Mere minutes into Avengers: Endgame there is a terrible loss; a warning that no matter how much the fans may cherish it, nothing is safe. Without ceremony or a care for people’s feelings, Captain America shaves his magnificent beard. Gone in the swipe of a razor. Tragic. There will be more loss before the three-hour runtime is up – some would say greater losses – but mostly there will be delight. As a closing chapter to an 11-year saga in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, told across some 22 movies, Avengers: Endgame could hardly be better.
The world of comic book movies can often, fairly, be accused of cynicism. ‘Universes’ are built with ten-year plans, release dates planted before a word of a script has been written. Post-credit sequences tease the next movie, reminding you that you can’t ever miss a piece or the final puzzle won’t be complete. Marvel has been as guilty of this as Warner Bros or Sony. In Endgame there is not a second of cynicism. It’s a movie that beats with love for its fans. It is fan service in the best way, rewarding those who’ve invested in it not by giving them what they expect to see but the feelings they hope to feel. It plays like an epic, heartfelt thank you.
Infinity War, as dazzling and exciting as it was, dragged its feet with some of its storytelling. The labour of introducing such a huge cast of characters, and introducing them to each other, meant it took a good hour to rev up, then charged on confidently. Endgame takes off like a rocket from scene one. We’re reminded in a quiet opening scene that Thanos’ extinction spread far further than the deaths we saw in Infinity War. 50% of life is gone and the loss was not evenly distributed. Some lost everyone, others nobody. The surviving Avengers are bent on revenge, but revenge won’t bring back what’s gone.
There is a plot device used to kick off the mission to beat Thanos that is initially a bit eye-rolly. It’s hackneyed and kind of a cheat. But any sense of disappointment last only minutes, because the way it’s used is joyful and brilliantly inventive. The Marvel Universe is opened up in ways that fans would never dare dream. Whatever you think that might mean, you are not prepared for what this movie will give you. If you are a die-hard Marvel obsessive it may be some weeks before you’re able to wipe the grin off your face. If you’re not a die-hard Marvel obsessive you may wish you were so that you could feel what they’re feeling.
The Russo brothers, who also directed two Captain Americas and Infinity War, have saved their best work for last. Endgame is a great comedy (Chris Hemsworth has sneakily become the series’ comic MVP). It is emotionally rich without ever being corny (some of the most moving moments involve characters few would call their favourites). It is an astonishing action movie, with a final hour that keeps ratcheting up the crowd-pleasing sequences in a mega-battle filled with so many characters that we should probably take a moment to give thanks to the poor people who had to coordinate the schedules of countless A-listers.
There really is very little that could be improved about Endgame. There’s certainly no more that could be thrown at it. Whether your heart belongs to the original team or one of the newbies, you’ll see them get their time to shine. You will almost certainly cry. Probably more than once. Is it the best comic-book movie ever? The Dark Knight could give it a very good fight, but Endgame has more fighters on its team. It might just win.