At what point does a superhero movie stop being "just another superhero flick" and become something greater?
All three titles in The Lord of the Rings are masterpieces in their own right—none would dare call any of them "just another fantasy flick"—and movies like Arrival prove that science fiction can be thoughtful and moving despite fantastical elements.
While earlier entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, like Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange, already proved the same could be said about superhero films, and Christopher Nolan proved it even earlier with Batman Begins, many remained unconvinced: "All superhero flicks are trite, shallow, and mindless!"
Sure, it's true, there are poorly executed examples that have led to superhero movie fatigue—but more and more, we're seeing champions like Avengers: Endgame come on screen, breaking free from genre stereotypes and forcing us to grapple with one question: Where's the line between a "superhero movie" and a "movie about superheroes"?
Coming from someone who doesn't consider himself a Marvel fan by any measure, I think it's fair to say that Avengers: Endgame is one of the greatest achievements in film...
...not so much in terms of pioneering technical advancements or shining new light on filmic language, but in navigating a 22-film franchise and bringing all of its threads together for one final, emotional, resonant, satisfying ending.
How many trilogies fail to end on a higher note than where they started? And yet, Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios have pulled it off to a degree that's never been done before.
Avengers: Endgame is a must-see, even if you hate superhero flicks, even if you've never seen the other entries in the franchise, although you should definitely watch Avengers: Infinity War first because that's essentially Part 1 to this film's Part 2. The two films serve to cap off the saga, but exist as a complete standalone story that's perfectly enjoyable on its own.
While this review contains no plot point spoilers, it does touch on thematic elements present in the film. We hate spoilers as much as anyone and we leave them out as we can, but if you want a completely untarnished viewing experience, you may want to postpone until you've seen the film.
Avengers: Endgame understands that the one thing that distinguishes a good film from a great film is the willingness to dive deep into its characters' psyches, to truly understand what motivates them, and to deliver character arcs that ring true to those motivations.
From the opening scene all the way to the very end, Endgame puts character first, plot second, with a healthy dash of impressive CGI throughout.
In fact, the entire first act lingers in a kind of quiet introspection that I've never seen in a Marvel film. (Disclaimer: I've only seen Phase Two and Phase Three films, so I apologize if there are examples from Phase One.) And to be honest, these quiet early moments carried more dramatic weight than the latter acts combined.
There's a conscious effort to explore just how "The Snap" impacted the world, how much damage—more mental than physical—Thanos caused, and how the world keeps turning in the wake of such a planet-shaking disaster.
But more important than the societal implications are the personal stakes for each of the remaining Avengers who survived.
Seeing what drives Hawkeye to do what he does, hearing the devastation in Black Widow's voice, feeling the pain and regret in the Cap's smile even as he tries to help others move on—these are the kinds of moments often missing in lesser films, but Endgame delivers in spades, successfully making their desperation your desperation, and consequently, their hope your hope.
At the same time, Endgame never forgets that it is, at heart, a movie about superheroes, justice, wish fulfillment, and victory.
It isn't afraid to explore dark and mature themes, but we all knew going into this film that there wouldn't be a downer ending; bittersweet, perhaps, but there was no question that the heroes would win in the end. The crux of the drama isn't will they win, but how will they win, and at what cost?
And yes, there's quite a cost to be paid, which is another thing that raises the Marvel Cinematic Universe a cut above the rest: it isn't afraid to back its characters into corners, dash them to pieces, and leave permanent scars.
There's a lot more I could say, especially with regard to the score (excellent), the visuals (spectacular), the hell-yeah moments (the climax is chilling), the laughter (so funny), the tears (so sad), the callbacks (there were a few), and the fact that this film has broken all kinds of box office records.
But does Endgame have an emotional core, does it stay true to its characters, does it do what all the best stories ultimately strive to do, which is to stir up an emotional experience in the audience and leave a lasting impact that won't easily fade? Without a doubt, yes.
Worried about the 3-hour runtime? Don't be. I'm a time-sensitive watcher, the kind who's always glancing at his watch to see how much longer it'll be to the end, but I only felt that way once near the beginning, and that was only out of habit.
Endgame pulls you in and the runtime will end before you know it. Tightly written, tightly edited, gripping the whole way through.
One of my main complaints, which didn't really stain the movie in any way but I wish the Russo brothers didn't go down this path, has to do with one of the central plot devices used in Endgame.
I won't name the plot device for fear of spoilers, but you can pretty much figure out what it'd be just by reading the IMDb summary of the film, so I'll only talk about it in vague terms based on said IMDb summary.
The main story of Endgame is that the Avengers discover a possible way to undo everything that Thanos has done, at least starting with "The Snap" and any events that followed afterwards.
I don't have any issue with the mechanics of how they go about this—in a way, it's been set up in-universe since Doctor Strange debuted—and I understand the logic of how they go about it, but my complaint is with the general idea that the solution to "The Snap" is to undo it.
Of course, there are plenty of character stakes tied to this venture and there's definitely an emotional catharsis that comes with it, especially for the more tragic Avengers, but it robs much of the impact from what Infinity War so painstakingly achieved.
Much was risked, and as mentioned earlier, a tall price was paid in the process of this reversal, yet it's still a reversal—and to me, reversals are one step removed from the "It was all a dream" trope.
Given that Infinity War made headlines for having the stones to devastate its characters in one of the darkest, most brutal, most surprising ways, it's all the more unfortunate that they weren't willing to commit to it all the way, even if they did do justice to the aftermath in the first act of Endgame.
Endgame is going to be out in theaters for several more weeks, if not months, so do yourself a favor and watch it as it was meant to be watched.
I've argued before that movie theaters suck and I've stopped going, but I made an exception for Endgame and I'm glad I did. Much of the grandeur will be lost if you watch it on a TV screen, no matter how big it is.
Go during matinee hours if you want to avoid hecklers, and go soon before students enter summer break if you really want to avoid hecklers.
Fun fact: Avengers: Endgame broke the record for $2 billion worldwide gross sales in just 11 days and is currently the second highest grossing film of all-time. The previous record-holder, Avatar, which is currently the highest grossing film of all-time, took 47 days to break $2 billion.