'Part of the journey is the end', says Tony Stark. In Avengers: Endgame - we're given an end worthy of that extraordinary journey.
And now, the end is near
And so we face the final curtain...
My, what a ride it's been. 22 films; more than a dozen TV series; 80-odd main characters; $4 billion spent and close to $20 billion made. Fittingly, though, from Tony Stark - the man whose original Iron Man film kicked this whole crazy thing off: 'part of the journey is the end'. And, in Endgame, we're given an end worthy of that extraordinary journey.
In the simplest sense, Avengers: Endgame is a sequel to 2018's Infinity War, and the 22nd film in the so-called 'Marvel Cinematic Universe'. And yet, there's very little that's 'simple' about Endgame, marking as it does the extraordinary culmination of several dozen intricate and intertwined story arcs they extend all the way back to 2008.
It's also, if you'll forgive the pun, a stark counterpoint in both style and content to Infinity War, presenting very much like an out-an-out drama instead of the traditional comic book spectacle. Where Inifinity War was all bombast, Endgame offers reserve. Where Inifinity War wrought intergalactic devastation and destruction, Endgame delivers intimacy and an examination of grief, loss and very private regret. It's comfortably the Marvel film in which the least happens, yet it never for one moment feels dull or lags, even with its 3 hour run time.
Spoilers, despite Disney's best efforts, are abounding, so in the interests of preserving secrecy for those who've managed to silo themselves away from revelations, we'll keep any plot discussion to a minimum.
having spent so long in the company of these characters, the emotional resonance of their departures isn't easily absorbed.
The shock of Infinity War's conclusion, in which 50 per cent of all living things in the universe were snapped into dust by Thanos (Josh Brolin), looms large over those left behind. Survivor guilt affects everyone, most notably the remaining superheroes burdened with the additional feelings of failure, blame and empty vengeance. In one of the film's best scenes, Captain America (Chris Evans) sits in an AA-style support group, telling those in attendance it's up to them to move on, rebuild and make something of earth again. It's a beautiful speech and entirely true, but the hollowness behind Cap's eyes betrays his own failure to practice what he preaches. So too the rest of the Avengers.
Thanks to the trailers, it's safe to say Ant Man (the ever-appealing Paul Rudd) plays the pivotol role in kick-starting Endgame's plan to rectify the devastation of Thanos's genocide, employing what he playfully terms 'a time heist'. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely gleefully unpack some of the persistent myths of that particular device, ripping apart the plotholes of iconic chrono-cinema stories like Back to the Future and Terminator. In Endgame, there's some impressive backtracking through the MCU's own history, which doubles as the launch pad for most of the film's lighter moments (a discussion about Cap's butt being chief amongst them).
The humour, though, doesn't always land, and the main offender in Endgame is - we're sad to say - Chris Hemsworth's Thor. He's taken the failure of Thanos's 'snap' particularly badly, but, save for a solid sight gag early on, the remainder of Hemsworth's performance feels at odds with everything else in the film. Only when he abandons the comedic moments does he again sizzle on screen, be it in one of the rare moments of action or in a tender moment with a key character from his past.
And there are a lot of those. If Infinity War had 76 'main' characters, Endgame must surely come closer to the hundred mark, drawing upon the full cast list of its 22-film catalogue. Most are fleeting, but rather than feel like mere fan service, they serve to reinforce the scale of the MCU's achievement. With each new face we're reminded of another moment within another film from somewhere in our own past; an opportunity to engage in some time-travelling of our own as we revisit the experience of watching these films throughout the last decade. When the inevitable culmination arrives at the film's conclusion, it's so much more than a roll call. It's at once a reunion, a rectification, a resurgence and a cathartic, tearful farewell.
With each new face we're reminded of another moment within another film from somewhere in our own past; an opportunity to engage in some time-travelling of our own as we revisit the experience of watching these films throughout the last decade.
Yes, tearful. There are deaths here. Real ones, not just the Thanos dusty type, and having spent so long in the company of these characters, the emotional resonance of their departures isn't easily absorbed. Technically, the upcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home is pegged as the official end to Phase 3 of the MCU, but emotionally there's no question Endgame lives up to its name. When the dust finally (and literally) settles, the payoff is unquestionably earned and the emotions are heartfelt and raw. But goodbye doesn't necessarily mean 'gone' in this world, and in certain cases a character's departure simply means their baton is passed on to others. A few of these are shown; others - merely hinted at. There's no post-credits scene this time round, but there is a post-credits sound effect.
Phase 4 will mark a significant reset for Marvel, and with the recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox, the path now lies opens for drawing in the X-Men franchise (and what better way to explain spontaneous mutation than a galactic blast of gamma radiation from an Infinity Gauntlet snap?). According to Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, however, 'it’ll be a while' before we see the likes of Magneto and Professor X alongside Captain America. Til then, Marvel's challenge will be to build, develop and deliver the same level of complexity and pathos into its next generation of heroes as with those we've just farewelled.