Matthew Noble’s review published on Letterboxd:
JMN presents: MARVEL MARCH
*Vaguely Spoilery, I guess*
"Part of the journey is the end."
The Russo brothers have directed more Marvel Cinematic Universe joints than any other filmmaker. And if you've been reading my reviews, you'll know my issues with each of those efforts. The Winter Soldier was a good change of pace, but I didn't care about Bucky Barnes at all. Civil War had its moments, but definitely felt like Avengers lite. And Infinity War is actually one of my least favourite entries in this franchise. So I didn't have the highest hopes going into Endgame.
Colour me surprised. As far as I'm concerned, the Russos finally stuck the landing when it mattered the most. Endgame is by far and away my favourite of their MCU movies, and probably their most cohesive in terms of dramatic structure and the themes they're exploring. I'd still probably cite Age of Ultron as my pick for the best Avengers flick (for reasons I've already covered in my recent review), yet Endgame hits all the notes people crave from a gargantuan comic book event picture.
Unlike Infinity War, Endgame is actually about the Avengers. It's not a lengthy fetch quest of dour action sequences driving towards an inevitable downer ending (did anyone honestly expect Thanos to fail?). Okay, so the fetch quest element remains, but this time it's about the plight of our heroes, not the might of their villain. How they cope with the worst case scenario, how they redeem themselves, and how they avenge the entire universe. Which is what you want in a blockbuster about big damn superheroes.
For the most part, I heartily approve of how everyone's stories conclude in Endgame. I like that Tony steps up and becomes the man Yinsen foresaw in the original Iron Man. I love that Steve finally gets his dance, and the happiness he desperately deserves. Black Widow gets the absolution she's always yearned for. Hawkeye returns after being absent in the previous instalment, and he's still secretly one of the best Avengers. Ironically, the only character who I think has devolved is Hulk. By extracting Bruce's trauma and transforming him into Professor Hulk, he's been rendered largely uninteresting. He's relegated to comic relief, even doing a joke about dabbing.
On a more positive note, I adore what they do with Thor. His arc was my favourite aspect of Infinity War, and Endgame continues his story wonderfully. He's lost everything by this point: his mother, his father, his hammer, his world, his brother, his friends, and his self-respect. He's hit rock bottom. When he returns to Asgard - in a sequence which makes me appreciate The Dark World a bit more - his interactions with Frigga are too lovely for words. It just shows how far he's come since the original Thor. And that moment where he realises he's still worthy of Mjölnir? Beautiful.
Endgame is loaded with such emotional payoffs. The cold open where Clint loses everything. Scott Lang realising he's missed another five years with his daughter. Tony reconciling with his father. Steve seeing Peggy again. The aftermath of Vormir, where the Avengers mourn their first true death in the family. And of course, those last fifteen minutes. There are certainly inclusions that make me roll my eyes - that "girl power" team up is so contrived it takes you right out of the experience - but Endgame is exactly what Marvel promised us when it teased Thanos seven years previously. It's the victory lap for an unprecedented experiment in franchise filmmaking. A blockbuster of epic proportions, a true grand finale. Phase Three might as well be the end of Marvel Studios as we know them. It's not like they'll ever make something like this again.
P.S. For the record, I'm glad Avatar reclaimed the box office crown from this. I appreciate the idea that the highest grossing film of all time (unadjusted for inflation) is a weird sci-fi actioner about blue cat aliens.