In Avengers: Infinity War, the Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), willingly gives the all-powerful time stone to Thanos (Josh Brolin), a galactic-conqueror and freshman-year philosophy major. When Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) questions Dr. Strange’s decision, the sorcerer responds, “We’re in the endgame now.” After 21 Marvel movies, he’s right. Avengers: Endgame is a fitting conclusion to Marvel’s first 11-year cinematic story.
Endgame picks up five years after Infinity War on an Earth that’s struggling to adapt without half of its living things. Thanos, who, in the previous Avengers movie, snapped half of the universe’s living things out of existence with the aid of cinema’s most powerful MacGuffin, predicted that, with additional resources, the survivors would live in utopia. For unexplained reasons, that simply hasn’t been the case. New York City is devoid of sunlight and San Francisco homes are abandoned and unkempt. Although Thanos managed to solve San Francisco’s housing crisis, the world is decidedly more empty for it. The galaxy’s remaining Avengers attempt to continue the good fight while they bide their time waiting to figure out a solution to the snap.
In a San Francisco impound yard, a rat scurries across a scientific instrument, releasing Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) from the Quantum Realm, a microscopic universe where the rules of time and space (and time-travel logic) no longer apply. (Extended time in the Quantum Realm could also explain how Rudd hasn’t aged in 30 years.) Ant-Man returns to the remaining Avengers, led by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). The team, after years of hiatus from notable members, reforms and attempts to use its collective brainpower, particularly that of Iron Man and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), to solve the time-travel quandary and un-snap half of the universe.
Endgame kicks off with a dramatic scene of real acting by Jeremy Renner, portraying the family man and oft-mocked archer, Hawkeye. Renner’s opening scene isn’t all the real acting we’re treated to, either, as each of Marvel’s six original Avengers (Renner, Downey Jr., Johansson, Ruffalo, Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth) were given emotional scenes to chew on throughout the movie. Although Endgame boasts more than 20 Avengers and friends, Marvel opts to use the film as a celebration of the six actors who paved the way for a film franchise that sees three releases per year.
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo, behind the camera for their fourth Marvel movie, have long since perfected the balancing act of having more than 30 major characters appear on screen. The Russo brothers were the right (and perhaps only) choice for Endgame, which may be Marvel’s only science fiction epic to date. Not even the space operatic Guardians of the Galaxy movies can compete with Endgame’s scale and mind-numbing plot. Fortunately, the story doesn’t need to be rational to be fun.
Endgame calls back to six of Marvel’s previous films, including the atrocious Thor: The Dark World. It’s not necessary to have seen all six movies visited via time travel in Endgame, but it certainly enhances the viewing experience. As has become Marvel Studios’ calling card, the segments are both meta and self-referential, never giving way to melodrama regardless of the stakes. The film’s only misfire comes after the resolution. Instead of the standard Marvel Studios post-credit stingers, Endgame opts for an epilogue. The epilogue is rife with emotional moments, but it overstays its welcome and bloats the runtime to three hours.
The 182-minute runtime is worth the price of admission, though. The Russo brothers close the current chapter of an unprecedented cinematic saga with a swan song for its longest-serving members. Although the future of the Avengers is murky as its original team steps away or adopts a different role, the MCU is left in the capable hands of the likes of Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). In the meantime, Endgame does its best to acknowledge the contributions of a cast that served as the foundation for a beloved universe.