“Avengers: Endgame”: It. Is. FINISHED.

Rocket Raccoon!

Thanos made this cute, fuzzy antihero cry. Now he must PAY.

One of the most exhilarating parts of seeing highly anticipated event films ASAP is the firm pivot point you pass between “before” and “after”. Once you’ve seen it, spoilers can no longer damage your viewer experience. Months and years of news sites hazarding half-baked guesses to the film’s content see all their handiwork either rendered obsolete and worthless or proven right but ultimately irrelevant once the thing becomes a reality rather than a theoretical construct in quantum-superpositional flux. Once the film “is”, the number of possibilities of how it “might be” dwindles ever downward toward one (1).

That’s not to say everyone has seen it yet, though Entertainment Weekly and other ill-mannered organizations live or die on the operating principle that every popular thing is instantly consumed now-now-NOW by the smartest, coolest readerships who are the only humans in the universe that matter. For folks who know how to use the word “courtesy” in a sentence, it means being careful with blaring spoilers in the faces of everyone who might glance in our direction. (When it comes to movies, at least. As someone who live-tweets the occasional CW super-hero show, I’ll own up to some hypocrisy here.)

It’s in that spirit of keeping up the spoiler-free environment for what’s left of this weekend that our obligatory Avengers: Endgame write-up was composed to the best of my ability. Fair warning: if you were so hardcore about no-spoiler purity that you’ve even avoided all the trailers and TV spots, I’m not sure I can help you at quite that level of dedication.

Short version for the unfamiliar: Previously on The Avengers: at the end of Infinity War we watched half Our Heroes die and Josh Brolin’s proudly amoral Thanos retire to a farmer’s life. Endgame picks up shortly thereafter and catapults forward through so much grief, rage, pity, recovery, and brainstorming solutions. Beyond that, the exact plot and the “how” of “how will they save the day after all this misery” were shrouded in secrecy except for set photos that gave away what the solution would involve.

The discriminating viewer can reason their way toward some of what would be entailed. Our Heroes could try tracking down Thanos, reasoning with him, and persuading him to reverse his diabolical scheme and bring everyone back to life. This would at best result in a 90-minute art-house film that’s all talky, angry debates about The Meaning of Life and no punching. That’s how some Avengers comics have rolled in recent years, but not their movies. There must be punching.

Alternatively, Our Heroes could plan an elaborate heist to steal the Infinity Gauntlet by somehow tricking Thanos into giving it up. Maybe they bring in the cast of Leverage, Timothy Hutton dresses up like Uatu the Watcher, and they swindle Thanos with a scheme that could net him trillions of space dollars but only if he brings all those zillions of universe-wide dead back to life. Aldis Hodge pretends he’s Eternity, Christian Kane trudges out in a Galactus suit, Sophie dresses up in a Death costume and really amps up her most pretentious accent while Parker rappels down into Thanos’ crap-shack and nabs the power glove. Hilarity ensues and eventually the day is saved while an enraged Thanos is led off to space jail by two very proud FBi guys.

Failing that, Our Heroes would have to find another way to make all those deaths never have happened, particularly in the case of Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and other various good guys who all have sequels or Disney streaming spin-offs in the works that are presumably not prequels. We know deep down things will have to get sorted here in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where anything that’s ever happened in the comics or in any sci-fi reality can happen. And so it does. And then there’s punching. So. Much. PUNCHING.

Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: Everyone who survived Infinity War is back and on the team. It’s not a spoiler to say that somehow, inevitably because superhero universe and merchandising, the dead shall eventually rise, which means more actors show up. A few heroes who skipped Infinity War finally answer the call-to-arms. A shocking number of supporting cast members from the previous 21 films (and at least one TV-only MVP) are also invited back for another ride. Several are left out; some show up but with only one or two lines. At least one fully credited personality, the actor I least expected to step foot inside the MCU ever again, appears to have been spliced in from outtake footage.

In all, a minimum, absolutely mind-boggling fifty-nine actors reprise their previous roles. Fifty. Nine. Minimum. Probably more. A few of those are in voice only, but still. You will not guess then all. That’s half the fun.

Given the return of all those familiar faces, extremely little room is left to welcome new friends. Among those are Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine) as a different crime lord; and two players from Community, the old high-quality stomping grounds of directors Joe and Anthony Russo, in fleeting cameos, one more helpful than the other.

And yeah, of course there’s a Stan Lee cameo, among the final few filmed before his passing last year. This time he zips by briefly as a bellowing peacenik. Word on the street is that his final cameo will be in this July’s Spider-Man: Far from Home, which will also serve as the official grand finale to Phase 3 of the MCU.

