When Iron Man was released in 2008, officially beginning the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I was nine years old. I first saw it two years later, when my father and I decided to buy it and its sequel on DVD and catch up on what we heard was a good series. 2011’s Thor was the first MCU movie I saw in theaters — perhaps explaining why the character has always been my favorite of these Avengers — and from then on I wouldn’t miss another release. I can connect many of those screenings to particular periods in my life, whether by where I saw them or who I was with, and many of those experiences rank among the best I’ve had in a movie theater: the soaring euphoria of Avengers (2012) at the Century Theater in Boulder, CO; the electric crowd in a crowded NYC theater on the opening night of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014); and the cultural phenomenon that was Black Panther (2018) at the Providence Place Mall.
I have grown up watching this universe develop into a pop culture powerhouse, and somewhere in this decade of Marvel dominance, I also began to really appreciate cinema as an artform. I learned how to read and analyze films, discovered the works of creative storytellers both new and old, and began my journey as a film critic. Even as my horizons broadened and my understanding deepened, I continued to watch, love and defend the MCU. I saw the value of adapting comic books in multiple interwoven movies, developing the characters in their own storylines before bringing them all together to fight the big fights. Despite others criticizing Marvel’s tendency to fall into formulas, avoid serious stakes and always be setting up the sequel, I understood the experiment was not about the individual pieces, but the whole they create. The point of the MCU was not to build to Avengers: Endgame, as many have assumed. Endgame is just the capstone on a pyramid eleven years in the making, the final step in a journey of a thousand miles, the last three hours of a forty-seven-hour epic.
Picking up directly after the crushing defeat of Infinity War, which saw Thanos disintegrate half of all life in the universe, the film follows the heroes that remain as they search for a way to bring back those they lost. I won’t go into more detail than that, to avoid spoilers, but I can say this — whatever other purpose it serves, Endgame is built to reward those fans that have experienced it all. Iron Man and Captain America shine the brightest in a cast of stars, with great work from Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans complimenting a script that honors the two pillar characters that have carried the MCU for a decade. Tonally, Endgame jumps from humor to action to drama with ease, in a way that somehow feels cohesive. Some shots in this film are genuinely beautiful — not something I remember thinking during the previous Russo Brothers outings. And amid the many twists and turns of the storyline are moments of true reflection, of characters needing to confront their pasts to realize where they must go to defeat their greatest threat.
The film is not without its problems, of course. Too aware of its own importance, many lines exist entirely for dramatic effect, and while some earn triumphant cheers from audiences, others are a little too cheesy to swallow. The pace starts slow, then kicks into gear without slowing down, stifling some emotional moments that should have been allowed time to breathe. The plot does have the occasional hole, something guaranteed to irk the detail-oriented fanbase, and how some specific character choices are perceived can make or break the experience. The strangest issue for me is the distinct lack of themes — I read movies thematically, first and foremost, and Endgame is so wrapped up in its characters and story that the presence of any larger ideas feels purely coincidental.
Fortunately, though, these problems don’t matter all that much, because they belong to a single film. Staring up at the screen in a crowded theater, dedicated fans will experience Endgame as the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, years of viewings, reactions and discussions condensed into one three-hour sitting. As with Infinity War, the sheer sprawl of this movie should make it unwieldly, diluted, unaffecting. Instead, it is a triumph of vision and worldbuilding. For fans, particularly those who have grown up with this series as I have, to watch Endgame is to witness the end of an era. If you’re only a casual Marvel viewer, find a way to watch surrounded by a dedicated audience, so that you can hear the gasps, cheers and silences this film inspires in them.
WhatsUp Rating 4.5 out of 5
WhatsUp Ratings Guide
5- Excellent – Don’t miss it
4- Very Good – Well worth your time
3- Good – Solid, but not earthshattering
2- Fair – Not quite ready for prime time
1- Poor – Don’t waste your time or money