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edge staff writer


The end of an era – ‘Avengers: Endgame’

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This is not going to be my typical review.

If you’ve seen “Avengers: Endgame” – and judging by the record-shattering $1.2 billion (that’s billion with a B) opening weekend at the box office, there’s a good chance that you probably have – then you have an idea of my dilemma.

How do you talk about an effort to wrap up nearly two dozen movies’ worth of storytelling without disclosing too much? How do you talk about a movie that is, in essence, three hours of ending? How do you avoid spoilers when discussing a film that is, by its very nature, practically constructed of spoilable revelations?

Very carefully.

“Avengers: Endgame” is the culmination of more than a decade spent weaving a narrative and building a world around the heroes at the center of the Marvel Universe. Sprawling across well over 40 hours in total, the MCU is MASSIVE. And regardless of where you come down on how you feel about these movies, there’s no disputing that thus far, this has been one of the most ambitious and impressive feats of filmmaking in the history of the medium.

And “Endgame” is very much a culmination. There’s an obvious understanding among fans that for the MCU to continue forward, there must be an ending. For a given value of “ending,” at any rate. What this movie tries to do – and largely succeeds at doing – is give fans an ending worthy of the time and energy they have invested into this world.

We can throw some plot basics in here, but it’s tough to be specific without fear of giving something away.

“Endgame” picks up where “Infinity War” left off. The Snap has happened; Thanos (Josh Brolin, “Deadpool 2”) has eliminated half of all living things with the Infinity Gauntlet and disappeared to a peaceful life as a farmer. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., “Avengers: Infinity War”) is trapped on a drifting starship, hoping for an increasingly unlikely rescue.

The other surviving Avengers – Captain America (Chris Evans, “Gifted”); Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, “Isle of Dogs”); Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, “Thor: Ragnarok”); Thor (Chris Hemsworth, “Bad Times at the El Royale”); Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, “Tag”) and the rest – are all dealing with the aftermath of the Snap in different ways. Some in productive, healthy ways. Others … not so much.

The Avengers have never been so thoroughly defeated. Their failure has resulted in the deaths of trillions, and while they’re trying to pick up the pieces, the truth is that their world (and every world) seems to be utterly and irreparably shattered. But when one of their own offers up a desperate, one-in-a-billion plan, the Avengers take hold of that tiny, remote sliver of hope … and run with it.

Vague enough for you? I did my best.

There’s a surprising elegance to the way in which this film pulls various threads from up and down the MCU timeline and weaves them together. It’s a way to offer up fan service, yes, but it’s done with sophistication. We as an audience are encouraged to remember why we care about the journey these characters are on in the first place.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo seemed like weird choices when they showed up seemingly out of nowhere to direct “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” but now they’ve kind of become the elder statesmen on the MCU – “Endgame” marks their fourth Marvel movie, more than any other director. Their sensibility has been an ideal fit; they’ve found ways to bring the humor-forward tone of their TV work to the screen without sacrificing the grand-scale sense of epic action.

As for the much-remarked-upon length of the movie? There’s no denying that three hours is a long runtime, but rest assured – the Russos have made it worth your while. There’s nothing here that feels like padding, even though “Endgame” is less action-driven than some previous MCU offerings. Time is taken with interpersonal relationships; we get to spend more time with the characters away from the field of battle. Allowing those moments room to breathe is a major contributor to the overall effectiveness of the narrative. A theme throughout is the notion of grief and what it means to move forward after a great loss – and you can’t convey that through punching.

Don’t get me wrong, though – there’s plenty of punching. The action stuff is as good as ever, striking a nice balance between high-flying shootouts and hand-to-hand intimacy. When the climactic conflict arises, it is perhaps the splash-pagiest sequence in the entirety of the MCU. It is epic in every way you could want, capturing the scale of not just the battle being fought, but of the MCU itself.

The performances are strong across the board, but that’s no surprise; these actors have lived with these characters for years. There’s an internalized ease about them – particularly the OG Avengers – that makes them a joy to watch. Downey is the foundation, of course. As always, he brings the snarky energy that has in many ways defined the MCU. Evans is at his square-jawed finest this time around; he has given Captain America far more nuance than I would have ever thought possible.

Hemsworth absolutely crushes, continuing the unexpected and hilarious evolution of Thor in a manner that elicits moments of laugh-out-loud delight. Ruffalo gets to get goofy in some brand-new ways as well; he’s a charmer. Johansson has carved out a niche for herself as the emotional core of the ensemble, mining genuine pathos despite relatively little to do.

Some highlights from the rest of the cast: Cheadle is good in a thankless role. Bradley Cooper continues to go for it in a big way as Rocket Raccoon. Paul Rudd is a scene-stealing delight from the moment his Scott Lang/Ant-Man shows up. And Karen Gillan’s work as Nebula is vital, a lynchpin holding the whole enterprise together.

I’ll confess to having had a fairly emotional reaction to “Endgame.” Nostalgia is a hell of a thing, particularly when it can work you over on multiple fronts. As someone who has been invested in the MCU since the very beginning, it’s no surprise that I would have big feelings regarding an ending – particularly one that so liberally pulls from the moments that came before.

But even more than that, this movie – and all the MCU movies, really – connects me with my childhood in a way that few new films can. I was the kid who devoured Marvel Comics; my head was (and still is) jammed with Marvel minutiae – superpowers, secret identities, story arcs. Seeing those characters so fully realized on the big screen opens a door that leads back to that kid. And really, it’s nice to see him again.

“Avengers: Endgame” is a beautifully-constructed piece of popcorn cinema. It is a heartfelt goodbye packed with emotion; anyone who has given their time to this world will find it to be a rewarding and effective payoff. Often, an ending is nothing more than an ending. Sometimes, however, an ending is also a beginning.

A worthy ending, yes … and I can’t wait to see what is soon to begin.

[5 out of 5]


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