“A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.”
– Vision, Avengers: Age of Ultron
The past 11 years have been leading to this. The culmination of 21 films-worth of world building and character arcs. To date, each film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the MCU for the uninitiated few) has been able to stand on its own while also functioning as a piece of a larger, interconnected puzzle. Endgame is the rare exception to this rule, a film intrinsically connected to all of its predecessors. As a result, the payoff is monumental.
So what can I tell you about Endgame? Quite honestly, not a whole hell of a lot. It’s a tough film to talk about without spoiling even the subtlest of moments. The wit is wry and sharp, the pain is poignant, and the culmination is tremendous. The first act is slow. Far slower than most will be used to, as we’re allowed, quite possibly for the first time, to truly sit with the consequences of the Avengers’ actions and failures. Trillions died. The world – hell, the universe – will never be the same again. So Endgame dares to do what many have accused the MCU of shying away from for over a decade – it forces us to sit with that loss, that failure, and that grief.
The film picks up closely following the snap heard ’round the universe. The impact of Thanos’ actions has crept into the lives of the Avengers, leaving them feeling helpless for quite possibly the first time in the entire MCU. Ultimately, we’re left with the weight of this failure, forced to sit with it and deal with it head on. You can’t ignore what’s happened, and the Avenger’s can’t change it.
Or so they thought. But that would be a spoiler, and I’m not going to do that to anyone.
The most impressive thing about Endgame is its refusal to sugar coat anything. This is, without question, a film about loss. The world – and, we must assume, the universe – is grieving. Support groups for those left behind don’t have quite the same impact without much of a group to offer support. There’s a very real sense of emptiness, as cities feel stark and abandoned. The Avengers who remain do their best to keep order in this dark new world, but the fight against their inner demons outweighs any ounce of hope.
The hard truth for many fans is that this is the end of the road for some beloved characters, and the beginning of a new phase of life moving forward. Vision once said, defiantly, to Ultron “a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.” We know full well that all things must, in time, come to an end, and that life is finite. Endgame puts that finality of existence front and centre. Whether it was because of films that had been announced or contracts that hadn’t been renewed, we all knew we came to say goodbye to some of our favourites.
I had this realization after watching Infinity War a year ago that, admittedly, may sound silly to some. To me it was profound. Like that moment a complex philosophical theory finally clicks and suddenly things that once seemed out of reach are crystal clear. Don’t judge me!
The MCU isn’t making movies. Not really. They’re bringing comic books to life so the masses may love them as fans have done in comic book shops and basements for decades before. I know this sounds like the same thing, but somehow it isn’t. They’re making accessible something that many have considered a low-brow pseudo-art form.
Guillermo Del Toro’s “At Home With Monsters” exhibit, the recreation of his Bleak House in various cities around the world, touches on the concept of low- versus high-art. Specifically, he looks at comic books, holding them on the same high pedestal as the work of Mozart, Dickens or Austen. He rejects the notion of keeping high- and low-art worlds apart, while daring everyone, from all walks of life, to consider that all creative endeavours are artful and can have profound value. That these values are not intrinsically linked to the inaccessible, the lofty, or the cerebral.
Art isn’t art because it pleases the intellectual or financial elite or is inaccessible to the masses. Art is art because of its capacity to elicit an emotional response and teach us about humanity. Roger Ebert used to refer to films as “empathy machines”. Sure, he was talking about films like Bycicle Thieves, In The Mood For Love, and Awakenings. But he was also talking about films like Planes, Trains and Automobiles. There is a fine art to empathy, exhibiting it as a human being and capturing it as a creative mind.
Over the past 11 years, teams of hundreds of filmmakers, writers, editors, special effects masters, actors, costume designers, brilliant and creative minds in a myriad of professions have worked together to create a world of fantasy where we could all live. A world of potential, power, and at times even pain. Endgame is the final payoff of these years of truly hard, skillful work. At times, it’s wryly funny. At others, it will break your heart into a million tiny pieces. It pays fanservice in the best, healthiest way, while still staying true to the characters they’ve created and maintaining the internal logic of every film that’s lead to this.
So, in short, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll want to watch it again minutes after it’s done. Die-hard fans will be happy, as will the uninitiated masses who are just looking to have a good time. Beyond that, there’s not much else I can say that won’t rob you of part of the experience.
PS: The runtime is just over three hours (three hours and 2 minutes, to be precise.) And it earns every second of it.