Avengers: Endgame (Marvel Studios, PG-13)

I am neither the first, nor will I be the last, to comment on how putting together a 22 movie universe over 11 years is both unprecedented and incredible. The logistical triumph that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is well known. As I sat down to watch Endgame, I was hit by the memories this endeavor has brought. Going to the first Iron Man with my girlfriend in 2008, giddy that Marvel was making movies. Leaving the theater after Avengers and sitting in the parking lot for hours, sharing stories with the people that lingered. The return of Bucky Barnes in Winter Soldier. The fallout of best friends in Civil War. All the way up to the end of Infinity War, dazed and confused by the outcome of our heroes first meeting with the Mad Titan, Thanos.

And here we are. Our heroes devastated. Their numbers severely diminished by the actions of a single, undeniable force. Endgame is the culmination of the MCU to date. Somehow our heroes have to emerge victorious. The “How” of it all, one of the most debated mysteries in the film industry. Many of these theories held promise, debating the possibility of time travel and alternate dimensions. Others were…more strange. No theory was impossible though, and for that reason “Thanus” circulated through the internet like wildfire. But despite all of these guesses, Endgame succeeded in delivering something I never thought possible.

We know where are heroes are after the events of Infinity War. Those who remain. But how will they fix the universe? Thanos’ snap had an unavoidable sense of finality to it. How could they possibly fight back?

If there has been one thing that the MCU has lacked over the last 11 years, it is a sense of real consequence. They are superhero movies, after all, how could the bad guys win? Infinity War and Endgame tip that plot weakness on its head. For the first time in a long time, the resolution to these conflicts don’t feel certain. Our heroes feel vulnerable. Throughout Endgame, no matter the scale of the action, there is a feeling of absolute dread that will seep into any fan. Every time the tide of a fight swings to the enemy’s side, every punch landed, every blade stroke slice, every explosion takes hold of your breath and unwillingly releases it.

Going into Endgame, you know that actors have said they won’t return. You know that people are going to sacrifice all that they can to save the world. For that reason, no one is safe. This is used to great effect by the Russo Brothers, who tug on the fan’s heart strings so strongly and so frequently it is as if they fashioned an instrument from our emotional attachment. This isn’t something Endgame waits to do to you. From the first moments the film starts, until the very end (more than three hours later) that fear, that worry, is palpable. Imagine the most stressful moments of Game of Thrones, drawn out over three hours.

Endgame resumes the story from Infinity War as our heroes, and the world, are trying to figure out how to move on. Cities are quiet, streets are littered with debris and garbage. We the survivors deal with their grief in numerous ways. Guilt, anger, denial, depression, and even a twisted, dishonest form of acceptance. Remember, Captain America and Iron Man never reconciled their differences. Thor lost everything. Captain America failed his best friend. The somber tone that Endgame starts with was to be expected. The depth at which the Russo Brothers would explore this is welcome and efficient.

Three hours is a long time to sit for a movie. Very few have reached the 180 minute mark. Even fewer hold your attention so relentlessly. The Russo Brothers and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have crafted something special. The moments between the action and drama are filled with character in Endgame. Every character seems to get a bit of the spotlight here (one would hope so, given three hours). It is in these moments that you are able to realize how far we’ve come. Tony, Thor, Cap, Black Widow, and Hulk have come a long way since the beginning of the MCU, and as our heroes plot their vengeance, each gives us another reason to love them. Another reason to remember where it all started.

It is incredibly hard to talk about the contents of this film without revealing plot details, and as the Russo’s asked in their letter, I will not spoil Endgame. The journey of our heroes, as they attempt to avenge their friends and families, as they try to reverse the snap, is complex and nuanced. They are tasked with the impossible, and if anyone is capable of pulling the impossible off, it is them.

In the final battle of Endgame (because of course there is a final battle) I caught myself cheering tearfully as years of dedication to a single, consistent narrative was leveraged in every way possible. Some cynic may call it leaning on a creative crutch, sure. But very few crutches take 11 years and 22 movies to build. Everyone is given a moment. Fans of every character, no matter how obscure, will feel their fandom serviced. This isn’t a money grab from an evil mega-corporation, it is a love letter to the people in the seats.

There are moments in this movie that I have been unable to shake from my mind. Emotional, powerful, amazing moments. Moments that reminded me why I have seen every single one of these films in the theater. Moments that remind me why I love these characters. Moments that just aren’t possible anywhere else. Having 20+ prior films to draw from is a luxury unheard of. Endgame takes advantage of that history in almost every scene.

When I wrote my review of Infinity War, I didn’t know how this story came to an end. The odds seemed insurmountable. The deck unfairly stacked. What Endgame does is something that even I, with as much faith as I have, was afraid would be too much to pull off.

Folks. Endgame doesn’t just pull it off, it nails it. Stan Lee’s pantheon of gods have been measured and weighed. Endgame is not found wanting in any way. The theater emptied out with wet faces and smiles. A decade’s work tied neatly, extravagantly, intricately into a bow and rested atop the world’s largest and most successful film franchise. I can’t imagine the pressure felt by all of those involved in the creation of this film, but they can rest assured: They did it. And they did a damn good job. | Caleb Sawyer

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