Robert Downey, Jr.
3 Hrs., 8 Mins.
vengers: Endgame (2019), the 22nd chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is unusually mournful. But that’s something to be expected. Endgame's predecessor, the ambitious, narratively winding Infinity War (2018), left off on a cliffhanger that was surprising and somber, though more of the latter.
You don’t anticipate, coming into Endgame, that answers or resolutions will be across-the-board satisfying. What matters is that, after about a year of waiting, with our hunger only briefly satiated by movies like July’s delightful Ant-Man and the Wasp and March’s humdrum Captain Marvel, you’re finally getting them.
Endgame, which is a protracted three hours and eight minutes (and, contrary to what its defenders say, feels exactly that long), is, at the very least, gratifying. Long-gestating questions are answered and, for the most part, are answered convincingly. Personalized narrative arcs, which are more or less coming to an end for characters who have received several standalone movies, conclude satisfactorily. And the film, despite having so much of its storyline being taken up by funereal drama, manages to have a sense of fun amidst higher-than-usual stakes, mostly to be blamed on its clever tinkering with linearity.
Yet Endgame’s commitment to being comprehensively efficient also gives it a rather institutional, formal feel. An emphasis on tying together narrative loose ends belies a sense of wonder, which could be felt in recent Marvel entries like last spring’s Black Panther (2018), which was subversively political and visually curious, and even Ant-Man and the Wasp, whose playful, inventive storyline and screwball-esque comedy underlined the childlike excitement missing from many a Marvel movie. Endgame is best during the sorts of moments that appear occasionally: ones that, as mentioned earlier, involve temporal tampering, or ones expounding on a profound sense of loss. (Though there’s some of that at the beginning of the movie — which I’ll talk about later on — it’s the film’s final few scenes, which offer some of the most authentically bittersweet plot developments of the MCU, that that notion is most felt.)
Endgame begins about three weeks after the finale of Infinity War. In that film, to jog your memory, quasi-final boss Thanos (Josh Brolin), a purple-skinned intergalactic menace, climatically snapped his fingers amid a battle with the title Avengers and caused half the world’s population to literally vanish into thin air. In the intervening time, Thanos has relocated to a rickety shack on a mostly abandoned planet. The remaining Avengers have taken to emotionally regrouping on Earth, to little avail. Eventually, the remaining supers ambush the antagonist. But, as they’ll learn, this won’t lead to anything productive. Those who vanished have vanished for good.
We expect “for good” to be followed by a wink. But in Endgame, the catastrophe, for a time, seems pretty permanent. Shortly after the Thanos attack, the movie comes to what appears to be a temporary end, unceremoniously jumping ahead half a decade into a future. Neither the world nor the Avengers are doing especially well in 2023. The remaining members of the population, understandably devastated by the mass, inexplicable tragedy, are still grieving, almost acting like players in a post-apocalyptic thriller novel. Certain characters, from Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), to Thor (Chris Hemsworth), have adjusted exceedingly poorly.
Barton, whose entire family was wiped out post-finger-snapping (a scene mutedly dramatized for one of the film’s opening sequences), has become an international vigilante, perennially out for blood. Thor, with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) (introduced in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok) in tow, has moved to Norway and become a fat, alcoholic recluse. The only primary characters who seem to have healthily acclimatized are Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). The former has married longtime girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), has had a child with her, and now lives with them in a cabin in a mellow woodsy area; Banner now lives contently between his human and alter-ego selves and happily takes pictures in restaurants with young fans.
For the last five years, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), also known as Ant-Man, has been sitting in the subatomic quantum realm. Only by accident, though: he was exploring it with the assistance of right-hand people Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), but both were victimized by the “vanishing.” He fortunately escapes in Endgame, and it’s his return, incidentally, that really sets the film in motion. Because only five hours passed for him in the other domain, made clear to him, and the Avengers whom he immediately catches up with, is that time travel is scientifically possible.
