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Over the last 11 years, Marvel Studios has built a franchise unlike anything the movie world has ever seen before. More than just launching an incredible run of multiple series that each center on unique characters and establish their own specific aesthetics, they’ve also maintained an immensely complex continuity that expands with each new story. Every filmmaker who contributes to the universe adds a new piece to the puzzle, carving out something different and diverse that is also crafted to add to the bigger picture.
Within this approach there are gradients, and it results in two basic kinds of Marvel Studios films. On one side you have titles like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy, which find their own corner of the expansive world and use that specific real estate for relatively contained storytelling. On the other side there are titles like The Avengers and Captain America: Civil War, which are designed with the entire scope of the franchise in mind, and utilize specific details and elements of the larger continuity to create something both reflective and new.
As tremendous and exceptional as the movies in the former category can be (and that’s pretty extreme), it’s those in the latter that make the Marvel Cinematic Universe truly special. Simply making a cogent and entertaining blockbuster is a ridiculous challenge all by itself, so you’d think that simultaneously incorporating the massive details of multiple other massive films would be practically impossible. And yet, the studio has been successful time and time again.
This brings us to Joe and Anthony Russo’s Avengers: Endgame – a film that has been specifically described over the last four-and-a-half years as the movie that would be the ultimate capstone for the franchise, and exist as the story to which all of the previous 21 chapters have been leading. Obviously that’s an incredible amount of hype, and the end result is that it’s now considered one of the most anticipated releases in history… but what’s even more utterly spectacular is the fact that every ounce of that hype is totally justified.
Simply put, Avengers: Endgame is one of the most ambitious, entertaining, emotional, and stunning blockbusters we’ve ever seen, and the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon thus far.
Based on a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who previously wrote four of the best films in this franchise), the movie picks up following the shattering events of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, and finds the surviving heroes (Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlet Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, and Brie Larson) figuring out how to move on after Thanos (Josh Brolin) successfully managed to collect all six Infinity Stones and wipe out half of all life in existence. The depression and devastation is real following their defeat, but the titular team, living up to their name, is not ready to give up. Using both their brawn and their brains, they concoct a plan that they hope will not only lead to defeating the Mad Titan, but also right the horrific wrong that has been inflicted on the universe.
If it’s not obvious, the vagueness of that plot description is entirely intentional, as the surprises that unfold in Avengers: Endgame’s perfectly-paced three hour runtime can only be properly appreciated when personally witnessed – and there’s a new one that comes around just about every five minutes as you’re watching. Whether it’s actors you never expected in a million years to show up; locations you never thought you’d see; or plot twists that come from the parking lot behind left field, it’s a movie that not only keeps you constantly guessing about what could possibly come next, but succeeds in dropping your jaw with every swing that it takes, both with the novel and the familiar.
In reflection, it feels like every choice was the choice that the film needed to make in order to be successful. But at the same time it's mind-bending to recognize both how well the movie pulls them off, and that the franchise as a whole has gotten to a place where they could actually be done.
Arriving part and parcel with all of these surprises is the extremely entertaining experience that is watching the film. Thus far, the greatness of the Russo brothers’ contributions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been found in the dramatic weight and heft that they’ve brought to these stories – at a steadily increasing level from Captain America: The Winter Soldier to Captain America: Civil War to Avengers: Infinity War – and while all of that is still there, Avengers: Endgame also has a remarkably different tone. It’s most definitely still an emotional ride, and in moments is actually heartbreaking, but the nature of its story also allows it to be fun in a way that’s only been experienced in small tastes in their previous features. It will be a challenge for pretty much anyone to watch this one without a goofy grin plastered on their face for the bulk of the runtime (especially during the climactic third act, which is an epic masterpiece unlike anything else).
It would be reductive to call this film a love letter to Marvel fans, as that paints it as pandering and undersells its broader appeal, but at the same time it does feel like a wonderful gift to all those who have spent the last decade-plus emotionally engaging with the lives and adventures of these characters. The Russo brothers, Markus and McFeely, and the true mastermind of it all, Kevin Feige, are perfectly tapped in to everything that we value about these heroes, and every ounce of their shared appreciation flows through the veins of Avengers: Endgame in every moment. It’s still hard to believe even after seeing it, but what once seemed like an impossible dream is now a phenomenal reality – and one that audiences are going to want to experience over and over again.