8/10 Maybe I would like all of these movies more if they were three hours long.
Avengers: Endgame follows in the immediate aftermath of Avengers: Infinity War, which ended when a failed philosophy undergrad named Thanos (Josh Brolin) wiped out half of the universe with six all-powerful infinity stones. At first, Earth’s mightiest heroes try the obvious – grabbing the stones back and using them to reverse the situation. Doesn’t work. The remaining avengers are forced live on in a new world mired not only in bereavement and regret, but in the stink of their personal failure.
Endgame finally delivers on what the MCU has been promising all along. It isn’t just that this is the ending. It feels like an entirely new animal, while still remaining an effective cap that fully incorporates the 22 movies that came before. Where many lesser entries felt like comic books, pulpy filler things that were made more to fill holes in the schedule while more important movies were being worked on behind the scenes, Endgame feels like a graphic novel, a fully fleshed out culmination that explores several different characters and plot threads.
The initial plan was to release this movie as Infinity War Part II, and I was fairly cynical about the title switch – I thought it was just a marketing ploy, because title reveals are such a big fucking deal now – but renaming it Endgame solves several problems. It adds legitimacy to Infinity War’s shocking ending and also establishes these as two distinct stories, which they very much are, despite being shot as one long production. Infinity War is a fairly linear narrative with Thanos as both the protagonist, who guides the audience through the story, and as main character, whose choices drive the plot – roughly, there’s a large focus on the array of more familiar characters trying to stop him, and obviously viewers aren’t rooting for him. Or, they shouldn’t be.
Endgame, on the other hand, doesn’t really have a protagonist or a main character. There’s little to help the audience enter the story, and certainly no character dedicated to it – Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) could make a case in an early scene, but he disappears almost immediately afterward – nor should there be. Endgame was not made for general viewers, it was made for Marvel die-hards – which, of course, many general viewers now are.
There also isn’t really any character whose choices drive the story. There really aren’t many choices being made in this movie at all. Every character is more or less locked into the path that they’re on at this point, and Endgame simply tracks those paths to their conclusion.
Tonally, Endgame is an absolute masterwork. Infinity War was great in this aspect as well with its constant sense of impending doom, but Endgame must move at will between somber, desperate and playful, which it does seamlessly.
Their mastery of tone is probably co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo’s best trick, but they also do fantastic and clever visual work, sticking mostly to wide shots with some tasteful shaky cam work cut in. It’s all limited to the kind of camerawork you would expect in an action-comic book movie, but even sticking to a limited toolbox, they still find the right shot every time.
What I appreciate the most is Endgame’s and Infinity War’s well-shot action sequences, which have been a constant complaint about the rest of the MCU. Even looking back at Captain America: Winter Soldier, which they directed and got their future crossover work based on the strength of, the action is still pretty wonky. Even that wonderful elevator scene is littered with crazy cuts.
There are a lot of typical MCU gripes that Endgame steps around. The cartoon visuals are still kind of wonky, but in this case, they’re mostly mitigated by setting. There are a lot of shots of real people in real places for the first couple of hours, then cartoon-on-cartoon in the big apocalyptic finale – it still doesn’t look great, but it looks more seamless than usual.
Also absent are the harsh edits that mar many MCU entries, which may be a factor of Endgame’s mammoth 181 minute runtime. Clearly, nothing was cut for time here, but now I have to wonder why this is the first three-hour Marvel movie. There’s a rough runtime pattern among previous entries, with solo movies hovering around two hours and crossovers around two and a half, but those guidelines aren’t followed very strictly, and many movies would have benefited from a longer runway.
Whatever the reasons are behind the rest of the series’ consistent shortcomings, they are absent here. Endgame is a truly excellent Marvel movie, one of the few. It doesn’t make any of the preceding movies any better to have had an ending this gratifying, and the MCU has still changed Hollywood moviemaking forever and for worse. Even if there are no more massive crossover series like this, the almost television-like planning and production style of this series has changed the way Hollywood looks at action movies, moving back closer to a studio-era system, and the flaws that are consistently forgiven in these movies will be present in others moving forward. Endgame marks a finale for this individual series, but moviegoers will live with the fallout for decades to come.
Most of you will be fine with that.
The release numbers for Endgame are absolutely mind-numbing. With essentially every opening weekend record on the table, this film is on pace to completely shatter them. As of Sunday morning, Box Office Mojo reports that it’s pacing toward an opening weekend of around $345 million, which would break Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ record by almost a full $100 million. Internationally, it’s on pace to pass the $1 billion mark in just five days. It took Infinity War 11 days to hit that mark, and only three films in history have done it in less than 17. Also of interest total box office share, a record currently held by Avengers: Age of Ultron, which held 84.5 percent of box office receipts on its opening weekend in 2015. I would expect Endgame to blow that out of the water as well.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.