With some careful planning — ensuring that timelines are appropriately rather than detrimentally altered — it might be feasible to go back in time to not only make sure that the vanishing never takes place but also that Thanos never comes into contact with the tools necessary (a coterie of Infinity Stones) to make it happen.
All culminates is a characteristically spectacular battle sequence, plus some emotionally vivid endings to individual storylines. What comes between, as was the case in Infinity War, is a lot of subplot-hopping. In that film, the majority of the narrative was built on various phalanxes of characters trying to prevent Thanos from getting his baseball mitts of hands onto the several Infinity Stones.
In this one, subgroups travel back to hyper-specific periods of time — Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Thor head to Asgard, in 2013; Rogers, Stark, and Banner to the New York City melee of 2012 — to retrieve particular gems.
These scenes simultaneously result in some of Endgame’s most enjoyable moments and most prominent invocations of missed opportunity. It’s fun to watch certain characters hide in the shadows of memorable sequences we’ve already witnessed, their commentary rumbling in the background. In 2012, several players, including Rogers himself, can’t stop themselves from admiring aloud how terrific the latter’s glutes look in his suit; Banner witnesses the way he acted years ago and struggles to replicate his own righteous anger, to humorous effect.
Time travel also precipitates amusing but gratuitous scenes. There’s a reunion between Stark and his father (John Slattery) when drama takes an unexpected turn and leads the former character to a window of time in 1970. There’s also a check-in with Thor’s mom (Rene Russo) at just the right beat in the 2013 subplot. These flashes point out that, while these particular twists in the narrative are dedicated a decent amount of time to be developed, there is, by contrast, a negligent quantity reserved for early scenes meant to show how negatively the mass vanishing has impacted the world, let alone the characters.
This isn’t to say that there needs to be scores more scenes allotted solely to showing how our ensemble has had to readjust since Infinity War. But it does seem strange that we get rather lengthy heart to hearts between our supers and their parents for little reason besides cool factor whereas little explanation is offered to cogently clarify what everyone has been doing for five years. Thor has become an ascetic, but what has the process of his decline been like? Rogers is shown leading a group-therapy discussion, but what else has he been up to?
One of Endgame’s utmost missed opportunities is amplified via a small detail. Shortly after returning from the quantum realm — before he’s even reunited with his fellow Avengers — Lang comes home, finds his daughter shockingly five years older, and embraces her. But abruptly, the movie cuts to the next scene.
I wanted there to be more. How natural it would have been if Lang and his daughter had a conversation in which she summarized what the past half a decade has been like not just for her but for much of the world. This, of course, wouldn’t be holistic, but it would still give us a clearer picture and emotional understanding. We’re ultimately left to infer what it’s been like living in a post-snap world.
That screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who have written several Marvel films, dedicate a scanty pocket of time dwelling on the magnitude of the enormous amount of grief is adversarial. Because we know that the reversal of Infinity War’s ending is inevitable, it’s key that we, even fleetingly, feel palpable hopelessness during Endgame. But this never happens. With early scenes of melancholy so short but later scenes of time-traveling flash so elongated, we wonder how much more emotionally powerful the feature might have been with some restructuring and reprioritizing.
Still, Markus and McFeely tie together the storylines of more than 22 movies effectively (though that cannot ensure everyone who gets screen time necessarily needs it), and directors Anthony and Joe Russo, who are similarly responsible for a multitude of MCU entries, helm capably. The film is doubtlessly a persuasive closing chapter, and ably opens doors for new ones. I was reminded, by its end, how much I’ve come to love a great many of these characters. Yet the film’s commitment to efficiency sporadically left me cold. Endgame is a three-hour-plus movie laboriously dedicated to propelling a mammoth of a story forward, minimally (though often compellingly) indulging in scenes quietly zooming in on the emotional worlds of its characters in the process. It’s fulfilling, but not exhaustively fulfilling. B