Avengers: Endgame Review
The following review contains spoilers. Do not read if you have not yet seen Avengers: Endgame (or any MCU films, really).
I would say the greatest character in Marvel Comics is Captain America. On the surface, his powers are enhanced strength, stamina, healing, etc. but his true superpower is his unwavering morality. That sense of morality makes him not only the greatest Marvel superhero, but one of the greatest superheroes of all time. He doesn’t just exude American sentimentality as his namesake might imply. His morals are stronger than any one country, than any one religion. He cares about what is good and true, regardless of the situation.
One of the best examples of this in the comics was his ability to wield Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer. He was one of the very few who were worthy of such. In the Age of Ultron movie he nudges the hammer when no one other than Vision and (obviously) Thor can pick it up. It was a missed opportunity to realize a powerful moment from the page that comic book films oftentimes like to do. They like to tease and hint. Easter egg and imply. At least, they used to.
Comic books movies from the old days were scared to go “full comic.” Everything had to be explained and over-explained and re-explained, so we see the deaths of Peter Parker’s uncle and Bruce Wayne’s parents a few times too many. Things needed to be realistic, so the vibrant, colourful costumes of the X-Men had to be ditched for bland, matching uniforms. Villain origins needed to relate to the hero in some manner, so the Joker becomes the one who shot Thomas and Martha Wayne and the Sandman becomes involved with the death of Uncle Ben. The villains also oftentimes met their deaths at the end of the films to clear the way for new villains in the sequel(s).
These decisions are often made in the hopes of bettering the films, to make them more palatable for the casual, non-comic book audience. Sometimes the director has a specific vision that creatively drives the film away from the source material (Ang Lee’s Hulk and Tim Burton’s Batman Returns come to mind). In any case, the goal of the changes are to make a movie that makes the studio money and to franchise it out to make even more money.
MCU fell into these sorts of trappings early on. The hero had to have a love interest (who often found herself in need of being saved). The villain had to have the same power set as the hero (and still meet their maker by the time the credits rolled). And several comic book moments needed to be teased, but not realized (Tony Stark’s battle with alcoholism, Captain America almost being able to lift Mjolnir, and more).
But after Guardians of the Galaxy and the massive success it ended up being, Marvel Studios started trusting the audience more. Things that were once throw-away references eventually get fleshed out. Directors like Taika Waititi and James Gunn are able to leave their indelible marks on their films. Films without the standard white male lead such as Captain Marvel and Black Panther are released to great success. The films stretch out beyond the “comic book” genre and become more. Winter Soldier is a spy thriller. Ant-Man is a heist film. Captain Marvel is a 90’s action film.
Then Marvel took the biggest leap in trusting their audience with Infinity War. We’re thrown into a heavy story with very little reintroduction to the characters. The breakneck pace allows the Russo Brothers to take us on a whirlwind that results in us seeing the heroes we’ve watched for a decade lose for the first time. And they lose big. Half of these characters we’ve grown to care about over 10 years are wiped helplessly from existence with a snap. It was and still is a bold move for a film franchise of this size. Not since The Empire Strikes Back has a studio made such a big emotional and financial gamble.
Infinity War is one of the most comic book-y comic book movies ever made. The comics didn’t spend a lot of time reintroducing the reader to the characters. The heroes and villains often referenced things from previous issues without over-explaining the details. It was expected that if you’re reading this issue, that you’ve read the previous ones. If not, you could always go back and read the back issues to get caught up. The comics also regularly featured huge battles with various characters that films usually stayed away from, in fear of confusing the audience. Even team movies like X-Men somehow got the characters whittled down to fight the villain one-on-one. Infinity War was the first comic movie that took these attitudes from the printed page and put them on the screen. It is the closest thing I’ve seen that resembles what I used to read on the page. That is, until I saw Endgame.
It stayed away from most of the bullshit comic book movie tropes that’ve been established over the years and carved out a film that was as close to an actualized comic you could imagine. As a standalone film, Endgame fails miserably. Its entire success relies on your knowledge of 22 movies-worth of history. It acts more like a season finale than it does a singular film in the same way that Return of the King and Return of the Jedi do. A serialized movie based on a serialized comic.
Endgame delivers on virtually every promise made in the MCU thus far. The 6 original Avengers are given fitting, happy endings. Hulk’s happy ending comes early in the film when it’s revealed Bruce has finally accepted his hulking half and merged his two disparate selves into one body (Hulk body, Bruce mind). Hawkeye is reunited with his family. Thor accepts his unburdened destiny. Black Widow gives up her life to save her family. Tony Stark is shown happily married with a daughter, then fights for and dies saving the entire universe, and can finally rest. And Captain America himself finally gets a life and has that long-promised dance with the only woman he’s ever loved.
There are plenty of moments that bring genuine tears. The moment Captain American finally says “Avengers Assemble” and leads his army against Thanos is a cinematic moment for the ages that sends shivers up the spine simply remembering it. The words “I am Iron Man” are now simultaneously inspiring and heart-wrenching. The moment when the mantel of Captain America is passed onto Sam Wilson, a black man, is inspiring on every feasible level. When Black Widow and Hawkeye fight each other at the cliff on Vormir because neither wants the other to sacrifice themselves is one of the greatest shows of a loving friendship you could ever imagine. The closing shot of Captain America finally dancing with Peggy Carter to the tune of “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” induces eyefuls of joy, ready to burst. And if you don’t tell someone that you “Love them 3000,” do you even really love them?
But before Captain America dances his way off to retirement, in the heat of the battle with Thanos, he is shown to be worthy and wields Thor’s hammer. It’s a moment met by cheers in audiences around the world. Thor exclaims “I knew it!” when he sees our boy Steve Rogers holding Mjolnir. We all knew it. Not because he was strong enough to lift it, but because he was worthy. His morality, his heart, proved him capable of possessing and using Mjolnir. It’s a moment I’ve been wanting to see for most of my adult life and my eyes well with tears thinking about that moment as I write this.
That’s the magic that is Avengers: Endgame. It, in all its unabashed comic book glory, presents fan service to the max, while at the same time delivering on a decade’s worth of cinematic promises with genuine affection for both the source material and the audience. There are a few hokey scenes and lines here and there, but they’re easy to forgive in light of all the fantastic parts. This film is a satisfying conclusion to 22 movies that is as emotional, uplifting, awe-inspiring, and miraculous as anything you’re bound to see. Time may very well prove this to be the greatest comic book ever made.