Directors: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner
“No amount of money ever bought a second of time,” says a character in Avengers: Endgame. If you’ve seen all 21 films in the MCU leading up to this one, you’ve already invested 45 hours of your life. The final installment demands 3 hours more. 3 hours and one minute to be precise. So we must ask – was it worth it? The answer is a resounding yes.
Avengers: Endgame is a many-splendored thing. The film is of course a massive industrial machine. Over 10 years, Marvel has created an entertainment juggernaut – serialized storytelling with multiple franchises, all of which have successful characters. The previous 21 films have collectively grossed 18.5 billion dollars at the box office. This is the 22nd film in the MCU and the fourth Avengers film after The Avengers in 2012, Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015 and Avengers: Infinity War in 2018. But despite the constraints of commerce that weigh down gigantic event movies, directors Anthony and Joe Russo tell a story that has layers, quietude, scale and above all, grand emotion. There is earnestness here and euphoria. I wept, not once but many times. And I exited the theatre feeling like I had said goodbye to a friend after a long and satisfying relationship.
The devastating snap at the end of Avengers: Infinity War told us that the Russo brothers and the writers – Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely – are not afraid of making audiences feel bad. Endgame starts 22 days after the snap. Tony Stark is somewhere in space, floating as he says, a thousand light years away from the nearest 7-11. The genocidal maniac Thanos has wiped out half of humanity and sorrow has seeped into the bones of the ones who live. The remaining Avengers are hollow versions of themselves. Even the relentlessly optimistic Captain America seems broken. And this sadness isn’t fleeting. We get a real sense of what it means to lose. The stakes, as the directors have been promising since the snap, are real.
But Markus and McFeely leaven the bleakness with humor. And once the heroes decide that they will do whatever it takes to defeat Thanos, the adrenalin kicks in. It helps that the acting is first-rate. Ant-Man and Hawkeye, who were not in Infinity War, play key roles here. Paul Rudd retains his signature lightness of being while Jeremy Renner embodies the anguish of a man who has little left to lose. Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo once again wholly inhabit the characters they have spent a decade playing. And Robert Downey Jr, who started it all, with Iron Man, brings an elder statesman-like dignity to it all.
Endgame is the longest movie in the MCU. In an interview, McFeely described the film as “a lean three hours”. I agree. There are a few stretches in which the relentless back and forth makes you restless. But mostly, the sprawling storyline has you gripped. The narrative honors the previous 21 films and wraps the storylines of dozens of characters by becoming a sort of Avengers greatest hits parade. It’s a Herculean task but McFeely and Markus, who are also co-producers on the movie, maneuver skillfully. They build on the intimacy we have with these characters. Though I wish a few had more screen time. We also get fun cameos from some of the most notable characters from previous installments. If you’re new to the universe, you will be lost. But for those of us who have put in the time, it’s a dazzling finish.
Avengers: Endgame makes you keenly aware of the passage of this time. The actors are visibly older. So are you. The film revisits some of the most memorable moments in the mythology. Later, you might find yourself revisiting the last 10 years of your own life. When you cry, and I think that you will, a part of it will be for yourself and all those seconds that no amount of money can bring back. Which is what makes this journey so valuable. I’m going with four stars.