Avengers Endgame: A decade in the making

Finality.

Whether it continues its stranglehold over the cinematic conversation for the next eight months or not, Marvel Studios’ latest feature has immediately become the film event of 2019. (Or at least until the next Star Wars chapter drops in December.)

For many younger audiences, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has largely come to shape and define their movie going experience through 22 interconnected films spanning over a decade coming to a fitting and satisfying conclusion with “Avengers: Endgame,” which opened Thursday evening.

Grossing more than a billion dollars worldwide in less than a week, this installment picks up on the heels of last year’s game-changing “Avengers: Infinity War,” with the world’s superheroes handling the fallout.

There are over 25 credited stars littered across “Endgame,” all given a chance to shine over the course of three hours. But at its core, this bombastic, loud action film that spends a significant amount of time devoted to explaining quantum physics is a small two-handed drama.

With super suits and indestructible shields, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Chris Evans as Captain America excel in “Endgame” carrying the emotional stakes of the film on their backs with true, quality acting, seemingly a rarity within the genre.

Downey is especially compelling given the context of his status as Marvel’s first star, leading the way in 2008’s “Iron Man,” and evolving his character from billionaire playboy to emotional, battle-scarred father figure.

Following the journey of Iron Man over the course of “Endgame,” Downey is on par with the nuanced work of Hugh Jackman in the character-driven “Logan” and Christian Bale in the “Dark Knight” trilogy.

Among the other cast members, Chris Hemsworth continues to delight audiences with the unique comedic style he and director Taika Waititi brought in the third Thor film, “Ragnarok,” and his pairing opposite a CGI raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper gives “Endgame” much needed levity.

Co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo do a masterful job of balancing the film’s bloated cast with a complex plot and significant character development while also ensuring a pace that doesn’t place weight on a moviegoer like a typical three hour feature might.

Large sections of “Endgame” whiz by in and out of battle, though a concerted effort to give time and space for intimate, emotional moments resonate across “Endgame,” especially during the film’s somber first act.

The one element the Russo brothers could not pull off, however, is separating “Endgame” from the episodic nature of the MCU, making it nearly impossible for first time Marvel viewers to understand or enjoy.

At a bare minimum, moviegoers would have to have previously caught up with the events of 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” although nearly all 21 prior installments are woven into the fabric of “Endgame” in such a fashion as to create a maximum amount of fan service and ensure multiple viewings on the big screen.

With last year’s “Black Panther” breaking into the Academy Awards conversation for Best Picture and winning three Oscars, it’s no longer unfathomable that a film like

“Avengers: Endgame” could remain in awards consideration so as to honor the achievement Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige has done shepherding the MCU to commercial and critical success. Best Picture winner “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” is an example of this kind of career achievement award.

And yet, it’s still likely that the newly titled ninth episode of the Star Wars saga, “The Rise of Skywalker,” will take the place of “Endgame” at the Oscars.

Closing the chapter on a defining era in the superhero genre, “Avengers: Endgame” is a satisfying, expertly made sequel in the franchise and combines with “Infinity War” to create the MCU’s best, most compelling storytelling.

A film that has to be experienced at least once on the big screen, “Avengers: Endgame” crystallizes the comic book experience in theatrical form and pushes the bar even higher for what a superhero movie can or should be.

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