Running just over three hours long, Avengers: Endgame builds to a denouement with a valedictory air akin to the last act of Peter Jackson’s similarly sprawling The Return of the King, except that it comes at the end of 22 movies instead of three movies.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe will, of course, go on. It’s no secret that, despite crumbling to dust before our eyes in Infinity War, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Black Panther have upcoming movies in the works, and it looks like there will finally be a solo Black Widow movie. New properties waiting in the wings include the ancient cosmic beings called the Eternals and the martial-arts master Shang-Chi.
But some established characters, in the manner of Frodo and Gandalf at the Grey Havens, get what really seem to be final send-offs of one kind or another, offering closure to arcs stretching back for years.
Finality and closure are admittedly relative in a universe where crumbling to dust could in theory be (spoilers? perish forbid!) more of a temporary disruption than an absolute end. Still, if most Marvel movies over the years have felt more like TV episodes than proper movies, Endgame is the first proper season finale since the original Avengers back in 2012.
As such, it may at last be possible to arrive at a kind of final critical evaluation of Endgame in relation to the various arcs it resolves in a way that was never possible with middle movies like Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok and certainly Infinity War, all of which got by writing checks for future movies to cash.
With Endgame, in the words of Mordo from Doctor Strange, the bill finally comes due. The 22nd time pays for all. Is the payoff enough?
As regards its biggest obligation, the hole in the universe left when Josh Brolin’s monstrous Thanos snapped his fingers in Infinity War, wiping out half of all living creatures in the universe, Endgame delivers to an impressive degree.
For me, going into Endgame — indeed, walking out of Infinity War — the criteria for a satisfying resolution were straightforward: There must be no simple reset. No mere rolling back the clock; no going back in time and preventing the apocalypse from ever happening in the first place.
Whatever has happened has really happened, and whatever happens afterward, the narrative must roll forward, not backward. Above all, there can be no substantial reversal of fortune without real sacrifice.
This, in fact, is precisely the challenge the filmmakers set for themselves in Endgame.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.