‘Endgame’ is an unprecedented finale to an unprecedented franchise
The Marvel Cinematic Universe will continue on, but there’s an undeniable sense of finality to “Avengers: Endgame.” The story Marvel began eleven years ago with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, “Glass”) approaching Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., “The Judge”) to talk about “the Avengers Initiative” is over, and whatever comes next will be something new. For many, including myself, it’s the end of an era. I was 11 years old when “Iron Man” was released in 2008, and I remember watching the trailer that debuted at San Diego Comic-Con 2007 over and over for a year straight because I knew there was no way I was going to be able to see the actual film in theaters.
The MCU has defined a good deal of my coming-of-age, and that of countless others, so expectations were higher than perhaps any movie I’ve ever seen outside of “The Force Awakens.” Everything could have fallen apart here at the end. Marvel could have crumbled under the weight of their own ambition, their massive ensemble or the hype they’ve built up around this thing. It would have been hard to blame them for stumbling as they crossed the finish line. Instead, they’ve done something truly miraculous once again. With “Endgame,” they’ve given their unprecedented 21-chapter franchise an equally unprecedented ending.
I don’t know that I can say “Endgame” is perfect. The mechanics of the plot recall the TV series “Lost” in that they make sense only when viewed under a very stringent set of rules and make more sense if you don’t think about them at all. An action scene around the film’s midpoint is made completely incomprehensible by its suddenly frenetic editing. A couple seemingly important beats are yada-yada-ed in order to keep the wheels of the three-hour behemoth turning.
Yet for all these minor gripes, “Endgame” is the perfect ending to the story Marvel has spent 11 years telling. In every way, it reflects the best of its franchise and the best of its characters. I’ve spent the last four weeks slugging my way through every movie and TV show the MCU has ever put out, and their best work is constantly focused on their characters: What they want and what they are willing to do to get it. As they did in “Civil War,” the Russo brothers seem to manage this mammoth task with ease, using their restrained first act to explore the Avengers and their brokenness before moving on to the meat of the story. Even after that, in a film filled with so much movie science mumbo-jumbo, everything is constantly grounded in the Avengers and how they react to tragedy after tragedy.
These are the characters we’ve been following for over a decade now. We’ve seen them take their first steps into heroism, we’ve seen them at their best and now we see them at their lowest. Even in the darkest moments, though, we still see the traits that made them heroes to so many — a stubborn unwillingness or simple inability to give up and an unyielding faith that good will prevail even when the odds seem hopeless. It’s bittersweet but completely affirming, and in “Endgame”’s most awe-inspiring sequence, we finally see that faith rewarded for the characters and the fans alike.
Make no mistake, “Endgame” isn’t a movie for newcomers to the franchise. If Marvel has always been fan-friendly — and they certainly have with their commitment to endless Easter Eggs and in-jokes — they kicked it up a notch here. Everything a die-hard fan could possibly name is paid off, from the smallest of throwaway lines to the most central of character arcs. It could be argued that this renders “Endgame” a film that’s more pay-off than it is its own story, but then, that too isn’t new to the MCU. “Avengers” movies have always functioned as season finales of a sort, and “Endgame” is, for all intents and purposes, a series finale. In an interview with Empire Magazine, producer and mastermind Kevin Feige went so far as to name the first three Phases “The Infinity Saga” — something you can really picture yourself buying a box set of.
The trailer for “Endgame” revealed Tony Stark wishing he could have pulled off one last miracle. Viewed in context, it’s one of many meta digs the finished product makes about the MCU; a massive, interconnected universe is a miracle just as any satisfactory ending would be a miracle. For any of the worries that “Endgame” would just wrap itself up only to hint at something even grander on the horizon, this proves to be the end of a story with all that entails. It’s as well-acted and entertaining as any of its forebears, but blown up to a size we don’t see attempted that often and only see done well on exceedingly rare occasions. In matching this scale with the characters that have grounded the whole enterprise since the beginning, it is a catharsis that will be remembered for years to come. Life (and the MCU) will go on, it assures us. The future is a bright one.
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Ann Arbor 20 + IMAX, Goodrich Quality 16, State Theatre
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures