REVIEW – ‘Avengers: Endgame’ is the rousing and exhilarating conclusion fans deserve

The time has come to say goodbye to one of the most successful and ambitious franchises in cinema history. With a three-hour spectacle to wrap up this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Endgame is the blockbuster fans have been aching for. It’s taken us 11 years and 22 films to arrive at this point. Thankfully, the wait has been entirely worthwhile. Curb your anxiety at the door. Marvel Studios have done it again.

With a moving impact few blockbusters could ever hope to deliver and an array of glorious moments that will have you either smiling, crying, cheering, or clapping (and sometimes all four at once), this is the rousing and exhilarating conclusion fans deserve. Paying deep respect and tribute to the exhaustive stretch of films preceding it, Avengers: Endgame is fan-service of the highest order. But there’s more to this film than just bombastic action and nostalgic references. Beneath its outlandish exterior lies a beating heart that’s surprisingly emotionally affecting. Yep. Bring the tissues. You’re going to need them.

It’s been 23 days since Thanos (Josh Brolin) claimed all six Infinity Stones, snapped his fingers, and subsequently wiped out half of all existence. In the wake of this devastating catastrophe, Earth is a broken place. Houses lay abandoned. Cities are practically empty. The world as we knew it is lost. Many of those left behind are struggling to move on with their lives including our beloved superheroes, with a few taking personal responsibility for their failure to stop Thanos’ grand plan and most suffering debilitating survivor’s guilt.

After his defeat on Thanos’ homeworld of Titan, a bruised and shellshocked Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is left stranded out in space with fellow survivor Nebula (Karen Gillan). Without fuel to return to Earth and oxygen levels almost empty, things are looking particularly grim for Iron Man. Back home, the superheroes who survived Thanos’ snap, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Okoye (Danai Gurira), and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), all attempt to navigate a world without many of their trusted compatriots.

As for Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), they both took life after the snap particularly hard and have deviated down paths that are better left unspoiled. Jetting in from outer space at the request of the now fallen Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) soon joins the ranks, instantly determined to eliminate Thanos all by herself. And, yes, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is still helplessly trapped within the quantum realm…for now.

But no matter how hard our heroes try, they can’t accept their losses and instead desperately look for a path to bring their friends back from death by disintegration. Meanwhile, a weakened and weary Thanos has retired to a planet known as The Garden, where he picks vegetables and enjoys his new reclusive life of seclusion. But when he re-activates the Infinity Stones which provided his crushing success, the Avengers may have found the outlandish redemption plan they’ve been longing for.

You can surely imagine there’s much, much, much more to the plot than this brief summary. These are details you can mostly surmise from the barebones trailers Marvel Studios cooked up. It’s clearly all they wanted you to know. As such, you’ll get nothing more out of this film critic. Every viewer deserves the joy of seeing this film entirely cold on detail. The studio has genuinely left the guts of this narrative out of the film’s trailers, which is decidedly unheard of in this day and age where “previews” can often tell you every major plot point of a film you’re yet to see. However, it must be said Avengers: Endgame is ultimately far from the film you’re likely expecting in the best way possible.

The storyline twists and turns in ways you will not see coming, as the film navigates through a dizzyingly complex rescue plan that refreshingly requires more brains than brawn. Well, mostly. Don’t be too alarmed by that statement. There’s still a calamitous bevvy of action in this blockbuster, typified by the film’s epic conclusion, which we’ll get to later. But, at least initially, there’s stealthy intelligence to the crux of the Avengers plan to “set things right” that’s more than just finding bigger weapons or larger armies to succeed in their mission. The plot is slightly too complicated for its own good, which may cause some viewers to still be pondering how it all makes sense by the end credits.

While some may criticise Avengers: Endgame for being too focused on fan-service, directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo clearly know their audience well and offer up a treasure trove of references, easter eggs, and cameos from the entirety of this franchise’s 11-year history. Even the most casual of fans will enjoy the ways this film pays tribute to what’s come before. Through its ingenious method of revisiting key moments of the past, we are given greater understanding and context to the past, which provides more depth and gravity to the expansive journey audiences have taken with these characters. For those viewers who find themselves in the obsessive fan category, this spectacular finale is everything you could have hoped for…and then some.

