It’s finally here. Arguably the biggest movie event of the century so far, the culmination cinema’s most successful blockbuster franchise could not feel more different from its predecessor. Infinity War (2018) is a tightly scripted helping of linear action heroics that felt like the work of master craftspeople. Avengers: Endgame is the work of gods; as messy, confusing and cause for celebration as the fractured lives that it pulls out of the ashes. If Infinity War wanted to blow you away, Endgame wants to punch you in the gut and leave you a speechless, quivering wreck.
Thanos has snapped half of life in the universe out of existence, and those Avengers left have to gather themselves to try and get back at the mad titan. Easier said than done, it turns out. The Russo brothers rekindle tensions that fuelled the hostility in Captain America: Civil War (2016), while some of their best fighters have gone down a path of depression, anger and self-destruction. Cue the timely arrival (and in some cases, return) of key players, including Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson).
The film both begins and ends on brutal notes, and the entire cast wear this brutality on their sleeves. Loss, disbelief and emptiness haunt the Avengers like a plague, and this brokenness comes through in all those who are left. Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans in particular have never been better. Rudd really pushes himself as Ant-Man to give a varied and powerful performance, while Larson brings back Carol Danvers with a fiery intensity. Her contributions are very much a case of quality over quantity, although they always arrive at key points.
It’s credit to the Russos’ genius that they do not get bogged down in morbidness. There is some incredible fun to be had in Endgame – Thor’s transformation, especially, is as tragic as it is achingly hilarious. The method they choose to get back at Thanos also allows for some wonderful moments of comic relief, light-stepping through gratifying memories of movies past. Perhaps it should be more sombre given what has happened, but Endgame gets this out of the way early and never looks back. It wouldn’t be a Marvel movie if it did.
Speaking of Thanos, Josh Brolin once again injects the antagonist with hissable evil that you cannot look away from. The Russos do not grant him any moral compass this time, inviting no-one to think through Thanos’ barbarity. Here he is just an outright monster, but no less compelling thanks to Brolin’s detestable conviction.
Once all the confusing micro-details are out of the way, Endgame unleashes the third act to end all third acts. The final battle is like the most intense war movies and science-fiction epics rolled into one, powered along by torturous unpredictability and breathtaking fights. There is some blatant fan service to be had here, but even this is not purely superficial, testifying to how the characters have changed. It is in these moments that, if you have followed the Marvel Cinematic Universe for all these years, it all becomes a bit much. You will cry and holler and gasp. Everything from the effects to the sound and the dialogue is channeled towards making Endgame an emotional fireworks display like nothing you will ever experience. Even if you don’t care, you cannot help but bask in the glory of it all. It’s a relentless, joyous and magnificent climax.
It does, indeed, prove to be the endgame for several characters, although not in the ways that you might think. It feels like the natural end to ten cinema-changing years. There is some clumsiness and head-scratching that Infinity War does not have, but such specks seem so insignificant in context. Endgame is a fist-pumping, glorious and bombastic ending that promises everything you could ever want, and almost nothing is as anticipated. The Marvel Cinematic Universe will continue, but we will likely never see anything like Endgame ever again.