The first decade of Marvel Cinematic Universe films, all 23 of them, is an impressive cinematic achievement. With far more highs (Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Infinity War, etc.) than lows (Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 2), there have been few extended franchises in history to match the MCU's storytelling, world and character development and sustained quality. We now reach a fork in the road, as new characters like Tom Holland's Spider-Man take the reins from Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man, and Avengers: Endgame marks the conclusion of a decade of complementary narratives for key Marvel characters and over 50 hours of film. In the months after Marvel Comics' spiritual leader Stan Lee's death, it is bittersweet to see such an accomplished franchise close one impressive chapter to begin another. Endgame is not a perfect film, but it is a fitting resolution for several retiring characters. The film impacts emotionally and thrills in the way that is now expected from the MCU, and entertains for the entirety of its 181 minutes.
Twenty-three days after Thanos (Josh Brolin) snapped half the world out of existence, Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) rescues Iron Man and Nebula (Karen Gillan) from space, returning them to Earth to regroup with the remaining Avengers: Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and War Machine (Don Cheadle). Spoiler Alert! They determine to locate the Infinity Stones and use them to reverse Thanos's actions, and soon find him on an uninhabited planet without defenses. Thanos reveals he destroyed the stones to prevent such a correction, and a furious Thor chops off his head. Five years later, the world has moved on and the Avengers have mostly separated. Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is freed from the Quantum Realm and contacts Captain America and Black Widow, urging them to consider the possibility of a "time heist," in which they would reverse Thanos's actions in the present by retrieving the Infinity Stones in the past. They go to Tony Stark's home for help but find the once-heroic Iron Man has settled down with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his young daughter, Morgan (Alexandra Rabe). Tony initially refuses to consider the possibility that Thanos' genocide could be mended, but eventually returns to the Avengers' headquarters to rejoin the team. They work to bring a drunken Thor, disillusioned Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and domesticated Hulk back into the fold, and begin heading back in time, with a limited number of enabling Pym particles in hand, to reclaim the stones.
For a three-hour film, Endgame is nimbly plotted and paced, and there are few, if any, extraneous scenes. The time travel takes viewers back to the events of several previous films, and brings numerous characters, including Star-Lord (Peter Quill) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana), back to the screen. The film climaxes in a triumphant battle between Thanos' forces and a totally reassembled Avengers and company thanks to the magic of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). As expected, franchise favorites Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Spider-Man, and others make emotional returns. There is humor, action, loss and redemption, and, although some of the late-game plot revelations may be head-scratching for non-comic-book readers, Endgame is a thoroughly enjoyable bookend to this segment of Marvel Cinematic Universe films. The acting is strong across the board, particularly the performances of Downey Jr., Hemsworth, Evans and Johansson, and returning directors Joe and Anthony Russo prove adept at blending emotional, intimate character moments with blockbuster action and spectacle. The effects in this $356-million film are expectedly strong, and most impressive is that the characters, both human and animated, interact with fantasy environments that look completely real.
Closing such a momentous string of films is no easy task, and Endgame certainly aims to please fans of the comics as well as casual viewers. I do not think this film is quite as strong as series highlights like Infinity War, but it is still a hell of an achievement. I will admit I had to do some post-viewing research into the ins and outs of Doctor Strange and how the climax was possible within the parameters of the universe, and there are a couple of plot contrivances (I will not call them plot holes) like a disappearing Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and aged Steve Rogers that left me puzzled. Endgame is certainly a swan song for Iron Man and Downey Jr.'s work over the past decade. His character kicked off the franchise with a bang, and the veteran actor has served as an anchor ever since. Iron Man's storyline is most important and most impactful, and Endgame reminds viewers that it is a good movie period, not just a good comic book movie, with genuinely affecting scenes of loss and reflection. I enjoyed Endgame more upon a second viewing, picking up on more character and plot nuances, and I believe its replay value will remain among the best in the franchise. I look forward to new diversions in the MCU and the introduction of new characters, and consider Endgame and its companion films among the best comic book action spectacles ever created.
Disney offers an excellent 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer for Avengers: Endgame that accurately replicates the theatrical viewing experience. The digitally photographed film appears bright, crisp and perfectly clear throughout, and the transfer offers excellent fine-object detail and texture; clear, deep wide shots; expertly saturated colors; and solid black levels. The digital effects are integrated with the live-action photography without issue, and every detail of the digital and practical sets is visible in stunning clarity. The image looks excellent in motion, with clean pans and very minimal digital noise. I noticed no banding or aliasing, and noise-reduction quirks and edge enhancement are completely absent.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is quite dynamic, and does not suffer from the volume-level issues of some Marvel/Disney mixes of the last few years. There is a plethora of action effects throughout the 181-minute film, and the surrounds are given a healthy workout from the abundant effects pans. The LFE comes to life frequently to support the action effects, and ambient effects also make effective use of the rear channels. Dialogue is crisp, clean and without distortion or crowding. The score is deep and precisely integrated, and all elements play in harmony. French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are included, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the Blu-ray of the film, a Blu-ray bonus disc and a digital copy. The discs are packed in a standard case that is wrapped in an embossed slipcover with artwork that complements the film's franchise roots. Disney is not exactly known for knocking it out of the park with feature-laden releases of its Marvel movies, but Endgame offers a few decent featurettes which also serve as a retrospective of the first ten years of the MCU. Those include: Remembering Stan Lee (7:15/HD); Setting the Tone: Casting Robert Downey Jr. (5:25/HD); A Man Out of Time: Creating Captain America (12:18/HD); Black Widow: Whatever It Takes (7:25/HD); The Russo Brothers: Journey to Endgame (5:01/HD); The Women of the MCU (4:52/HD); and Bro Thor (3:42/HD). You also get Deleted Scenes (4:51/HD); a Gag Reel (1:58/HD); and, on the first disc, an Audio Commentary by Directors Joe and Anthony Russo and Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and an Introduction by Directors Joe and Anthony Russo (2:33/HD).
The first ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe represent a monumental achievement in comic book and action filmmaking, with character development and world building like few other franchises in history. Avengers: Endgame represents the culmination of these first ten years and is a fitting bookend to this chapter in the franchise. Highly Recommended.