Though we already know that the MCU will continue on, one of Avengers Endgame’s greatest strengths is how final a finale it feels. This colossal culmination of 11 years of superhero stories, woven together masterfully by uber-producer Kevin Feige, has all the weighty conclusiveness of the more definitive endings offered by finite franchises like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. It’s very hard to see where Marvel goes from here, but Endgame is good enough that it could simply just go nowhere from now on. This is the biggest comic book movie made yet and topping it will be an impossibility.
Following up the devastating ending to Infinity War and Thanos’s dusty victory over Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Endgame’s plot is at once breezily enjoyable and utterly labyrinthine, taking in an enormous amount of MCU history even as it pushes unstoppably forward. If Infinity War rewarded a base knowledge of the more recent MCU entries, Endgame is more concerned with the ardent, loyal-for-a-decade fans. It will prove completely impenetrable for newcomers, but in embracing that barrier, it can hit familiar audiences with some of this series’ most powerful emotional beats. It doesn’t even look like an Avengers film for much of the first act, costumes and weapons shed as the surviving team come to terms with their failure and grief.
Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) retreats into hiding, Captain America (Chris Evans) sets about trying to fix just a small corner of the world, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) descends into a morose state fuelled by beer, gaming, and generally getting hilariously unkempt. Hemsworth continues his run as the MCU’s new MVP, funny and sad and believably humanised, an incredible feat for what was once Marvel’s most bland and maligned character. Everyone puts in strong performances, Downey Jr in particular the best he’s been since Zodiac or even Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
What the Russo brothers and writers Markus and McFeely have done over the course of Infinity War and Endgame is nothing short of extraordinary. To wrangle all these characters and all this plot into something both riveting and coherent must have been a nightmare, but that strain doesn’t show on screen. Every character gets a moment to shine, and the story remains unpredictable from start to finish without feeling like it’s twisting for the sake of it, until a hugely satisfying ending that brings everything together. It’s sentimental but totally earned.
There’s a bit more to nitpick here than in Infinity War, which ran a little tighter – amazingly, though, the 3 hours Endgame asks of its audiences never feels like too much – and some of its fist-pump moments are just a little bit more muted than the highlight of, say, Thor’s Wakanda arrival. But the action is still thrilling, especially in the final third, where a titanic confrontation brings out the best in the Russo’s already-proven choreography and ability to keep track of all their major characters in even the most explosive chaos and Return of the King-scale battles.
As always with the biggest Marvel movies, the CG is absolutely flawless, and some of the scale on display in Endgame’s set-pieces is jaw-dropping. It’s an epic of the size that you see incredibly rarely that still makes time for its human moments. Thor’s despair, Hawkeye’s (Jeremy Renner) rage, and the Hulk’s (Mark Ruffalo) newfound inner peace are all rendered against a mythical backdrop of gods going to war across multiple planets. A nifty story device allows the Avengers to examine the recesses of their souls in moving and heart-warming ways, and though Endgame very much stands as an end, it does quietly set a few tantalising new threads in motion for the MCU’s future.
Endgame feels like more than a movie. It’s an event, the final chapter in one of the longest continuous stories ever attempted in cinema, and when the credits roll there’s a true end-of-an-era atmosphere. It might not be a perfect film, but it’s a perfect ending to a film series, with the confidence to finish on a low-key and simple moment of sweetness between two people showing only their most vulnerable and relatable sides. How there can be more superhero movies after this one is beyond me, but to cap an entire genre, this is how you do it.