Now, here’s a challenge. How to review a film that is best enjoyed if you go in blind? And, indeed, how to review a film that does not need reviews? If you’ve seen the previous 21 Marvel movies, then you’re going to watch Avengers: Endgame. At this point, we’re all far too emotionally invested not to.
Luckily, you don’t need to worry that the film will let you down. Avengers: Endgame more than lives up to the weight of expectations, and surpasses its forebearers. A film could only be this bold, this emotionally brutal, this heart-warmingly hilarious if you’ve already spent over a decade with the characters.
The film opens with a surprisingly weighty reintroduction to all our heroes as they mostly fail to deal with the fall-out of Thanos snap at the end of Infinity War. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is stuck in space with Nebula (Karen Gillen), tearing himself apart with guilt over the death of Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has sunk into a silent depression, Clint (Jeremy Renner) has gone rogue, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is all about that peaceful life and Cap and Natasha (Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson) are experiencing identity crises. The return of Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang – thought to be snapped, but actually trapped in the quantum realm – is the nudge everyone needs to get the band back together and set about saving the world.
That much, at least, is fairly clear from the trailers – but, in a nice change from the norm, the trailers give away hardly any plot, and neither will we. Much has been made of the film’s over three-hour running time, but it’s tightly-paced and the time flies by as the film flits confidently between heavy drama, rollicking adventure, comedy and superpowered smackdowns. Thanks to the heavy cast-trimming at the end of Infinity War, Endgame feels less like a complicated series of puzzle pieces and more like a single, coherent story. The focus is on the six original Avengers, and the film is able to dig into their dynamics in satisfying detail. Thor, after his dramatic heavy-lifting in Infinity War, is back to comedy this time round and, delightful as Hemsworth is when he’s in silly mode, Thor is the only character whose relation to the team dynamic is left unexplored, which is a shame.
Newbies like Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) are, rightly, left mostly on the sidelines. Her time will come, but for now the film focuses on the characters and actors who have already put in the hours. Scott, Clint and Nebula play surprisingly key roles and all rise to the challenge, and the film continues to add smart layers of complexity to Josh Brolin’s villainous Thanos. Evans, as usual, downplays to perfection as the earnest, burdened Cap, but its Downey Jr who steals the show. He’s pushed here in a way the MCU haven’t pushed him in a while, and he deftly brings all of Tony Stark’s qualities – both loveable and really unpleasant – to the fore in a performance that’s both substantial and light as a feather.
Endgame is a celebration of everything that’s gone before, stuffed with callbacks and unexpected and unlikely cameos that will reward hardcore fans in spades. There are a number of beautiful moments of fan service that left our audience howling their approval, as well as moments of complete, breath-holding silence. By the time the film enters its own endgame, even the most stoic of fans won’t be able to resist the occasional air-punch or chest-clutch. This film is an absolute triumph.