Was 'Avengers: Endgame' Worth the Wait?

Avengers: Endgame Still 24 - Publicity - H 2019
<p><em>Avengers: Endgame</em></p>   |   Courtesy of Marvel Studios
There's a moment in the film that's been anticipated since 'Infinity War.'

[This story contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame]

It was the snap heard ‘round the world, at least by the half of humanity that remained to hear it. Roughly a year ago, at the climax of Avengers: Infinity War, the purple alien mastermind Thanos (Josh Brolin) was able to get a hold of the six Infinity Stones. When placed in the Infinity Gauntlet, the Stones imbued Thanos with the power to snap his fingers and wipe out half of the universe as a way to course-correct what he saw as a fundamental problem of overpopulation. As heartbreaking or shocking as this was, the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn’t going to end the overall franchise with half its heroes dead. Now, with the arrival of Avengers: Endgame, the expectation wasn’t whether or not the other heroes would return; it was wondering whether or not the moment would be satisfying.

Perhaps because directors Anthony and Joe Russo, and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, take so long to get to this inevitable moment, it becomes that much more thrilling. The 182-minute magnum opus of the MCU spends most of its time with the original Avengers: Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). Though they’re constantly chasing a single shred of hope in getting all their friends back, it’s well over two hours into the film before they’re actually successful in reversing the wrongs Thanos enacted at the end of Infinity War.

The film, to its credit, doesn’t spend too much time wallowing in the heartbreak or existential loss these heroes feel. Though the film begins with Stark adrift with the ex-baddie Nebula (Karen Gillan), they’re soon rescued by Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and brought back to Earth, where all the heroes spend five years licking their wounds. It’s not until Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) returns from the Quantum Realm that he encourages the Avengers to explore the possibility of time travel, so they can re-acquire the Infinity Stones and stop Thanos before he even gets started.

In the climax, they do have to face off once more against Thanos — a pre-Infinity Gauntlet Thanos, at least — and do so in the wreckage of their enclave in upstate New York. It’s only there, after a now fully Hulked-out Bruce snaps his fingers in the Infinity Gauntlet, that countless heroes return. It’s an elongated sequence that both serves as shameless, gratuitous fan service, and also a satisfying reminder of how many heroes get to step back in the limelight again.

If there’s any letdown in the return of all sorts of superheroes at the end of Endgame, it’s exactly that word: “end.” Many of the newer Marvel heroes, everyone from Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) to the Tom Holland-portrayed version of Spider-Man to Captain Marvel herself, are basically glorified cameo performers in Endgame instead of being handed the metaphorical baton to take this massive franchise to the next level with Iron Man and Captain America stepping down for one reason or another.

The presence, or lack thereof, of Captain Marvel is especially inexplicable — considering how Infinity War concludes on a tease of her arrival, she’s only present briefly in the first 30 minutes and the final fight scene. Among the newer characters who survived the snap, it’s only Nebula who stands out. Gillan’s performance gets to be more complicated and textured than many of the others in the film, even those with more presumably complex shadings.

All that said, the way the directors and screenwriters stage the revival is immensely gratifying. Thanos has just unveiled his massive army of murderous aliens, ready to lay complete waste to the remaining half of humanity, and it looks like the original Avengers (already having lost Romanoff, who sacrifices herself to acquire the Soul Stone) are truly screwed. But then, thanks to the magical Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), the other heroes return in what’s arguably one of the best possible versions of the old-fashioned “Call in the cavalry” trope of action filmmaking. Without even asking for them, Captain America and the rest of the crew are backed up by Wakandans, Doctor Strange and his fellow wizards, Spider-Man, and plenty more good guys. Captain America caps it off by uttering the famous call to arms — “Avengers...assemble” (even though they’ve already done so) — in such a way that’s designed to make audiences go nuts with joy.

Of course, most of Avengers: Endgame is designed to make audiences go nuts with joy — the film is full of the kind of fan service that will appeal to the dedicated MCU buff even as it might alienate someone with a more casual awareness of the series or its characters. If there’s any true letdown, it’s that this Endgame is primarily about the original Avengers themselves, even though the Marvel Cinematic Universe has gotten a lot bigger since the first Avengers in 2012. Fans of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, Spider-Man, and even Captain Marvel will have to wait for the characters’ next solo pictures, or perhaps the next massive team-up (since only a few characters are down for the count). But they at least get one big moment to shine, a rare case of the massive buildup being worth the payoff.