Following the cataclysmic events of Avengers Infinity War, the remaining heroes try to adjust to life without those they’ve lost. Scott Lang escapes from the quantum realm and has a radical idea to undo the damage wrought by Thanos. But the far-flung team may be slightly harder to assemble this time.
What’s most gratifying, and immediately obvious, about Endgame is that this film is much better at taking its time. From its slow opening sequence of a man losing his entire family to the final shot, we spend longer in each scene, allowing much greater engagement with the story and the characters, of which there are far fewer. There’s a greater narrative focus and a structure to the story that makes it far more satisfying than it’s bloated predecessor. It’s an unpredictable journey with high stakes and a lot of entertaining twists. It’s hard to discern a theme that unites all of the threads, but complications in parenthood and identity recur throughout. Thor’s journey to self-appreciation is particularly moving.
Endgame is a loving celebration of Marvels history. Various iconic moments are revisited or referenced, including the first act recruitment process of Joss Whedon’s unsurpassed 2012 film. Marvel has been consistently delivering entertaining and occasionally exceptional blockbusters for over ten years, an unprecedented feat of film-making. The density of the mythology and audience knowledge they can draw upon allows for a huge number of emotional moments with very little setup. A line about Steve’s prematurely terminated relationship with Peggy Carter is merely reminding the audience of a tragedy eight years in the making.
A great deal of the film is set on earth or similarly grounded locations like Asgard. There are fewer entirely CG environments, at least until the climax. Being able to relate to a location in a film is an important part of an audience’s investment in the events depicted therein. Steve Rogers and his support group held in a gym hall has more impact than a giant purple planet with no depth. Even the sequences set in space have a gravitas lacking in prior films.
The action of the film is a little disappointing. The Russo’s have previously demonstrated a great affinity for action scenes, contributing perhaps Marvel’s best-executed sequences in films like The Winter Soldier and Civil War. Once again, however, the action is a little too frenetic here. Although there’s less of the overly busy, colourful nonsense of Infinity War’s more indulgent moments, there is still an off-putting frenetic quality to the editing. A fight between two human characters without superpowers on a bridge should be an exciting relatable martial arts sequence. But we’re too close, it’s cut too fast and very quickly the scene transitions to physics-defying aerial acrobatics. It’s a shame, but there are still many sequences to quicken the pulse a little.
It’s a shame that Spiderman: Far From Home is being touted as the end of this current cycle of films, because Endgame is surely the finest possible conclusion. The six original characters are lovingly signed off, each reaching some form of conclusion. It’s an unprecedented film, a conclusion to 21 previous films. But the qualities of the film are the qualities of the franchise; it’s funny, sweet, and very moving at times. Of course, it’s not the end of Marvel, but there are just enough dramatic moments and satisfying character arcs to give you the sense of an ending.