The greatest trick that Disney every pulled was the formation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A potential house of cards-turned-billion-dollar empire built on the shaky premise that the star power of Robert Downey Jr., then an actor whose well-publicized struggles with addiction spawned a thousand punchlines, could anchor a collection of nearly two-dozen films based largely on Marvel Comics’ second-tier characters.
Now, with Avengers: Endgame, we’ve reached the culmination of 60-odd hours of storytelling spread out across 22 films. Again.
The same thing was said last year about Endgame’s predecessor, Avengers: Infinity War, the ‘greatest crossover in cinematic history’ and a generation-defining event in pop culture. It also made its costumed heroes side-players in a film about Thanos’ quest to acquire the six Infinity Stones and wiping out half of all living beings in existence. Which he does! The bad guy won! Half the characters you care about are dead! What?!?!
This means that Endgame’s whole reason for existing is to complete the story that Infinity War started by explaining its way back to the status quo while undoing all those character deaths. (Spider-Man: Far From Home put out its first trailer months ago, for chrissakes. This is not a radical expectation.)
From a strictly utilitarian standpoint, Endgame succeeds. This story is concluded, new stories are prologued, and the MCU continues. Unfortunately, the film chooses to rely on vacuous fan service instead of taking the time to put any real heart into its storytelling.
This is particularly frustrating when you consider that the first 20 minutes of Endgame are so breathtakingly good that it just outright teems with the kind of potential that’s been woven into its interconnected mega-franchise. It’s subversive, compelling, and thoroughly unsatisfying in a deliberately challenging way.
Of course, it doesn’t take long before Endgame devolves into a loose affiliation of gimmicks, quips, and callbacks, proving Marvel will never get over its worst impulses. A film of this magnitude, coming in after 11 years of rewriting the rules of how movies are both made and watched, should (or, at least, could) be its own reward. Instead, it indulges the most fervent viewers with an endless parade of nods and winks to its own history, which are seldom — if ever — left to be discovered on their own.
Endgame’s primary goal is to fervently reward the MCU’s most loyal viewers, but more importantly, it wants to be acknowledged for doing so.
The upside to all this is that despite its entanglement in an increasingly mangled continuity, there are no necessary MCU prerequisites you’ll need to rewatch before delving into Endgame, as the film spends a significant portion of its three-hour(!) runtime serving as the franchise’s very own highlight reel.
Then again, Marvel was never known for its subtlety.
Avengers: Endgame opens everywhere in theaters April 26th