Avengers, Endgame: Cultural Touchstone, Excellent Conclusion

Marvel Studios provides fitting capstone on decade of beautiful film making.

Cinema is one of the pillars of American artistry. For eleven years, Marvel Studios has dominated the industry like no one else. They’ve created a beautiful world of colorful characters, fun stories, and an interconnected plot over the course of 22 major motion pictures. How the Marvel Cinematic Universe has maintained any shred of sense and quality at a rate of two films a year for more than a decade is something of a miracle. The stories work well, the characters are immediately recognizable, the humor works well, and the films all look and sound superb.

All that combined with brilliant marketing and well-earned hype meant that the 22nd film in the series, Avengers: Endgame, had plenty of expectations. After the success of Avengers: Infinity War just last year, and with the recent passing of Stan Lee, Endgame had to tie together the stories from over a decade of artistic work, pay off the hype built in that time, and make not just a competent film, but an excellent one. Fortunately, the Marvel team accomplished that in spades.

Don’t worry, this review will not spoil the events of Endgame. This movie should be experienced fresh and I won’t take that from you.

Also, a note on my Marvel knowledge: I’m not a massive Marvel fan. I like many of the films, but I’m nowhere near an MCU expert. I never really grew up with any comic books or superheroes of any variety. Still, I can acknowledge how significant this film is not just as a piece of artistic expression, but also as a cultural moment.

Technicals

The actual film first: the Marvel Studios team did a beautiful technical job. Every MCU film has been competently shot, well framed, and intelligently designed. Endgame does an excellent job in the camerawork and cinematography again. The color palette reflects the mood of the scene very well. Somber scenes are quite muted and look as though we’re in real life rather than in a fantastical comic book movie while the lively and unmistakable comic book scenes are colorful and rich.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo should be praised for directing a long film (3 hours and 2 minutes) that stays consistently engaging thanks to charming wit and beautiful heart. This is their fourth MCU film and they have worked on some of the biggest. This is their crowning accomplishment, tying together the feel of many segments of the MCU and carving a cohesive story that works.

Music

The other major technical deserving major praise is the music. Alan Silvestri, a regular contributor to the MCU and the composer of films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Cast Away, and the Back to the Future trilogy composed the Infinity War soundtrack and balanced the bombastic with the serene beautifully. The music always complimented the action in the prior film and it’s a similar job here. It’s more impressive for this film considering how many themes are included. The Ant-Man, Captain Marvel, and Dr. Strange themes (written by Christophe Beck, Michael Giacchino, and Pinar Toprak respectively) all make appearances amidst returning Silvestri work from past Avengers work and other songs from past films. This movie takes a card from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies and Thor: Ragnarock for using songs as accents on important or funny moments, at times turning into standalone music videos within the film.

It’s a sound job considering all the places this movie goes. Being an immediate sequel to Infinity War, the tone of the film is rather dower at the start. Thanos accomplished his mission and left the world in ruin. The heroes have to piece themselves together and the ways they do so range from expectedly optimistic to hilariously sad to pleasant to sweet and even wildly disappointing. Not a single character is left unchallenged. All are pushed to breaking point by dramatic loss before being revived by the hope of one last mission working. The world is broken, and this is the Avenger’s last chance.

The Characters

The characters themselves are as known from past films. They behave as built up through prior appearances and are entertaining as ever. Strong writing and brilliant chemistry allows for funny and heartfelt moments to trade turns seemingly every couple minutes. It’s Marvel character writing at its finest with every character at disposal.

Of course, there’s a focus on a few. Many of the original heroes get a chance to shine one more time with particular focus paid to Iron Man and Captain America. Both Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans get time to flex their muscles (quite literally) and work on a testy relationship that’s been through plenty of fights. Both are enjoyable and liven the screen in their time.

Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, and Jeremy Renner all return from the original Avengers movie in 2012 and get quality time to shine as well.

Thanos continues to be among the most enjoyable and imposing movie villains the comic book world has produced. He is quite similar to The Dark Knight Rises’ Bane, but with more force and more build up. His motivations are clear and his power overwhelming. Josh Brolin does a superb job with possibly the best role of his career and one of the genre’s best villains.

In the last film, Dr. Strange and Spiderman got their turn in the limelight. This time, of the recent Marvel additions, Ant-Man and Rocket, get their turn to contribute considerably at the center of these Avengers’ actions. The decisions for who gets screen time are quite hard to balance, but everyone who gets their turn in the light maximizes the time and contributes to the progression and fan service.

Fan Service/Notes

And yes, there is a hearty amount of fan service throughout this film. It never feels intrusive, but there’s plenty of it. I’m sure I missed a few references, but I’m also not a major Marvel fan. I picked up on enough and knew what was said by many characters from past films, so I was just about in the loop.

Another note, DO NOT attempt to watch this film without some cursory knowledge of the MCU’s goings on. This movie is expressly designed to connect a score of movies and will confuse people who (somehow) haven’t seen a Marvel film before or who haven’t seen any since the first Avengers, or around that time. This isn’t like Black Panther or Ant-Man, films that have MCU connections but function as standalone movies with complete stories. Endgame is a direct sequel to a movie that ties together 20 prior sets of characters and events. Don’t see this without at bare minimum seeing Infinity War.

The only major problem I think that could be leveled is that it’s long. Three hours and two minutes to be exact. This movie deserves every second. The best comparison is the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The finale, Return of the King, is a marathon of action, heart, and suspense that ends five different times before continuing to more epilogue. Endgame has a similar situation. A decade plus of films mean there’s a ton to finalize and conclude. There are many points where the film could end, but decides to continue to address more character closure.

There is plenty of that to go around. Endgame is the right title. The characters all reach conclusions to their respective stories and it feels well earned. With all the joining plots, the film somehow results in a worthy conclusion.

In Summary

Iron Man debuted while I was in middle school. Now I’m years removed from college and I know these characters despite being back and forth with the series. These characters are a fixture of our popular culture and Endgame is in many ways the curtain closing on an age of American Cinema. It’s a beautifully satisfying end. There will be more Marvel movies after this one, but if this were the last MCU film, I could walkaway smiling. It’s a crowning achievement of Marvel Studios’ hard work and dedication to good story telling.

Go in prepared, but do not miss a cultural moment at the movies.

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