I saw Endgame last night, and I confess that I loved it. Yes, yes, I can hear my colleague Kyle Smith’s instant response, “David loves everything.” And it’s true that I’ve never met a modern-era superhero movie that I didn’t like (what can I say? I’m a fan, not a critic), but Endgame stands out. It’s not just Peak Marvel, it’s good enough that we have to pause for a moment and appreciate the magnitude of Marvel’s achievement.
When the Marvel Cinematic Universe truly got rolling, we could see the studio’s vision. It first and foremost aimed to entertain. It wanted audiences to have fun. So that meant likable characters (played by big stars), action scenes as spectacle, and simple stories in each movie — but tied enough to larger and more-complex mythology to give the the superfans plenty of themes to digest between films.
While some films were more idea-focused than others, it’s remarkable — in our hyper-politicized time — how much Marvel shunned overt immersion in Big Ideas and cultural commentary. Unless you strained hard to look for it (and some people did), you just weren’t going to see all that much politics on the big screen. Marvel knew that if you imported too much of our dysfunction into their universe, it would lose sight of that first goal — entertain.
And so, for all the gallons of ink spilled about “woke Captain Marvel,” the wokeness was largely offscreen. The actual movie was a pretty standard Marvel superhero origin story. Even the movies that dug a bit deeper, like Civil War and Black Panther, never truly deviated from the underlying Marvel ethos. Moreover, the politics — to the extent they existed — weren’t necessarily predictable or obvious. Who was truly right in Civil War? Reasonable minds can disagree (it was Captain America, by the way.)
I’ve always preferred the Christopher Nolan/Zack Snyder mode of superhero storytelling. Nolan was creative and entertaining, but you never lost sight of the essential darkness not just of the villains but also of the hero. Batman was a damaged man, an orphan in a bat suit, and you could feel his vulnerability and rage. It was heavy stuff.
As Sonny Bunch has repeatedly noted, Snyder’s mode of filmmaking asked “what if the gods were real” and explored those (very heavy) ramifications. The end result with Nolan and Snyder weren’t necessarily films that screamed “fun!” but when it all came together just right, it was impressive and meaningful.
That doesn’t mean Marvel lacks emotional punch. Here’s what happens when you make consistently fun movies year after year, with the same characters popping in and out of your lives — you like these people. You start to have genuine affection for the characters and appreciate the actors who brought them to life.
So throughout Endgame you could tell that Marvel knew that it held the audience’s affection, and it decided to love the audience right back. Characters were granted moment after moment for revenge, for closure, and for glory. And as the movie built up to its climactic final fight (I’ve seen some critics dog the final battle. They’re wrong. It was glorious), each character’s “moment” got more consequential.
Yep, it was fan service, but Marvel is fan service. And that’s fine!
By the end, I was surprised at how invested I felt not just in a particular outcome but in who, exactly, would be instrumental in making it happen. As the character Hannibal used to say in the Eighties action series, A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Well, in Endgame, the plan came together, and it was truly fun to watch.