Avengers: Endgame is not the end, but rather a fitting capstone for a decade of spandex-sheathed stories that started with Iron Man. The 2008 film didn’t just resuscitate Robert Downey Jr.’s career, it showed a new way to translate comic book stories to the big screen.
Just as Stan Lee did with Marvel comics in the 1960s, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige put the human back in heroes. Beginning with Iron Man, the new wave of Marvel movies was filled with stunning special effects, cosplay-worthy costumes and epic battles, but the best moments belonged to the characters.
With humour and heart, the Marvel Cinematic Universe introduced a new stable of super folk, each with relatable traits. The cocky swagger of Tony Stark. The giddy enthusiasm of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. Hulk’s rage. Black Widow’s burden.
And come on, how many of you savoured The Avengers’ shawarma-eating scene?
In addition, Feige and his team of writers brought the idea of comic book continuity into the modern blockbuster era with a galaxy-spanning tapestry of 22 films all leading toward one final showdown with the tyrant Thanos (as seen in Avengers: Infinity War).
The challenge with any super team has always been devising a worthy opponent. When Endgame opens, what we see are the remaining Avengers battling failure.
Their numbers have been cut in half. The mood is dark and dour. After years of trying to protect Earth, Thanos got his hands on the reality-bending infinity gems and snapped half of all life out of existence.
After one last heroic struggle, the Avengers must now do the hardest thing — move on. Some retreat into darker, more brutal versions of themselves. Thor goes on a god-worthy bender.
With a runtime edging past three hours, the pacing is slow and, at the outset, indulgent. Let’s be frank, it’s not fun to watch heroes lose. But writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely take the time to show how the characters have changed. Captain America still struggles with accepting defeat. Iron Man retreats to the domestic life his avenging days denied him.
But the welcome return of Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man brings an opportunity. I don’t think it constitutes a spoiler to reveal some time-travelling shenanigans are involved. The plan is far too complicated to dissect and I’m sure the internet will soon be awash with theories on whether it all makes sense.
But the genius of this development is how it allows the Avengers to look back on the choices that brought them to Endgame. As the various teams head off on an interstellar treasure hunt, we’re treated to moments from previous adventures. But this isn’t a rehashing of Marvel’s greatest hits, but rather a way of seeing them with fresh eyes and added perspective.
Sometimes it’s just snickering in an alleyway as classic Hulk goes smashy smashy. Or watching what Star Lord’s Indiana Jones shtick looks like when you’re not listening to the soundtrack.
Classic heroes get their moment
McFeely and Markus’s timeline technique also allows the Avengers to keep growing. When Chris Hemsworth first appeared as Thor, he struck many as a godly space doofus, but the Lord of Thunder has turned into a surprisingly layered warrior. In Endgame,Thor is shattered and mortal to great effect.
Then there’s Robert Downey Jr, who has become so fused with Tony Stark they’re almost indistinguishable. Endgame gives Stark a chance to make peace with his past, showing the sweetness behind the swagger.
As a young comic book reader, I was always drawn to the crossover issues, because occasionally you’d be treated to one of those beautiful double-page spreads, with heroes and villains all crammed in a single, giant panel.
When the Avengers do finally assemble in Endgame, this is what directors Anthony and Joe Russo give us. Is it over the top? Yes, but gloriously so.
In terms of screen time, some fan favourites are overlooked.
Captain Marvel is missing for much of the movie. Just like Superman, I think her almost limitless powers present a problem for writers. For fans of Black Panther, Wakanda may be forever but his followers are nearly irrelevant.
Same goes for Tessa Thompson, who stole the show as Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok. She survives the snap and makes a few appearances but is by no means critical to Endgame’s story.
In the end, the focus is on the heart of the team that started it all. Tears will be shed. I may have felt something welling up myself.
But what follows the inevitable is almost the best part: a series of gentle codas, closing the book on this decade-long journey.
What Avengers: Endgame gives fans is a chance to say goodbye before the inevitable next wave of heroes take the stage.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
This story originally appeared on CBC