Marvel Studios kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe nearly 11 years ago with ‘Iron Man’. Back then, they had a relatively modest vision of building to The Avengers by assembling a team of heroes from their respective origin movies into a single unit. Marvel Studios and Disney's three-hour epic sendoff ‘Avengers: Endgame’ reunites the franchise’s mightiest superheroes to battle Josh Brolin’s Thanos. While constantly eventful and a feast for the eyes, it’s also notably more somber than its predecessors. But just when it might seem about to become too grim, Robert Downey Jr. rides to the rescue with an inspired serio-comic performance that reminds you how good he can be.
In case you hadn’t noticed, since last we saw the lantern-jawed mug of Thanos (Josh Brolin), he has decimated half the population. Endowing him with such power is the complete set of six Infinity Stones he spent the last film accumulating, and Thanos has worked out his own perverse rationale as to why humankind deserves to be put out of its misery rather than just being punished. When Brie Larson’s recently introduced ‘Captain Marvel’ shows up with the announced intention of knocking off Thanos single-handedly, she needs to be restrained.For an entertainment brand in which hardly anyone ever really and truly dies, a sense of mortality nonetheless hangs over quite a few of the characters - especially in this saga, in which some confess, in one way or another, to feeling that they have come to the end of something. While there are certainly young upstarts like Captain Marvel and the briefly glimpsed Black Panther ready to jump into the fray, veterans including Iron Man, Chris Evans’ Captain America and Chris Hemsworth’s gone-to-seed Thor (complete with pot belly) seem more than prepared to face their reckonings.
Nonetheless, it’s an amiable brand of melancholy that pervades the film, one that scarcely gets in the way of the enthusiasm and excitement that Marvel adventures almost always deliver in some measure or another. The feeling of finality and potential farewell is sometimes suggested quietly just in the way certain moments are lingered over, conveying the fatalistic sense that this might well be the last time around the block for some of these characters.
Although there is loads of action and confrontations, what is distinctive here in contrast to most of the earlier Marvel films are the moments of doubt, regret and uncertainty, along with the desire of some characters to move on. Granted, this is almost always undercut, and/or cut short, by some emergency that pulls them right back in, and decisive action always remains paramount.
There is no question that ‘Avengers: Endgame’ benefits considerably from the prioritizing of humor and character detailing on the parts of writers Markus and McFeely and directors Anthony and Joe Russo, something most of the actors clearly picked up on and ran with. But spectacle still rules in these fanciful epics, which have pre-primed viewers eating right out of the filmmakers’ hands. The best of the Marvel films - and the Avengers pics are certainly among them - go the extra mile to genuinely engage the audience and not just pander to it. Cutesiness and formula prevail at times, to be sure, but this team knows quite well how to stir the pot.
Yes, there is a big climactic battle and the decisive death of a major character, but no action on the level of ‘Game of Thrones’ or Marvel’s own ‘Black Panther’. No, what comes across most strongly here, oddly enough for an effects-driven comic-book-derived film, is the character acting, especially from Downey, Ruffalo, Evans, Hemsworth, Brolin and Paul Rudd as Ant-Man.
So ‘Avengers: Endgame’ is, from all appearances, the end of the road for some characters and storylines, but the seeds of many offshoots look to have been planted along the way.