers film than it is maybe an Iron Man or Captain America film. It is in this regard, in the Russo's realizing that to make these giant tentpoles and their giant spectacles work, that the character work has to come first, and the investment has to be made for anything to feel like a victory. Even without the past decade worth of films building our compassion for these characters the filmmakers expertly craft reason in these briskly-paced 180-minutes that grant each of these characters a conclusion that is both earned in the sense of where things go yet simultaneously reassuring in the idea that there was no other way. In other words, what we've seen and what we see here is essential to not only who these characters are, but in building what the MCU was, is, and will become.
What is maybe most rewarding about ‘Endgame’ though, is that none of it feels contrived in the sense that each action is necessary and logical to get from one point to the next while each of those steps could very easily have been misconstrued as little more than an excuse to play the series' greatest hits. ‘Endgame’ is anything but a rehash of the films that came before it, but it does take those films into immense consideration and uses the actions of many to help inform and enhance some of the more critical moments that take place here. Not to get too spoiler-y, but it's not only moments we recognize from earlier films that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely pull from in order to remind us of our worthwhile investment, but it could be things as big as putting recognizable characters in fresh environments that we never imagined we might see them and have only heard about up until this point down to interactions we maybe, kind of assumed had taken place, but would have had no actual reason to outside our own desires that manifest themselves in ways so natural and charming one would be forgiven to forget they're watching a movie about a bunch of folks in silly costumes making a huge fuss about a MacGuffin so that they might defeat a big, bald purple bad guy. It is admittedly silly in a lot of ways and when stopping to consider everything one must say to explain the machinations of what is happening one begins to realize what a wonder it is that so many people have come to take this all so seriously. Therein lies the magic of not only what Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios have done, but what the Russo Brothers have done to root these characters and circumstances in a world where tone is as fluid as the feelings actual humans possess throughout their actual days. While, in the wake of that ‘Infinity War’ conclusion, ‘Endgame’ opens on an appropriately somber note the idea that not every waking moment would be this way is not lost on the Russo's for as soon as we are introduced to our first setting in the film we are also swiftly reminded of all the personality these characters possess and what makes them endearing outside of the fact they are now existing within these incredible circumstances that we're also invested in. From Tony and Nebula (who has truly come so far it's a genuine marvel) through to Thor and Bruce Banner, we are no longer here simply to see what they must overcome and what adversary they must fight in order to overcome it, but we are legitimately devoted to these character arcs and concerned with where they might be going and how.
This brings us to another point about the MCU that is often forgotten in the fray of action sequences and special effects: these are really good actors. Yes, the whole idea they've had 11 years and 22 films to allow audiences to become so committed to these characters is part of it, but simply seeing these people time and time again wouldn't be enough to make viewers care about them as much as the continued profit for each film has proven people do. Having already talked at length about Downey Jr.'s contributions it needs only to be added that the man gives a hell of a performance in ‘Endgame’ from top to bottom and through every stage this journey takes his Tony Stark/Iron Man on. And then there is Chris Evans, who has come to embody Steve Rogers/Captain America so much and to such a stringent extent in some regards that it is refreshing to see what Markus and McFeely are able to do with the character for, despite being over one hundred years-old, they show the man still has room to grow and learn. Evans, who has a much bigger part to play in this than he had in ‘Infinity War’ (rest assured), takes on the responsibilities placed upon him with his usual, effortlessly clean stride that always reaffirmed Rogers was indeed the best man for the job those many years ago. In ‘Endgame’ specifically though, Evans is allowed to acknowledge this side of the man who maybe held up this facade for the sake of others without paying any attention to himself. Part of being Captain America has always meant being completely selfless, but in ‘Endgame’ the Russo's and the screenwriters craft instances that allow the character more consideration for himself and his own desires. For fear of spoiling too much no more will be said, but it is sufficient to say that Evans gives yet another honorable and completely captivating-as well as a rather humorous-performance as Captain America. Furthermore, Scarlett Johansson again proves to be the MCU's most overlooked actor and Black Widow it's most underrated character as it is Natasha Romanoff, more than anyone else, who holds out hope for something that might correct or reverse "the snap" as many of the others have either given up or are on fruitless missions in the aftermath. Johansson as Romanoff is what holds the Avengers together; a mere mortal telling gods, aliens and war machines that what they're doing is not a waste of time, but essential to restoring what Thanos has corrupted. In short, it becomes evident just how much this family means to this character and how much this character is in fact the beating heart of this family. While Downey Jr., Evans, and Johansson hold down the serious side of things the Russo's once again know how to keep their tone in check by utilizing Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo and Paul Rudd to great comic effect while never going overboard or allowing the jokes to feel inappropriately timed or misplaced, but instead keeping this juggernaut of a movie balanced. You know, as all things should be.