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The Mother of All Battles

Chris Evans
Chris Evans
Walt Disney Studios
 182 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed ByAnthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans    
Avengers: Endgame

NOTE: The movie reviews on this site contain plot synopses that are somewhat more detailed than those contained in most similar reviews, although, in general, we don’t reveal anything that people who have seen the film’s trailers don’t already know or could easily guess. However, the trailers for Avengers: Endgame have been remarkably circumspect about revealing crucial details. To properly discuss the movie, we will reveal some information that some might consider spoilers, so a warning is in order. However, I will not reveal what most people who have seen the film would consider the key emotional moments.


For an entire year, ever since Avengers: Infinity Wars hit theaters, fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and, indeed, movie fans in general, have been eagerly awaiting its sequel, Avengers: Endgame, in which the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers would presumably be resolved. This anticipation has even dwarfed the return of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill to the Star Wars franchise. The only comparable degree of anticipation in the history of movies was probably the buildup to the 1939 release of Gone with the Wind, a similar film in scope, even though the business of moviemaking and the nature of movie watching has changed dramatically over the decades. And, after the months of waiting, how does Avengers: Endgame stack up against other spectaculars, or, for that matter, against other classics. The short answer is that’s it’s well made and a fitting end to what can be deemed a saga, but it’s not the be-all and end-all some hyped it as.


For those who somehow were living in a cave for the past year, at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, archvillain Thanos (Josh Brolin) secured the six all-powerful Infinity Stones from the various locations where they had been lurking throughout the Marvel universe. He then fitted them in his gauntlet, and snapped his fingers, instantly turning half of the Earth’s population into dust. Approximately half of the Avengers’ extended family were among the vanished as well. Of course, no one expected all those heroes to stay vaporized, and, it turns out, they’re not—maybe.


After an initial attempt to recover the stones from Thanos fails, the remaining Avengers spend the next five years continuing with their lives, although the trauma of what they lost obviously weighs heavily upon them. Then, a freak accident releases Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), who had been trapped in the subatomic Quantum Realm for those five years. Once set free, Ant-Man quickly learns that five years have passed, although he thinks that he’s been in the realm for only a few minutes. Being a scientist, he eventually figures out that the Avengers can use the Quantum Realm to go back in time and take the various Infinity Stones before Thanos gets them (it’s advanced comic book science).


The quest for the Infinity Stones sends the various Avengers back to different time periods, most notably sending a now-reformed Nebula (Karen Gillan) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) to outer space to get one of the stones before Thanos does. This has the unfortunate effect of alerting Thanos and his other daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to what’s happening. Eventually, although Thanos is unable to keep the Avengers from getting the Stones, he can travel in time to the future (e.g., five years from now) and summon his army to help him get the Stones back. Since the Avengers themselves have recovered the Stones, they manage to bring everyone back just as Thanos’ forces arrive, setting up yet another battle royal between good and evil for the final possession of the Stones and the future of the Earth.


Avengers: Endgame is a full three hours long, but there’s almost no padding, and the film has only a couple of flat spots. The cast list in the end credits is the most impressive of any Marvel film with practically everyone of note in the past movies eventually showing up, either in scenes set in the past or in a big get-together moment at the very end. Many of those appearances are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos, but a few have a significant emotional impact. Before the big battle begins, directors Anthony and Joe Russo manage to give almost every character a significant emotional moment. For Thor, it’s a last reunion with his mother (Renee Russo), who died several movies ago. For Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), it’s a reunion some forty years in the past with his father (John Slattery). And, for everyone, it’s the last cameo from Marvel creator Stan Lee, who also shows up forty years in the past. What struck me most about these scenes is how natural they felt. There was no forced weepiness; instead, most of these scenes were affirmations for the characters and the audience.


In addition to the touching reunions and other catharses that the characters encounter, the middle hour of Avengers: Endgame involves what Ant-Man refers to as the “time heists,” and, here, the filmmakers take full advantage of the inherent paradoxes of time travel to create some authentically gonzo scenarios, in some cases reminiscent of the mind-boggling Mobius strip timelines of the Lost TV series. In the best sequence Iron-Man, Ant-Man, and Captain America wind up stealing one of the Infinity Stones from right under the noses of the Hydra agents who menaced them several years earlier. While the sequence gives viewers the pleasure of seeing Robert Redford one last time in a film, it also winds up pitting the future Captain America against the earlier version of himself. Time travel does get confusing, as several of the characters note when discussing possible scenarios straight out of Back to the Future II.


The humor that shows up in scenes like this (along with the camaraderie displayed in the playful banter) are the biggest reasons why Marvel films tend to be better than those of those coming from their rival, DC Entertainment. True, Avengers: Endgame has several gut-wrenching emotional moments. But even when things look the grimmest, the characters can usually crack a few jokes, most of which are relatively funny. That humor both breaks the tension and amplifies the serious moments that follow. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have worked on several Marvel movies and know the characters perfectly. Their script pulls all the plot threads together from over a dozen earlier films into Avengers: Endgame.


Before the end of the movie, the remaining heroes return, leading to the mother of all battles between Avengers and friends and Thanos’ legions. And this is where the movie stumbles a bit. Of course, moviegoers want a big finale to the biggest Marvel movie at all time, but there’s only so much that the directors and effects people can do in that regard. After a while, one hero smashing some of Thanos’ CGI creatures looks pretty much like another. The storyline of the battle involves the various heroes passing the gauntlet from one to another to keep it away from Thanos so he can’t use it again. The directors are careful to give each hero his or her own bit of business, but the battle begins to feel routine after a while. The worst moment of all occurs when the directors manipulate all the female heroes into the same spot on the battlefield (an exceedingly unlikely event), so they can fight shoulder to shoulder. It’s a nice photo op moment but one that highlights the artificiality of much of this last battle. Fortunately, there’s a big twist at the end of the battle, one that the entire sequence had been leading up to, and it’s one that provides a perfect ending to the entire elaborate set piece.


I have to confess that I’m not a person who is easily moved by comic book moments, so I’m probably not the ideal target audience for the big emotional moments at the end of Avengers: Endgame. As a result, I appreciated the film’s ending but wasn’t overly moved by it. Judging by the comments I’ve heard, others were affected far more than I was. Still, I can only evaluate this movie based on my own reactions to it, and my feeling is that Avengers: Endgame is an excellent example of cinematic craftsmanship as opposed to being a great movie. It’s funny, well thought out, and scores its emotional points more in the preliminary scenes rather than in the finale. If Marvel is indeed pulling the plug on this iteration of its universe, then Avengers: Endgame sets the stage for several different diverging plotlines for the various surviving characters. It’s certainly not the endgame for Marvel or its parent company Disney, but it’s a great conclusion to what’s gone on so far.

In this clip, the Avengers plan to get the Infinity Stones back from Thanos.

Read other reviews of Avengers: Endgame: 

Avengers: Endgame (2019) on IMDb