This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Jareddd’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
There's a power to Avengers: Endgame that transcends the film itself and draws from over twenty films, eleven years, and countless hours of repeat viewings, impassioned discussion and giddy anticipation as to what will come next. There's been ups and downs, triumphs and missteps; but regardless of the quality of each specific film, these characters have made an impression. So there are so many sequences in Endgame that register as enormously powerful; simple little character moments that mean so much to either their continued evolution, or the conclusion of their story. Captain America facing down the entirety of Thanos' army was beautiful and meaningful; a terrific visualization of his line in the comics "as long as one man stands against you, you'll never be able to claim victory". Or Thor finally finding some freedom from the burden of his lineage and his grief; able to move on and reclaim his future for himself. It's beautiful, like one final tug on the threads that hold this whole thing together.
Nostalgia is delicate, though. Early MCU, while featuring some of the franchise's absolute best films, is a very different beast. They thrive on a belief in the purity and aspirational nature of superheroes; largely predicated on flawed, lost people rising to some challenge and striving to be better. Simple, perhaps, but mostly affecting and genuinely felt. The world has changed since then, and watching the modern versions of these characters get thrust into these "simpler" times is almost sad. Endgame preaches that nostalgia to return to those times might be dangerous, or, as Stark puts it: "that's the hero game, part of the journey is the end".
Endgame fundamentally is about how you confront loss, and how you face the fact that everything you love, whether a person, an institution or even a franchise, will constantly change, grow or decline. The film is bookended by an extensive and somber opening act and a brief, emotional gut-punch of an ending. We see how the surviving heroes have transformed following the snap; consumed by grief, guilt and a profound feeling of failure. Stuck at a sort of intersection between communal loss and personal responsibility; the rare contemplation of what it means when things don't work out how they should; when the utilitarian, muscly and purple bad guy wins, and the gorgeous band of charismatic superheroes lose.
But the real sadness, at least for me, is in the obvious realization that this franchise is headed into a new era. I was 11 when Iron Man came out. Trips to the theater with my friends, subsequent trips to the comic book stores and sleepovers consumed by superhero talk were staples of my childhood. I've grown more cynical with age and the MCU isn't quite the infallible studio I once believed it to be, but those memories are still very much there. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited for the future. With the marvelous Brie Larson and spectacular Wakandans leading the way; there is loads of promise for a more diverse, cosmic and broad slate of future films. But this is what Endgame is: an epic finale to an even more epic assemblage of stories, characters and cultural currency lovingly made with the MCU's deft ability to bridge the gap between normies and nerds all leading to enormous emotional payoff. I take a paradoxically shameful pride in getting choked up watching Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man, facing his death, utter the words "I am Iron Man" one last time in an act of profound self-sacrifice.
Strangely, though, what really got me was the audio clip you hear as the credits conclude. Just a brief sound of hammer on metal, recalling Tony Stark forging his first iron suit in a cave eleven years ago. It makes me feel as though, more than any character in any fictional universe meeting his end, I'm saddened by the transition away from the superstars of this franchise; specifically Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man. Which is weird, admittedly, but seemingly a consequence of this bizarre cultural phenomenon Disney, Stan Lee, and a ton of filmmakers have created. Downey Jr. did such great work in this role; his journey as a character has been by far the most interesting, challenging and emotionally engaging one in this franchise. He's always been around (at least while I've been watching movies), and to know he no longer will be feels really sad, and really weird. Endgame is such a triumph because, for the first time in this franchise, it takes a second to breathe, settle and lived in the moment. For once the tears and the cheers feel grounded in a genuine humanity; not tied to some promise of a sequel. The Iron Man and Captain America era is over, and that's something be sad and excited about.