Well, eleven years built up to this very intense moment, so it had to be good, right? Closure is not always set in stone. Not knowing what to do with fire can lead to damage. Putting the Russo brothers in charge of this final instalment only made sense: they were behind The Winter Soldier (one of the top Marvel Studios films), Civil War (a worthy followup), and Infinity War (the cohesion between both final parts had to click). Their work with Arrested Development gave them the opportunity to use their comedic timing in the superhero genre, where precision is key. After viewing Avengers: Endgame, it’s as if they took note from another iconic television program: Six Feet Under. Understanding that wrapping up story lines is about the finality of these characters’ lives (not necessarily through death) is what makes Endgame special. It’s the chasing of time, not to stop it, but to make sure it continues the right way.
After seeing half of the universe disappear in Infinity War, we start Endgame with the reminder of this impact. Hawkeye experiences his family vanish without a trace. No farewell. Not even a vision of how they went. The heartbreak from the start of the film is reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, where we are gravely reminded that Sméagol was healthy once. Here, it’s a similar slap. There’s no easing into this film gently. The basis is heavy enough: loved ones are dead, for no good reason. This is about the fight to get them back.
This is why Endgame snaps into place better than many other Marvel Studios films. It let Infinity War take all of the heavy expositional work. In fact, you can say the entire series up until now did that heavy lifting. Endgame focuses on a tale of life. When we experience loss, we frantically try to grab onto anything to make these lives still remain. Endgame is the risky toying with time, in order to try and get these favourite faces of ours back from the clutches of death. It’s a feat only possible in fiction, but it’s a catharsis that will surely hit home for some that need it.
Time is not just the bringer of demise, but of change, too. Thor has not dealt with the “snap” too well. He is a constant drunk that stammers and stumbles his way around. Bruce Banner has embraced his Hulk side, and can be a green giant without needing to be upset. Tony Stark has that family that was dangled in front of our eyes in Infinity War; the catch is that this wasn’t the ending scene for Endgame, but an early obstacle. Clever choice, Russo brothers.
The other surviving crew members have other motives. Captain America, Black Widow, and others, are actively trying to find a way to kill Thanos for what he has done. That’s when Ant-Man drops in with the solution. No, not some twisted meme-based theory (although it may work), but an experience with quantum physics. Time can be manipulated based on the exploitation of realms. The infinity stones can be taken from their original spots, re-used again, and then returned. Thanos won’t be able to get a hold of them ever again. It’s a bold plan, but the possibility of your loved ones returning is too great to ignore.
That is, outside of Tony Stark. He has his family, now. He can’t just leave them. Once he discovers that Ant-Man’s theory is not too bird brained, he knows the inevitable is already here. He has to risk his now, to return the lives of trillions. He has the capability to do so. He has been a superhero for so long; this is what it all boiled down to.
Half of Endgame plays like a heist film, and it’s a terrific throwback for the super fans that have stood by for eleven years. We revisit many key points in the Marvel series, including the climax of the first Avengers film, the day Thor’s mother died, and more. Wherever an infinity stone was important, essentially. Under the wrong direction, this could have played like a clip show or a greatest hits of Marvel. That would have been pointless. Instead, we get a bit of nuance, including a discussion with the Ancient One before Doctor Strange was the hero we needed. All of the careful calculations of the series bring us here. I gotta say, the pay off is pretty tremendous.
So, the trip is done, and the stones are back. Unfortunately, Thanos transcends time and space, and he has caught wind of the plan. With Banner’s snap (to bring back all of the departed), so returns a lot more, including Thanos’ opportunity to do his own deed all over again. This time, the Avengers have come prepared (even more so than they may have anticipated). The accumulation of every notable fighter in the Avengers universe is an overwhelming one; a battle sequence that had to be earned, and it feels more than here.
Aside from the pace-halting jokes (these are for the Marvel fans, so I won’t deduct any points, but I don’t see the need myself), the climax is as titanic as you could have hoped for. The gauntlet being passed from hero to hero, as if this were a comic book relay race, is already enough to remember why you took this journey this whole time. Thanos gets a hold of the gauntlet once more, and that’s it. That’s when Doctor Strange looks to Iron Man to complete the one possible outcome. It seemed like a hyperbole in Infinity War; here, it makes a metaphorical imprint. When Iron Man concludes this film with the same final words he had in the very first Marvel Studios film (“I am Iron Man”), it is almost impossible to not feel emotional. For fans or non-fans, that is how you do a callback right.
Iron Man dies, and everyone attends his funeral. His family is safe now, but it hurts that Stark is gone. The coasting through the familiar faces at the service is, in itself, a heavy task to sit through (especially if you try to hold it all in). We get some silly jokes from Star-Lord and Thor (though we do understand Thor’s request to keep things calm, as he crowns Valkyrie queen of New Asgard). This is a turn back into a lighter ending, right?
Wrong. Absolutely wrong. This is the biggest punch of them all. Captain America travels to the past one last time to place the infinity stones from where they came. He has returned an elderly version of himself, as he chooses to live life the proper way (as nature intended, and with Peggy Carter). He finally is able to wield Mjolnir (we’ve been waiting for this since Age of Ultron!), but he doesn’t need it anymore. His passing-of-the-torch to Falcon, and his dance with the love of his life is the final straw. Open the floodgates. This is Six Feet Under’s understanding of how life works. There is death, but there is also the beauty in fulfilment. Endgame understands this, too. This is where it rises above most other comic book films. The Dark Knight Rises tried to find sentimentality through mystery. Endgame found it through the dismantling of ambiguity. As Captain America (or Steve Rogers) falls in love all over again, we cut to curtains. This is it, folks. This is finality.
Avengers: Endgame still remains a Marvel film, which requires it to be of a certain mold. When it becomes an observation of Marvel’s past, a changer of its future, and an embracement of both, it truly shines. A star studded cast. Incredible special effects. All the knee-slapping one liners in the world (again, it’s for you, not for me). None of that would have mattered if the heart wasn’t there. Thankfully, it was, and we are left with one of the most emotional comic book experiences cinema has delivered to us yet.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.