After the monumental cliffhanger of “Infinity War,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe concludes its latest phase with an epic nostalgia trip. The film brings together at least 25 much-loved characters from all corners of the Marvel universe, each demanding a fitting character arc. Endgame is a cinematic phenomenon, already overtaking Titanic for second place in the worldwide, all-time box office having made $2.48bn. It’s now only got Avatar, which grossed $2.79bn, to beat. The Titanic director James Cameron handed the baton to directors the Russo brothers by tweeting a poster with the Titanic hitting a half-submerged Avengers logo, and the words, “An iceberg sank the real Titanic. It took the Avengers to sink my Titanic.” (See also: Steven Spielberg tipping the hat to George Lucas when Star Wars overtook Jaws in 1977, and Lucas returning the favour when ET toppled Star Wars in 1982, among others.) In the US, Avengers: Endgame sold more advance tickets in the first 24 hours of opening than any film in history.
By assembling a decade of superhero narratives into the spectacular package that was “Avengers: Infinity War,” Marvel Studios pulled off the most dramatic blockbuster gamble of all time. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo imported the complex world-building approach from generations of Marvel Comics into a cinematic whole, creating a noisy mishmash of beloved characters and CGI-laced showdowns. It was a unique negotiation between spectacle and character, more impressive than anyone could have anticipated. But it would have been little more than a costly collage without the most dramatic cliffhanger in modern history, and “Avengers: Endgame” strains from contending with the fallout of that twist.
Few spoilers follow here, though sensitive viewers may consider even general observations as such. Suffice to say, “Endgame” delivers the payoff countless fans hoped for, even as it struggles to fuse that commercial mandate into a gratifying whole. There’s much to enjoy about this mishmash of tender goodbyes and last-minute strategies to save the universe, but after an intelligent first hour, “Endgame” amounts to a dense nostalgia trip. With “Infinity War,” it was thrilling to watch a mass-market movie let the bad guy win, and it’s less satisfying to see the Avengers clean up the mess one last time. The title of “Endgame” is misleading: This busy love letter to the biggest movie franchise of all time unleashes several endings at once, resulting in a fascinating if at times messy collection of competing agendas.