Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Josh Brolin
Directors: Anthony & Joe Russo
Runtime: 302 minutes
Release Date: 25th April 2019
Matt C: The conclusion of what's now being referred to as 'The Infinity Saga', Avengers: Endgame had the gargantuan task of not only delivering on the expectations resulting from the emotionally devastating finale of Avengers: Infinity War, but also on the entire franchise to date, with each of the previous 21 films edging us towards this destination, to varying degrees. With a marketing campaign that focussed on showing as little as possible, rumours have swirled around over the last year about what could happen, with most of them being way off, but some having surprising proximity to the truth. It's an indication of just how much of an unstoppable juggernaut the Marvel Cinematic Universe is at this stage that they didn't need to show too much in advance; people will turn up regardless and, in all honesty, one of the joys of this movie is the succession of unexpected delights it offers, all wrapped up with genuine love of the source material, perhaps more overtly visible here than in any prior instalment.
Keeping plot details to a minimum, Endgame picks up shortly after the climactic events of Infinity War, with the survivors dealing with aftermath of the galactic catastrophe instigated by Thanos, specifically the guilt various Avengers feel for not being able to prevent it. It's a downbeat opening, tension brimming between the team members (as it always has), most being incapable of moving on... until a glimmer of hope breaks through the melancholia. In many ways Endgame feels like a victory lap, with plenty of fan service for those who've devoted themselves to this universe across the last 11 years, but it also packs a hearty emotional wallop as the Avengers - the original six in particular - come to terms with what it means to be a hero, and the personal sacrifices that are part and parcel of that. Downey Jr is reliably brilliant, the original tone-setter reminding us why he's been absolutely integral to the series' success since the beginning, and Chris Evans - given less screen time in Infinity War - is front and centre here: Cap's unwillingness to move on or give up is powerfully conveyed throughout. The rest of the cast are equally excellent, partially because they've had ample opportunity to inhabit their roles, but also because their mutual chemistry is believably potent. Josh Brolin's reappearance as the violently profound Thanos, after making such an impression in Infinity War, cements the character's status as one of the great cinematic villains.
It's not quite as relentlessly intense and action-heavy as Infinity War; there are quieter moments of introspection peppered throughout, and the absence of any need to reintroduce the characters provides additional room to explore the relationships between them. There are action scenes, of course, but it's a relatively slow build-up to the monumentally stunning finale, which itself could have easily have been a box-ticking exercise if it weren't so rousing, deeply affecting and flat-out astonishing. It captures the pure sugar-rush thrill and excitement of numerous epic battles that have appeared in the pages of comic books across the decades, and it's jaw-dropping to see how the directing duo of Anthony and Joe Russo hold everything together with coherency and confidence, the familiarity of the characters and their arcs adding a level of poignancy that would have been impossible to produce without a decade of groundwork being laid. Alan Silvestri's score is stirring, nostalgic and plucks at the heartstrings when necessary, his impressive contributions to the franchise reappearing alongside new themes; he exits the series on an inarguable high point.
An astonishing achievement by any definition, while this is a finale of sorts (no end credits scenes here!) it's obviously not the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but what will come next will likely be very different to what's come before. And that's as it should be. By resetting the benchmark with Endgame, it could be argued that Marvel Studios simply have no chance of replicating a project on this scale, with so many moving parts working in unison seamlessly - but then, a decade ago, no one expected anything like this as being possible. It was a huge gamble for the studio and head honcho Kevin Feige, but the respect and devotion to the source material was abundantly evident from the get-go, and still is. Time and again they've subverted expectations, taken risks, and, give or take a few bumps along the road, it has all paid off. Endgame may very well be a masterpiece of the genre but considering the trajectory of the MCU so far, it would foolish to assume the only way is anything other than up. 10/10