Avengers: Endgame, rated PG-13
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Don Cheadle, Josh Brolin, Bradley Cooper, Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert Redford, Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Anthony Mackie, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Karen Gillan, Rene Russo, Elizabeth Olsen, John Slattery, Tilda Swinton, Samuel L. Jackson
Austin Family Critical Rating: 4½ of 5 stars
Austin Family Family-Friendly Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Joe and Anthony Russo’s Avengers: Endgame is an absolutely humongous motion picture in every possible way – in length, story, scope, number of characters and, in particular, emotional impact. The film is the culmination of the 22 movies comprising the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it is packed with truly rousing moments. Even as someone who has only seen 14 of these films (which may sound like a lot, but given their cultural ubiquity, I’m not so sure), I felt truly invested in the weight and power of the proceedings.
Without spoiling any specific plot details, what’s so satisfying about Avengers: Endgame is that there is finality to this film, unlike many of the other movies in the MCU. Even in the best of these pictures, there are moments that simply play like ads for the next film (particularly the post-credits scenes). Here, there is not a single post-credit scene to be found. There are nods to the fates of characters who will certainly return in future films, yes. But there is a definite ending, and it is an excellent one.
One year after the release of Avengers: Infinity War, I hope I’m safe to reveal where things stand at the outset of Endgame. (Spoiler warning: if you haven’t seen Infinity War, you may not want to read further.) Thanos (Josh Brolin), the most frightening and complex villain in any Marvel film to date, successfully collected all six Infinity Stones, with which he was able to wipe out half of humanity. The ending of Infinity War was powerfully bleak – superheroes as beloved as Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Spiderman (Tom Holland) and several Guardians of the Galaxy disintegrate into dust, leaving the original Avengers tasked with a plan to somehow defeat Thanos.
Endgame picks up right where Infinity War left off, and the film makes some bold choices from the start. Again, without divulging too much in the way of story, the remaining Avengers – including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, making a welcome return), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and, delightfully, Ant Man (Paul Rudd), devise a scheme to retrieve the Infinity Stones and undo the devastation Thanos caused in Infinity War.
Just as I was greatly entertained by the methods the Avengers undertake to save the world (at one point, they joke that they’re essentially performing a space heist – which is a movie idea I once considered writing), I was also deeply moved by the send-off some of our lead characters receive. As much as I sometimes like to pretend that these films are interchangeable and uninteresting when compared to the imaginative offerings available in independent cinema (and they sometimes are), I was misty-eyed by the end of Avengers: Endgame, feeling deeply for characters I perhaps hadn’t even realized I adored.
Robert Downey Jr. is one of my favorite actors, and I was delighted by his performance in Iron Man (2008) when it was first released. Nothing has made me happier than seeing his career soar since taking on the role of Tony Stark. And yet, in recent years, I’ve wanted him back in the kinds of films where he’s at his finest, such as Short Cuts (1993), Wonder Boys (2000), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and Zodiac (2007). In Avengers: Endgame, however, I was floored by his performance – he is wonderful in the film, and it dawned on me that no other actor could have better portrayed Stark’s emotional arc across these films than him.
In some ways, Avengers: Endgame doesn’t even feel like cinema. It requires so much outside knowledge of this world and these characters that it’s almost something else entirely. In that respect, it’s almost hard to evaluate the film against a regular movie – it offers a huge emotional catharsis, but does that have more to do with the build-up of 21 prior MCU entries than the actual film itself? I’m not certain.
As I watched the movie, the absolute reverence the audience had for these characters was fascinating to me. The first half of Endgame basically plays like a straight drama, and people were sitting completely still, deeply engaged with each dramatic scene. But when a straight drama film without superheroes takes the same time and pace to tell a story, people are often on their phones and talking. Modern-day attention spans allow for a film like Avengers: Endgame to run over three hours long, but how many people nowadays will stand for something like The Godfather (1972), Schindler’s List (1993) or Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – all of which were blockbusters in their day? Even as I celebrate the magnificent accomplishment of Avengers: Endgame, this thought lingers with me. I would encourage those folks with the patience to sit through Endgame multiple times to explore other types of long cinema and give those films a chance, as they once did with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After all, there are many stories to tell in this world, and most of them don’t involve Avengers.
Avengers: Endgame is rated PG-13, primarily for the violence in its action sequences. I would recommend the film for ages 8 and up.