Certain films and television series finales are cultural touchstones, and Avengers: Endgame is perhaps one of the most hotly anticipated finales of all time. Yet, unlike the series finale of M.A.S.H. or the return of Star Wars in 2015, this film is an unlikely one. When Marvel announced that it would produce its own inter-connected universe, it seemed like a terrible idea. All signs pointed to superhero films beginning an inevitable downslide, going the way of the western or the musical. To make matters worse for Marvel, their most well-known characters—Spider-Man and the X-Men—were in the hands of other studios. Fans and critics alike wondered how they would ever pull it off. They not only pulled it off but have changed what we think is possible when it comes to film franchises. So, don’t worry if you’ve not seen the film yet, this is our Avengers: Endgame spoiler-free review.
If you are curious about how well the filmmakers closed this story, but don’t want it spoiled, this is the review for you. In short, the film is a triumph. The story encompasses not just the main characters of the past 21 films, but many of their supporting characters as well. Every aspect of the MCU gets representation in this film. Unlike Infinity War, however, the primary Avengers characters are given full arcs. Also, unlike the previous entry in the Avengers canon, there are quiet moments in-between incredible action sequences allowing them to focus on both their losses and their drive to make things right. As Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) says in the first film: “If we can’t protect the , you can be damn well sure we’ll avenge it.”
How We Got to the Endgame
Before we get into the Avengers: Endgame spoiler-free review, we’d be remiss if we didn’t do a brief run-down of how we got to this point. Starting in 2008 with Iron Man, the nascent Marvel studios told compelling character-driven stories and intertwined them. The first phase focused on getting their individual characters together for a team-up in 2012’s Avengers. The next two phases of releases expanded those characters’ stories, fleshed out the larger world, and added new players to the roster. Where originally people scoffed at the idea of a “cinematic universe,” Marvel’s success inspired other franchises to try and copy their success. Some succeeded, such as the expansion of the Harry Potter franchise, and others struggle. Most notably, Marvel’s longtime rival DC tried to replicate the MCU’s success, famously missing the target. The reason the others failed where Marvel won, is that the latter studio exhibited great patience.
In the first three years of the MCU, the studio was only able to release three movies featuring two characters, Iron Man and the Hulk. Since then, they’ve released at least two movies—with 2012 being the sole exception—per year. Starting with the second Guardians of the Galaxy film in 2017, Marvel studios releases three blockbusters per year, all critical and commercial successes. Before the MCU, studio executives believed that moviegoers would resist films that required fans see previous installments. However, the MCU’s success proved that not only are fans willing to do this, they crave it. To truly appreciate Avengers: Endgame you do need to see 21 movies and at least some of the television series Agent Carter, with Hayley Atwell reprising her role from the Captain America films. Still, the movie also tells a complete and quasi-standalone story, that will undoubtedly be enjoyable to the casual moviegoer.
The Avengers As Individual Characters
The most important part of any MCU film from the onset of this grand experiment has been the characters themselves. They cast incredible actors and gave them heartfelt and emotional stories. Admittedly, Infinity War departed from this formula a little. With so many characters in one film, they could afford to have character moments but almost none got a full arc. Only Tony Stark, the patriarch of the MCU, gets anything resembling one in that movie. Don’t worry. This is the Avengers: Endgame spoiler-free review, so there will be no details revealed. But this film does give each original Avenger their own character arcs. Not only does this close out their stories in this film, but it also serves as a capstone for their arcs in the entire MCU. Even the regular-human Avengers Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Clint Barton) get their due.
Of course, no film is perfect. There are certain elements in these character arcs that are breezed over almost too quickly. In fact, one character goes through a major change midway through the movie that we don’t see. It’s explained by a single line of dialogue, but for some fans that may not be enough. Still, the filmmakers are limited despite the movie’s three-hour run-time. Nonetheless, the emotional beats for these characters’ stories are represented and not rushed through. If you love Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), or any of the other original Avengers, you will be satisfied at the end of this film. Interspersed with these emotional character journeys are amazing action sequences, including one at the climax that would be almost impossible to describe, spoilers or not.
