A triumphant celebration of cinema and heroism.
Disclaimer: There are absolutely NO plot or story spoilers in this review, only several very general themes discussed in purposefully vague terms.
About the Film
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has become a mainstay in the pop-culture consciousness of the last decade. The unprecedented phenomenon of one grand and interconnected narrative told over the course of 20+ films may never be matched. These films are to this generation what Star Wars was to the previous generation. Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of a decade of storytelling; an epic finale that marks the end of a cinematic and storytelling era. This film feels like a milestone not just for the MCU, but for pop-culture as a whole. For those who have been invested in the unfolding story over the last 10 years, Endgame delivers a triumphant finale that is both a fitting end to this chapter of the Marvel story, and also a reminder of the power and joy that great cinematic storytelling can achieve.
On the Surface—(Profanity, Sexual content, violence, etc.).
There are a handful of minor profanities (words that start with A and S). There are plenty of scenes of standard comic-book action with relatively bloodless violence. There is a somewhat heavy-handed scene of a character discussing a homosexual relationship (although not in a sexual way).
Beneath the Surface— (Themes, philosophical messages, worldview, etc.)
- The Making of a Hero
For what its worth, I found Avengers: Infinity War (the previous film in the series) underwhelming. That film was a showcase of the powers of the heroes with too many long CGI-driven action scenes that did little other than to provide inconsequential spectacle. But then Thanos (the big baddie) snapped his purple fingers, the good guys lost, and everything changed. Avengers: Endgame soars where I thought Infinity War fell short and returns to what made the superhero genre so captivating to begin with—the characters. The movie is not about what a hero can do, but who a hero must be.
Endgame allows time for its characters to breathe and develop. Audiences expecting 3 hours of climatic action will be surprised that there is significantly less action than expected (although, when the action scenes do arrive, they are arguably the best ever put on screen in a super hero movie). In the middle of large-scale battles and end-of-the-world stakes, the film never loses its grasp on the characters themselves. Even the delightfully geeky spectacle-driven elements (and there as some incredible ones!) are in the service of the characters and not simply for the “cool factor.”
In the two previous Avengers films, the heroes’ main contribution to the team was largely their powers (the Hulk is strong and indestructible/Thor can wreck shop with lightning, etc.). In Endgame, there is a greater sense that the heroes are important to the Avengers more for who they are than for what they can do. The team is not powerful because of their combined super abilities (as in Infinity War), but because there is a necessary emotional bond and friendship that lifts them from the dirt to keep fighting the good fight.
2. Flawed but Heroic
All great superhero movies must strike the delicate balance between the human and the hero. If the hero is too superpowered and heroic, then they are an unattainable ideal (which was my issue with Captain Marvel). On the other hand, if they are too flawed and human, then they are uninspiring. Endgame strikes the balance perfectly. Both extremes are on full display. For perhaps the first time in a superhero movie, we are given an extended glimpse into the life of failed heroes (following the aftermath of Infinity War). Each of the characters processes this failure in unique and relatable ways. At the same time, there is an underpinning of optimism and and nobility driven forward by the mantra, “whatever it takes.” At one point, one of the heroes acknowledges that the rest of the world might move on, but not them. There is something within the heart of a hero that cannot simply accept a broken world. Against all odds and at whatever cost, a hero pushes forward to make the world better. In the middle of all the crazy superpowers and cosmic world-hopping, this is the message that has drawn audiences back again and again to the superhero genre.
There are some interesting and powerful themes woven throughout this film. At the same time, to over-intellectualize the movie is, I believe, to miss the point. Not all films are intended to be learned from. Some are simply meant for us to experience. There is value in “receiving” rather than “using” Art (as C. S. Lewis once wrote). Avengers: Endgame is a culturally significant film. It is a pop-culture milestone and a global celebration of heroism. In the midst of an angry and broken society, Avengers: Endgame reminds us that we still yearn to see good overcome evil and to celebrate the nobility and heroism in the human heart. There was loud cheering and applause in the movie theater I attended as our beloved heroes fought back against the forces of evil. It is difficult to quantify the importance of an experience like that; yet, in inarticulatable ways, I left the theater feeling that I was a better person for having experienced it.