What each viewer will want out of Avengers: Endgame depends on their devotion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I used to decry Marvel for compelling fans to see each and every one of the previous 21 movies to keep up with the larger storyline connecting them all. In this film, all of that prior knowledge finally comes to a head, and to say that it rewards loyal viewers is an understatement.
Picking up in the aftermath of Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) infamous snap that turned half of all living creatures into dust in Avengers: Infinity War, the surviving Avengers must regroup and see if there is any way forward. The road map ahead will require all of the brainpower of heroes like Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), combined with the brute strength of Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson).
And that is about all that’s safe to say about the plot. However, given that there’s another Spider-Man movie coming out this summer, and plans have already been made for sequels to both Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s no spoiler to say that those characters — almost all of whom were killed in Infinity War — and others return in Endgame. But how they return is best left to discover upon viewing.
The film, as you can tell by the title, represents the end of an era for MCU Phase One characters like Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), no matter what actually happens to them individually. That naturally brings up a lot of emotion, but how directors Joe and Anthony Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely deploy those feelings is a welcome surprise.
What the filmmakers, along with producer Kevin Feige, have learned over the course of these movies is that smaller is usually better. There’s a time and place for epic scenes — and this film contains the most epic of epic scenes — but the audience won’t care about the outcome of those battles if the filmmakers haven’t taken the time to allow us to connect with the characters.
Over and over again, Avengers: Endgame offers up small moments that contain huge amounts of emotion. These moments can be heartbreaking, hilarious, or infuriating, but they all serve the purpose of seeing each character — no matter their species — in a human light. That even goes for Thanos, and when you can make the audience feel empathy for a giant purple guy who’s destroyed half the universe, you know you’re doing something right.
Much of what happens could rightly be called fan service, but Feige and the other protectors of the MCU have proven, especially in the last three years, that they know how to shape scenes without ever forcing the issue. Thus, no matter how many times they call back to previous films or pair characters in unlikely but cheer-worthy ways, each moment feels earned and respectful of the audience’s intelligence.
A movie like this is as sprawling as they come, and yet they still find a way to incorporate almost every main character in a meaningful manner. There are a few notable misses, and Hawkeye still seems to get short shrift despite having his most usage to date, but it will be the rare fan who doesn’t come away satisfied with how his or her favorite character is used in the film.
Avengers: Endgame is everything Marvel fans could want and more. It will be interesting to see how the MCU moves into the future after the events in the film, but woe be upon anyone who doubts their ability to adapt and succeed mightily.