Avengers: Endgame is better and more nourishing than Infinity War, but it’s still the same long con.
Avengers: Endgame’s biggest strength is its absolute imperviousness to useful criticism. Being the 22nd film in an obscenely profitable franchise beloved by bean counters and consumers alike, it is, as the peak of monoculture, impossible to effectively tear down. But unlike its predecessor, Infinity War, Endgame will send the vast majority of its audience home satisfied, leaving any real discussion of its merits as a film for months down the line when they revisit it on home video, away from the cult-like sway of an apoplectic crowd.
The sheer fact that this film clocks in at three hours is enough to prove this isn’t going to be some kind of course correction to appease the slowly growing hordes of MCU naysayers. Touted as an epic conclusion to the sprawling saga that began with 2008’s Iron Man, Endgame is more of a victory lap for an unstoppable brand, a grand ritual wherein every paying customer is doled out their bowl-sized helping of fan service in return for their sacrifice of personal investment. MCU lovers have devoted a decade and a comical amount of cash to this franchise, so getting to see the film is an achievement on its own.
Endgame would have to be a really shitty movie for anyone invested in this series of films to do anything other than have a blast. That’s not to say that what ends up on the screen is really great or anything. It’s just that it ticks the right boxes in the right order, and ends on the right mixture of tragedy and hope to reset the counter and get the ball rolling towards the next 20-film saga Disney can peddle well into the apocalypse.
Oddly enough, the film’s first hour is shocking in how somber it remains, picking up from the dour cliffhanger of the previous chapter and elongating its morose tone for longer than the trailers suggested. For the first time in a long time, a Marvel movie lets moments of drama and pathos breathe and linger, letting this comically huge cast actually show off their considerable talents, all the while setting up an interesting new status quo.
But then the meat of the second act gets into the ugly business of time travel and undoing the damage done by Thanos (Josh Brolin) in the last film. With the stakes higher than ever and so much on the line, this is where the filmmakers decided it was time to double down on the MCU house style, injecting intermittently amusing humor and self-referential repartee where it ought to take a backseat. It turns the core of the film into a self-congratulatory, meta-reflexive mess with a startlingly low ratio of good scenes to bad ones. It’s as messy and goofy and tone deaf as anything the franchise has birthed.
That doesn’t even matter, though, because when push comes to shove, this is a movie that is expected to deliver a set list of bangers, a necessary succession of outsized moments that can literally only have weight in a film that had 20 other films setting it up. The big battle at the film’s end is everything someone could want from a superhero movie, with a veritable smorgasbord of time-stopping, applause breaks and all the whizbang spectacle a summer blockbuster should contain. Even though the Russos are still just doing a bigger and more expensive variation of the bland Hangar Fight from Captain America: Civil War, it contains too many multitudes to gripe about their relative sameness as visual craftsmen.
Once you’ve left the theater, you’ll definitely start to come back to reality and question why the final act of a $300+ million movie feels on some level cheaper and less polished than battles from “Game of Thrones,” but while experiencing that same final act, the connection fostered with this cast of heroes will fundamentally supersede those critiques.
Avengers: Endgame is better and more nourishing than Infinity War, but it’s still the same long con. Those who got off the gravy train a long time ago aren’t going to change their minds and decide they want another decade of this cookie-cutter opiate, but those who’re still hooked will be too busy reliving the triumphant moments of glory to question if this movie is truly enough. By the time it hits Blu-ray and audiences change their minds, there’ll just be another one on the way, promising even higher heights. It no longer matters if we ever reach them.