Avengers: Endgame’ is Marvel Studios’ end-all

Joshua Lloyd, Staff Writer

A word of advice: take a day off after you see the twenty-second chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Call in sick, skip class, whatever you have to do to recover from the emotional knockout that is “Avengers: Endgame.”
As the biggest Marvel movie ever to hit the multiplex, “Endgame” faces the Herculean task of bringing 11 years of shared-universe storytelling to a dramatic and satisfying close. No worries. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, who first broke onto the Marvel scene with the electrifying “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” like a good challenge.
And no challenge is bigger than defeating Thanos (the almighty Josh Brolin), the purple-skinned menace who nixed half of all life with an Infinity Gauntlet-powered finger snap. Last year he punched, teleported and burned his way through the Avengers en route to scoring all six Infinity Stones. He did what no other comic-book baddie has done before onscreen: he won. Now he can retreat to his space farm and, as he told the now-dusted Doctor Strange, “watch the sun rise on a grateful universe.”
The Avengers – or what’s left of them – are understandably in shock from seeing their comrades turn into particles and blow away in the wind. As Russian spy-turned-hero Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson captures the gnawing desperation of someone who, for the first time in her life, has no ready answers. And it’s quietly devastating watching Steve Rogers, a.k.a. the bastion of gung-ho nobility named Captain America, sit in a grief counseling circle with non-superpowered survivors.
In Widow, he finds someone who knows what it’s like to have their chance at a normal life ripped away. Now the rest of the world shares their pain, and for once, the Avengers can’t do a damn thing to change it. “I keep telling everybody they should move on and grow. Some do. But not us,” Steve says.
But Tony Stark, by all appearances, has done just that by moving to a lakeside cottage and tying the knot with Pepper Potts (a superb Gwyneth Paltrow). After getting knifed by Thanos and watching his web-slinging protégé die before his eyes, the man in the metal suit has had enough. Cap says the team needs him. “And I needed you, past tense. It’s too late, buddy,” Tony hisses. Cold, Mr. Stark.
Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. pull out all the stops in a pair of towering, shattering performances. Downey’s been here since the beginning, when “Iron Man” ruled the summer 2008 box office and jumpstarted a global phenomenon. Evans first picked up the shield in 2011 and made the role entirely his own, going from perpetual second banana to action star overnight. They laid the foundations of this box-office juggernaut. In “Endgame,” they fight like hell to restore the ruptured MCU. All signs point to “Endgame” being their Marvel swan song. Gentlemen, we salute you.
It’s the last round for the phenomenal Russo brothers too, and they’re in no rush to let the avenging begin. “Endgame” runs a monstrous three hours long, giving the visionary duo plenty of time to mess with our heads and paint a dystopian picture of a world in mourning. Neighborhoods are miniature ghost towns. NFL games are a thing of the past. Survivors visit stone markers bearing the names of “the Vanished.”
The end-of-days scenario has always been a threat in the MCU. This time it’s for real. “Endgame” hits so hard partly because the Russos force us to ask ourselves the question: what if?
When go time finally arrives, it’s travel-sized master burglar Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, endearing as ever) who brings the faintest glimmer of hope through his working knowledge of the Quantum Realm, a microscopic world unto itself where the rules of space and time mean next-to-nada.
A bit of quantum physics wizardry from Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and a reluctant Stark and voilà! Operation Time Heist is a go, with Cap leading the troops, old guard and newcomers alike, on a mission that will elicit one “Holy shit!” moment after another for the MCU diehards in the crowd.
In the interest of avoiding bodily harm, nothing else will be given away here, save that if you haven’t done your required Marvel viewing, throughout the second act you will be laughably lost. But if you’ve put in the long hours and stuck with the Avengers, Guardians and everyone else since the olden days of 2008, here’s where you reap your reward.
And it’s a hell of a payoff. “Endgame” is a dizzying new high for big-screen escapism, a testament to the cultural power of Marvel and its knack for turning blockbusters into cinematic touchstones. It’s a different level of epic, the kind that only comes from watching movie history play out in real time. Staying true to the fans who clamor for a more inclusive world of entertainment, “Endgame” is punctuated by moments of empowerment that signal bold (and long-overdue) new directions for the Marvel movies of Phase Four and beyond.
The furious final showdown at the Avengers compound, brought to the edge of reality with Trent Opaloch’s sweeping cinematography, deserves a spot in the National Archives. But the big-budget action never overshadows the movie’s rock-solid emotional core. Every frame screams end-of-an-era finality, and it speaks to the power of what we as people can do with second chances.
“Endgame” knows full well it’s the movie event of the decade, and it revels in every second of its awesome spectacle. Brave the packed theaters and brace yourself for a Marvel magnum opus that will wreck you. You’ll be more than thrilled. You will be avenged.