Avengers: Endgame – a labour of love to the MCU that defies cinematic expectations
By now, there’s no question that Marvel Studios has proven itself to be a beacon of absolute greatness. Whether it’s financially, creatively or even culturally, the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to defy expectations and elevate the superhero movie genre in ways no other franchise seems capable of doing. I expected Endgame to be all sorts of amazing, but I didn’t expect it to be the perfect cinematic experience that it was. Simply put, Endgame isn’t just a crowning achievement for the superhero movie genre. It’s a crowning achievement for the cinematic art form itself.
For some context, let me iterate how my feelings for the MCU have evolved over the years. Like many others who packed the many sold-out screenings of Endgame this past weekend, I was there from the very beginning. Since 2008, watching Marvel films has become a routine that I am grateful to have adopted. But like any routine, the norms of familiarity can sometimes become tiring. As I’ve previously stated, there was a time when I grew frustrated with the MCU’s episodic nature and predictable tones that mimicked a long-running television show. These feelings were probably mostly attached to the end of Phase 2, where the sense of safety and comfort in watching a Marvel film overshadowed the bigger picture brewing in the background of the cinematic universe. All that changed leading up, and certainly with, Infinity War.
My revised feelings for the MCU reflected an appreciation for a uniquely cinematic experience that will most certainly never be replicated ever again. Even knowing that the MCU intends to trek on, the ‘Infinity Saga’ will forever be the benchmark of what a cinematic universe can achieve. And I might not know anyone over at Disney or Marvel Studios, but I would bet my life savings that the studios know this to be true as well. It’s gotta be the reason why Endgame primarily emphasizes the celebration of both the past and present, rather than setting up roots for the future (which it still does, of course).
There’s a sense that Marvel knows this to be the end of a perfect era. The MCU will continue to expand and evolve, but what transpired over the past decade will never be re-created. Things will never be the same after Endgame, and the studio finds victory is creating a film that celebrates 11 years of cinematic history with such sublime satisfaction. Endgame is essentially a 3-hour labour of love for the MCU. Every creative decision and emotional note is sung in the tune of admiration for the 21 films that came before this behemoth of a cinematic accomplishment.
And I’m not just referring to the fun callbacks and references that were punctuated so perfectly with the ‘time heist’ plotline. What makes Endgame more than just a bookend to 21 preceding sequels is that it pays homage and bids farewell (in certain cases) to the current MCU with layers of respect and humility. Nothing is rushed and nothing is forgotten. Despite being the pinnacle of any superhero film ever made, Endgame decidedly focuses on the long-gestating humanization of these super-human characters. Each individual film within the MCU might not be the greatest contender for examinations of the human condition, but collectively, the emotional investment you develop over 11 years pays off exponentially.
It’s the kind of emotional fortitude you get with a multi-season television show, except on cinematic proportions and magnified by the everlasting weight of comic book fandom. Defeating Thanos and restoring life to half of all living creatures might be the running storyline, but the real end game here was honouring the notion that ‘part of the journey is the end’. The Russo Brothers and everyone involved in crafting Endgame deserve every accolade being thrown at them right now for the thematic closure they've given the original Avengers. It could not have ended in a more perfect way.
Whether you're an avid fan of the MCU or just a casual viewer, you can't argue with the fact that there's something special about Endgame. It has nothing to do with its box office numbers or popular culture influence, and everything to do with its use of the cinematic art form. Personally, I don’t consider myself anything more than a fan of cinema who just happens to enjoy writing on the side. And as a fan, I’ve always considered the best cinematic experiences to come from films that fully embrace their own cinematic language. Whether this language consists of specific writing or technical tropes, or an auteur-driven vision, a film that immerses itself in its own vocabulary has the ability to create impactful filmmaking.
With Endgame, the product of a cinematic language developed across 21 films is put on display, and the result is simply spectacular. Every action, comedic and dramatic beat is delivered with a sense of history and emotional bearing specific to the MCU. Paying homage to other genres or filmmakers is nothing new, and referencing previous films within a franchise is something that the MCU itself has done countless times. But with Endgame, there's an emotional and thematic connection linked with its cinematic language to an extent that has never been done before. Cinema is an evolving art form, and Endgame has certainly broken a ceiling of possibilities for what filmmakers are capable of doing. And I should add that this was a ceiling confined within the shackles of blockbuster commercial filmmaking, that somehow, still allowed for such level of creative artistry.
All this is to say that Endgame is more than just a superhero film. Just because it's a summer tentpole franchise entry, doesn't make it any less worthy of praise as a piece of cinema. It might be harder for casual viewers and critics to appreciate the full scope and beauty of this perfect film, but as a longstanding fan of the MCU (and of cinema, as well), I can say with absolute confidence that Endgame is cinema at its best. Whether you know it or not, this is lightning in a bottle. And as we all know, lightning never strikes twice.