Talk about a date with destiny. After 11 years and 21 movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, oh-so-carefully crafted for all of its seismic superhero smackdowns, enters its, well, endgame with Avengers: Endgame. Sure, there will be Marvel movies, and many of ’em, after this era-defining, three-hour event – and we already know that Spidey makes it through as Spider-Man: Far From Home swings into multiplexes in July – but it’s been clear for some time that Avengers: Endgame will not just close Phase Three of the MCU but offer a conclusion more conclusive.
Of course, the beginning of the end arrived in the form of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, a behemoth blockbuster that added the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange and Black Panther and pals to the already crowded assemblage of Avengers, plus the biggest bad yet in the form of seven-foot purple titan Thanos. That movie somehow managed to balance action and character beats, drama and humour, and ended on a cliffhanger to rival The Empire Strikes Back’s paternity-issue mic drop, as Thanos turned 50 per cent of the Earth’s population to ash with a snap of his oversized finger and thumb. Half of the Avengers likewise bit the dust, thus sparking a year’s worth of frenzied debate: what way could there possibly be back from that? Some strange doctoring of time? Quantum realm-shenanigans? And whatever it proved to be, could it be introduced without undercutting the gravitas of Infinity War’s climax, without feeling like a cheat, and without seeing the MCU experience an Aw, Snap! franchise crash?
Yes, pretty much, to all of the above, although any journalist attempting to reason why will shudder through their own Aw, Snap! nightmare. Read the interviews with directors Anthony and Joe Russo, or watch the restrained, contained trailers, and you’ll know that secrecy has rightly been maintained at a level that makes J.J Abrams look like a tell-tale.
No spoilers here, then. Plot-wise, let’s leave it at what you already know: post-The Snap, the only heroes still standing at Avengers HQ are Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Rocket the Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and War Machine (Don Cheadle), while Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are lost in space, “1000 light years from the nearest 7-11.” Also dotted about are Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and, not in Infinity War, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). Oh, and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is likely strafing somewhere in space – the sting at the end of Infinity War told us that much.
We pick up the tale “23 days since Thanos” (a mo-capped Josh Brolin), with tears tracking down grey, grimy faces and the remaining inhabitants of Earth trying to come to terms with living in the vast shadow of The Vanished. Cityscapes are as naked and strange-looking as Cap’s now beardless face, but the soul-shaking sadness, convincingly played and portrayed, is nevertheless speckled with witty one-liners, most of them spat by Rocket (“He’s pissed. He thinks he failed. Which of course he did…”) or at least involving the garbage-eating furball (“I get emails from a raccoon,” says Black Widow. “Nothing sounds crazy anymore”). Thanos, meanwhile, is somewhere lush with vegetation, as we know from the trailer’s Terrence Malick-alike shot of him trailing his hand through stalks of corn in the soft light of magic hour.
How the remaining A-team go about trying to restore the world to its pre-Thanos state will here remain a mystery, as will the nature or setting of the set-pieces. Trust us, you’ll want to discover every switch, swerve and surprise for yourselves. What we will say is that the Russo brothers are right in saying this is a different film to Infinity War. It’s a drama of loss, courage and sacrifice, an inventive, mischievous heist movie, and a battle picture mounted on the clashing-army scale of the Lord Of The Rings movies. It’s also peppered with cameos and call-backs that will delight fans who have resolutely journeyed through those 11 years and 21 movies.
Avengers: Endgame is not perfect. Many of action scenes, though full of moments sure to evoke audience whoops, lack the bruising impact of those in the Russos’ previous MCU movies (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War), and the CG-spectacle, though gloriously realised, at times proves there can be too much of a good thing. But the juggling of the ensemble and tones is again masterful, and the ending – or rather endings, for there are several, all of them earned – prove there were indeed real consequences to Thanos’ Snap.
Now go and find out what they are for yourselves.