Is This Truly the ‘End’ for These Marvel Heroes?
Saying that the story arcs for these characters are coming to an end doesn’t betray our promise of an Avengers: Endgame spoiler-free review. Seriously, “end” is in the title of the thing. So only the most naïve fans (or those in denial) would be surprised that this film wraps up the stories one way or another. Even though some of the characters’ stories come to definitive ends, the beauty of being part of a shared, multimedia universe, is that there plenty of other ways to revisit them. For example, the big change mentioned above can be addressed in another film or even a limited series on the forthcoming Disney+ platform. For example, Marvel Studios could develop an animated series similar to Star Wars’ The Clone Wars dealing with the adventure taking place between films. Even at the end, there are countless more stories to tell with these characters.
Real-life, unfortunately, also affects these pretend worlds we love to go back to over and over again. Several of the actors in the Marvel cadre are at the ends of their contracts. Of course, contracts have been extended before, so anything is possible. Some actors, like Hemsworth, clearly want to continue with Marvel. Others, like Evans, are looking to try a new challenge, such as being behind the camera. Also, it’s possible that characters like Captain America, Hawkeye, and Thor may still have a place in the MCU, but with a different actor/character assuming the mantle. Let’s not forget that despite being grounded in a vestige of reality, a central tenet of comic book stories is that the only characters who ever stay gone are Uncle Ben and Bruce Wayne’s parents. Even if the actors truly are done with their Marvel characters, the body of work they leave behind is better than any comics fan dared hope for.
The Story of Avengers: Endgame
It’s difficult to discuss specific story points in an Avengers: Endgame spoiler-free review. The plot of this film, at least insofar as the marketing goes, is strictly secret. All Marvel reveals is that the Avengers are looking to take the fight to Thanos after his victory in the last film. So, what that means and how they do it is a big part of a story filled with twists and surprises. Whereas Infinity War was a full-court press of action, this film is willing to slow down that pace in ways that are both fulfilling and without halting story momentum. Every character that gets significant screen time drives the story forward while also growing and developing their characters as (fictional) people.
As mentioned, there are moments that casual moviegoers might not understand immediately. However, nearly everything that happens in this film draws from something set-up in a previous film. So, if you are an MCU obsessive, there are callbacks to earlier moments that will make you cheer with delight. Avengers: Endgame puts forth a cohesive narrative that delivers a compelling story on its own. However, it also does the work needed to satisfyingly bring the story the studio started in 2008 to a close. What this film does seems like it would be impossible but making the impossible happen is what Marvel Studios is all about. Check out our forthcoming spoilers review for a more in-depth analysis of the story, after you’ve seen the movie.
What’s Next for the MCU?
Marvel Studios could close down tomorrow, and their accomplishment would be nonetheless spectacular. However, this blockbuster powerhouse shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. Their next film, Spider-Man: Far From Home, hits theaters this summer. The only reason we’re seeing any marketing for this film at all is because it’s, technically, a Sony movie. Yet, there are unconfirmed plans for future Marvel tales featuring characters “old” and new. Black Widow, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) all have solo films in development. New characters like the Eternals and Shang-Chi are also set to be introduced in the future. Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) also seems poised for a return, and her character could represent what the future of the MCU looks like.
Captain Marvel is, unquestionably, the single most-powerful character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In order to explain this character’s absence from the previous 20 movies, she’s been set up as a superhero not just for Earth but for the entire universe. This begs the question if the future MCU will be less inter-connected and more like what DC is currently doing. We will get more MCU films and likely more crossover appearances. However, it’s definitely unclear if we will see another Avengers film any time soon. Still, if a near-perfect run of 22 films doesn’t buy Marvel Studios the benefit of the doubt, nothing will. For now, don’t worry about the future of the MCU but, rather, enjoy what we have already. Avengers: Endgame is a triumph, both for the filmmakers and the studio as a whole.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.