In Avengers: Infinity War, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely were tasked with the daunting challenge of juggling dozens of characters in one film. For the record, they entirely succeeded. While the roster of Avengers: Endgame is still ridiculously stacked, there’s a concerted effort by Markus and McFeely to focus squarely on our original six Avengers, particularly given a few of these actors have made it clear this is their final roll of the dice. For all its riotous action, this film is ultimately a wonderful character piece, providing a fitting and tear-inducing farewell for some of our heroes and offering new beginnings for others.

Once a sarcastic, arrogant playboy, Tony Stark has now become a more grounded and three-dimensional character, gifting Downey Jr. with the opportunity to take his iconic role to new heights. As a performer, he has exponentially grown with this character and his performance here is the best he’s offered up. Likewise with Evans, whose stoic presence has always been a highlight of this franchise. As the very embodiment of heroism, Captain America leads this story with fierce strength and impassioned grace. Evans has confirmed this is his last Marvel adventure and it’s clear he’s determined to go out on a high. The key success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has always been highlighting the human vulnerability of its superheroes and both Downey Jr. and Evans are the personification of that very notion.

With a decidedly dour tone hanging over much of this film, there’s much-needed levity provided by Thor and Bruce Banner who both cut through the seriousness at just the right moments with plenty of assistance from Scott Lang and Rudd’s expert comic skills. After his failure to “go for the head,” Thor has become a shell of the god of thunder he once was, allowing Hemsworth to once again showcase his impeccable comedic timing. But the real surprise package here is Ruffalo, whose genuinely amusing and charming performance as the Hulk steals the entire film. Bruce has merged with his brutish alter-ego and the result is another glorious example of Marvel’s expert use of CGI/motion-capture technology. Not once does the Hulk feel anything but a realistic character, which is a testament to both Ruffalo and the wizards who create his green exterior.

If character pieces aren’t quite your thing, Avengers: Endgame wisely still offers up lashings of spectacle and action to dazzle your eyes. This could well be the blockbuster to end all blockbusters. The filmmakers have three hours to play with here (yes, make sure you pee before entering the cinema), so there’s ample opportunity to ramp up the fun with plenty of fight sequences and daring adventures for our heroes to partake in. The film’s earlier action moments can’t be discussed without spoiling the fun. And one can’t even really explain the film’s ridiculously epic finale showdown without giving that surprise away too. Just know it resulted in thunderous applause from my audience. It’s the ultimate payoff you’ve patiently waited 12 months for.

As with all Marvel films, not everything works as perfectly as one may hope. While Thor’s daringly different storyline is initially wonderfully quirky and ridiculously absurd, it becomes a little tiresome and may leave some with a bitter taste in their mouth. For all the fanfare over her introduction into this cinematic universe, Captain Marvel is rather underused and a tad underwhelming. This series has long suffered criticism for its lack of female representation, leading to the inclusion of one scene where several female superheroes combine that feels like a giant “suck on this” to the chorus of internet trolls who dish out their critical barbs. While it’s a visually impressive moment, it’s unfortunately fairly inauthentic and rather heavy-handed.

At its core, Avengers: Endgame is a highly emotional piece of cinema, particularly for those who have faithfully followed this franchise for over a decade and now experience a strong connection to these lovable characters. After 11 years and 22 films, this has been a cinematic journey like few others in film history. If you don’t understand the heartfelt investment fans have with this franchise, you’re probably in the wrong cinema. The fact this film serves as a farewell to several characters and the performers who’ve brought them to life is inescapable. You will likely hear a few sobs and sniffles throughout this rollercoaster of a film. And when the credits began to roll, there truly wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

With Avengers: Endgame standing as the impressive culmination of 11 years of groundwork, Marvel Studios really has saved their best for last. As we’re told in the film, every hero story must have an end. We’ve arrived at that end and what a way to bring this franchise to a close. Well, not entirely. We know the MCU has many more films ahead. But this is the finale for this incarnation of the Marvel world and they’ve brought it all to a close in stupendous fashion. What a marvellous ride it has been.

Distributor: Walt Disney
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Producer: Kevin Feige
Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Cinematography: Trent Opaloch
Music: Alan Silvestri
Production Design: Charles Wood
Editor: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt
Running Time: 181 minutes
Release Date: 24th April 2019 (Australia)