Avengers-Endgame Review: An almost meditative, satisfying conclusion mounted on a blockbuster idea
A marvellously restrained conclusion that connects the dots of previous films, while being fiercely its own film
If you haven’t seen Endgame yet, consider yourself warned that any attempt to review this film — one that doesn’t stop with vague, unsatisfying, superficial references, of course — is going to be littered with spoilers, even if they are seemingly insignificant. Avengers: Endgame is that sort of film. It indulges in brave redesigning of beloved characters, some retelling of the past, a central idea that taps into nostalgia even while confounding you with paradoxes… It’s impossible to review this film without at least mentioning its grand schemes. It’s a film whose details have been guarded with as much determination as shown by its superheroes in protecting the Infinity Stones. Even if I shall observe much caution, I’m the reluctant Thanos here forced to wipe away some of your surprises — even if not half — and if you should want to watch this film unpolluted by analysis, you know what to do.
Director: The Russo brothers
Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth
Now that that’s out of the way, here’s starting with my most favourite aspect of Endgame. It’s not its thumping war sequences, it’s not its marriage of at least three popular genres of films, it’s not its emotional gravitas… it’s its lack of haste. Endgame is the film that brings to conclusion more than ten years of Marvel films, and if you expected it to kick into fifth gear in hurry and keep at it till the very end, you couldn’t be more wrong. It’s not war from the outset — although you could certainly make the case for this being a different sort of war. A fight not fought as collectively as it is individually by many of these traumatised superheroes. A fight not fought as flamboyantly, as publicly, as it is privately. The grim events of Infinity War have taken a toll on all of them, and quite fittingly, the mood gets set by a poignant scene in the life of Clint Barton/Hawkeye. This is perhaps Marvel’s most emotional film yet, and this scene really sets the stage for what follows for the next three hours. The next time someone makes an insulting comment about the frivolity of superhero films, show them this film. After you show Logan, of course.
The Russo brothers exhibit great restraint in milking this film for superficial hero moments designed for applause. It’s not that sort of film. Each of these extraordinary characters get very ordinary introductions. Ironman and Nebula are playing a game on a stranded spacecraft, awaiting death. A few scenes later, Captain America is in a group therapy meeting, which features a cameo from one of the directors, Joe Russo. Meanwhile, Thor is… well, let me just say he’s no pirate angel anymore. Bruce Banner/Hulk goes through a transformation himself. These are terrific ideas to rid you of the monotony — as enjoyable as it may have been in the past — of seeing these characters be and do what we have always cheered them for.
Endgame is comfortably the largest assembling of superheroes in the MCU (Captain America saying, “Avengers! Assemble!” is pure gold). Every significant character we have seen along the way is here. Some — like Antman and Nebula — even get their due in this film. There’s a joke in the beginning about Antman’s seeming insignificance, as Hulk — or should I say, Professor Hulk — implores people to take an autograph from the former too. The whole time travel idea itself at the heart of this film — there, I said it — comes from Antman. Superheroes and time travel and a heist… What a blockbuster idea to finish off this phase of MCU.
The time-travelling really taps into nostalgia we didn’t know we had about old Marvel films. Films like Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Thor: The Dark World play crucial parts in Endgame. This isn’t simply about cashing in on nostalgia; this is also about creating new material off it. That assembling scene at the end of the first Avengers film, I doubt you can look at it the same way again. That’s what time travel does, doesn’t it? It helps you examine old events in new light, to perhaps try and create new meaning off it. It also looks to tie some knots that have forever been tormenting some of our favourite characters. Tony and his father, Steve Rogers and Peggy, Nebula and Thanos, Thor and his mother… Endgame is at once an ode to all the previous films, and yet, fiercely its own film. This is a stupendous achievement, regardless of any misgivings you may have with any inconsistency in its use of time travel.
This film is a treasure-trove for those of you who remember the old films in great detail. For those who have watched all the old Marvel films in anticipation of this film, the Endgame is Russo brothers tipping their hats off. Two lines from Captain America: “I could do this all day” and “Hail Hydra!”, make for two of many terrific callbacks in this film. Tony Stark references Ultron, Natasha and Clint debate their dark past… There’s a constant attempt to tie all the old films together. The most moving of them all concerns the last song used in the film.
There’s great tenderness at the heart of Endgame. Steve Rogers casting a longing gaze at Peggy, Thor desperately trying to save his mother, Tony Stark willing to risk life with his one child for the opportunity to save another — Peter Parker… There’s a lot at stake, the universe is in a state of shock and loss. This is why the tone of Endgame isn’t one of celebration; it’s one of meditation. In a sense, like Thanos after his snap. Professor Hulk may try to be leading a cheerful existence, posing for photographs with people who say, “Green!”, but this is less him being genuinely chirpy, and more him overcompensating for regret and loss. You could say the same about Thor too. There’s the underrated humour of other films here too, but the sheer weight of the loss and the task ahead weighs heavily. Curiously though, despite all this emotional strength, at least one death doesn’t feel as tragic as it should. This is perhaps less a flaw of this film than it is MCU’s for not developing a character or two substantially over previous films.
And now, we come to the central conceit: time travel. It’s fun, nostalgic, and even poignant, but the jury’s out on the rules and the consequences. Endgame suggests that multiple, divergent timelines get created each time the past is tinkered with, but as with many other time travel films, paradoxes are, as Thanos would say, inevitable. Be ready over the next few days to have people try to make sense of it all. Some will rubbish it, some will justify it, but this is very much the fun of time travel films. This is also why Professor Hulk warns us at the outset that we shouldn’t really be going all nerd on it.
It’s been more than ten years since the first MCU film came out. During this long, long time, some characters, like Iron Man, have moved from self-interest to selflessness. Some others, like Captain America, have undergone the opposite journey. Ultimately, it’s about balance, as Thanos so dearly loves to point out. Much like Infinity War, this film too treats Thanos with much dignity. His existential sadness towards the end, almost draws empathy. The Russo brothers refuse to humiliate him, or his ideology, and at the beginning, there’s even the sense that his snap — an event come to be known as The Decimation — could well have the world a better place, in the larger scheme of things. Dolphins are spotted again, the water has got cleaner. But no matter how well-intentioned, mass murder cannot be condoned, of course; and this, Thanos has always viewed to be a weakness. The next phase of MCU will come up with new superheroes, new problems, and it may well be that another Thanos is inevitable, as he loves to point out. For the moment though, let’s savour this largely satisfying conclusion. It’s been a long, long time, and it’s only fitting that Captain America and Peggy should dance their much-delayed dance to this song: “Since I can't remember when; It's been a long, long time; You'll never know how many dreams; I dreamed about you.”