April 2019 was a pretty earth-shaking month in pop culture terms. We had the first tangible fallout from the Disney/Fox merger and some really interesting developments in the Great Streaming Wars (the launch of the fantastic Criterion Channel, details on the upcoming Disney+), we had new blockbuster releases (Shazam!, Hellboy, Pet Sematary), and we had strong holdovers from March (Captain Marvel, Us). Even beyond all that, this month seemed to consistently mark the climax or conclusion of cultural behemoths known all over the world. Game of Thrones launched a final season that culminates the biggest television production in history. The announcement of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker gave us a glimpse at the film that will round out the Skywalker Saga. But for the moment, even those sort of seem like drops in the bucket compared to Avengers: Endgame.
The implications of such a convergence of influential entertainment raises interesting quandaries about the ways in which we as a society consume…oh, who am I kidding. We just saw Avengers: Endgame and internet etiquette dictates we lay down a few buffer paragraphs as a necessity, lest any spoilers be spoilt. But no one’s really here to discuss industry patterns — we’re here to discuss that badass part where SPOILER uses a massive SPOILER as a freakin’ SPOILER. So if you haven’t yet seen the blockbuster-to-end-all-blockbusters, then I highly recommend Robert Mueller’s heavily-redacted review of the film until you manage to get tickets for the next available Endgame screening 30 years from now.
Seriously, massive spoilers below. Good to go? Good. Let’s go.
As an unprecedented landmark in event cinema storytelling, Endgame does exactly what you’d hope in focusing on the original six Avengers and giving each of them a satisfying, emotional conclusion. An ending like the one we got (or didn’t get) in Infinity War can only lead to rampant theorizing on a global scale, and so there were certainly more than a few beats in Endgame that people had guessed.
But the first chunk of the film is mighty surprising in how fast everything seems to be going. Tony Stark being stranded with Nebula garners a tear or two, even a laugh as they flick a paper football out of boredom. But then Captain Marvel blazes through space to the rescue, and in the process Endgame resolves a major cliffhanger from Infinity War in what seems like a few minutes. From there, the surviving Avengers team up and go to kill Thanos…which they do almost immediately after discovering he’s obliterated the Infinity Stones for good. It’s a surprise, to say the least, and with so many theories floating out there for the past year, surprising people is quite an achievement on Endgame‘s part.
Another fear was that a film taking place in the aftermath of an actual genocide would be a dour affair, basically The Leftovers as a superhero team-up. Maybe that fear was unfounded, Marvel Studios having been consistently reliable in the comedy department. Far from humorless, Endgame not only retains the one-liners you’d expect from Rocket (“nice haircut”), Stark (“go to bed or I’ll sell all your toys”) and especially Ant-Man (“as far as I’m concerned, that’s America’s ass”), but it fully commits to the newfound comedic facets of major characters like Hulk and Thor. For the former, we get the Professor Hulk comics character, a fused Hulk/Banner persona that looks like a green rage monster but speak eloquently and in scientific jargon. It’s even more drastic with Thor, who’s become an overweight frat god, crushing beer and Fortnite and looking like a newly-ordained minister in the Church of the Latter-Day Dude. Both are hilarious gags that run the length of the film, slathering a big dollop of laughs over an otherwise serious outing for Marvel.
If we’re picking nits — and we are! — then maybe these massive character shifts leave a bit to be desired. Hulk never really Hulks out at all, at least not in present-day Hulk form, and it’s even played for laughs that Professor Hulk can’t muster such a thing. Meanwhile Endgame literally walks us through the MCU back catalogue, and so the final battle against Thanos is more than just your typical all-hands-on-deck Fight Of Our Lives. It’s a “culmination,” to use Kevin Feige’s favorite word, though it still manages to put the Big Three — Iron Man, Cap, Thor — front and center. And Fat Thor is funny, but the chance to see the three O.G.s kicking ass in their prime seems sort of missed, floating away on the wind like a Dusted Avenger.
Our minor qualm list could go on. Three hours is a hike. Don Cheadle is resigned to WTF face for the whole movie. Is this dramatic scene on Vormir supposed to be making me chuckle at the conceitedness of what’s happening? But overall Endgame nails the emotional conclusions that it should, and I’m thankful that the characters who have reached natural endpoints were given proper sendoffs while the ones that are hitting a stride (Thor included) live to fight another day despite what the actor’s contract should dictate. Tony Stark’s death is poignant in the context of the MCU but, more importantly, in the context of Endgame alone, with the inclusion of Morgan Stark and Howard Stark providing real coloring to his character that doesn’t feel forced after everything we’ve seen him go through. And Cap’s end, even if the internet predicted it, is really the perfect conclusion for the Man-Out-of-Time. Plus, Marvel gets to flex their de-aging CGI in reverse for once, to stunning effect.
Most of all, Endgame simultaneously passes the torch and ties the knot on an industry-altering run of films. Regardless of whatever a serious-minded film critic is supposed to think about MCU flicks — they follow a formula, they’re overly reliant on third-act fireworks, whatever — it’s undeniable that Marvel Studios changed the game forever. Ending that game was a tall order. Through truly surprising moments, moments that landed despite their predictability, moments of humor or moments of real emotion, Avengers: Endgame is a sight to behold.