Meaning or EXPLOSIONS? Morals of the story include but aren’t limited to:

  • We all grieve in different ways. Some move on and find better things. Some can’t stop crying. Some bury themselves in their work. Some let rage eat them away from the inside. Some turn to addictions, let themselves go, and turn into embarrassing if much-needed comic relief.
  • If you could take a billion-to-one risk to reverse the greatest act of evil in the history of the universe, even if failure meant things actually could be worse-than-worst, would you do it? Shouldn’t you?
  • Noble sacrifices are very noble.
  • Sooner or later, some actors want to move on with their careers.

…otherwise this three-hour tour is all about the intergalactic EXPLOSIONS and the super-hero battle to end all super-hero battles.

Nitpicking? Endgame is part 22 of a 22-part maxiseries (and Spidey-coda will make 23). This past week Anne and I have been fielding questions from friends and family wondering, twelve years into this saga, what the fuss is all about and how hard would it be to hop aboard the bandwagon. Just now. They’ve spent years standing by while an all-star parade of actors whizzed past them and clocked in for this universe. Now that there’s a big movie party going on and they’re on the wrong side of the velvet rope, now they’re curious.

And I, old fogey who thinks any movie or comic ought to be accessible to newcomers, hate being the one telling them they have to go complete 45 hours of viewing homework before they can truly enjoy the spectacle at hand, the years of meticulous planning, and the apotheosis of so much cumulative storytelling and intricate world-building. Major super-hero crossover events used to be fun for me as a comics fan, but they’ve also long been a source of alienation to wannabe newcomers. It’s fun for me to be on the inside, but I feel bad for them.

To make the movie happen, Our Heroes have to invent some new science. It’s really hard and takes a while. Eventually they get there because Tony Stark and Bruce Banner are two of the biggest brains in pop culture. But the farther along the film goes, the easier their new science gets for literally anyone to co-opt and use even if they don’t appear to have all the proper equipment, even if the resources to make said equipment couldn’t possibly have existed based on rules firmly established during the new-science process.

As a direct result of this same science, some parts of the eventual denouement imply complicated ramifications that Endgame doesn’t make time to address. At least one scene makes absolutely no sense from the information provided, though it’s possible that some post-game cleanup has been relegated to Spider-Man: Far from Home.

So what’s to like? But it’s impossible to think about such logistics when you’re in the theater amidst so much sensory overload. Endgame is a virtually nonstop barrage of super-cool moments, Easter eggs, jaw-dropping happy surprises, fist-pumping victories, and equal parts revenge served cold and justice dished out piping-hot. The best way to experience it is to have as few surprises ruined as possible, which makes it next to impossible for me to list its fifty or sixty most awesome moments.

I can tell you at least a couple dozen actors each get memorable lines and moments. The key triumvirate of Downey, Evans, and Hemsworth — as Iron Man, Cap, and Thor, traditionally the heart and soul of comics’ Avengers — carry the heaviest burdens, deliver the biggest speeches, garner some of the biggest and boldest “WOW” bits, and effectively bookend their respective trilogies. Everything looks great, runs tidily, and benefits from jillions of dollars of the greatest CG animation ever laid down by a behind-the-scenes crew of thousands.

And then there’s that epic final battle. Because of course there is one. Fans of the series have already seen it and are counting down the minutes and seconds to their next showing, in addition to those viewers who’ve already seen it multiple times by now. That no-hold-barred climax is all but Our Heroes forming a Hands Across America chain and shouting “SUCK IT, LORD OF THE RINGS” at the heart of cinema, for better or worse.

If you haven’t already seen Endgame and don’t plan to anytime soon…I mean, I don’t get why you’ve even read this far. So, um, yeah, as you’ve heard, pretty fun film.

How about those end credits? The most shocking development of all: no, there’s no scene after the Avengers: Endgame end credits. Curiously, over the final credits and behind the music, one can hear the faint, rhythmic sound of metal banging against metal, like someone far away forging a new weapon, building a new movie set, or laying down tracks for their next industrial-rock album.

But as we always do, we waited and waited and waited and…no scene. Just more names and words and legal boilerplate. One guy in the back of the theater yelled an F-bomb. An employee among the standing-by cleanup crew yelled back, “YEAH, THAT’S IT.” And so it goes.

[UPDATED 11:30 p.m. EDT: want more thoughts on Avengers: Endgame for some reason? The spoiler-filled follow-up is way over here.]

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