Grandmaster Flash advanced a culture because he sought to control time. Manipulating recorded information on independent streams of existence, reaching back into history and thrusting it forward to create new outcomes was magical, scientific and something in between the two. Everything about Avengers: End Game was, has and still is about time. From the year-long wait for the finale to last year’s Infinity War (and phase three of the MCU), to the much-discussed, three-hour length of the film, we have been obsessed with measuring the space between the ticks and tocks. Which only makes sense. In a critical scene in part one, Avengers: Infinity War, Dr. Strange uses the Time Stone to explore the millions of possible outcomes of a battle with Thanos, the Mad Titan hellbent on wiping out half of life in the universe with a snap of his fingers. In only one of the outcomes Dr. Strange explored did The Avengers defeat Thanos and save the lives of billions. Knowing this, he inexplicably surrenders the stone, allowing Thanos to carry out his grand culling. Now, after waiting 525,000 minutes, The Infinity Saga comes to a conclusion with time being the only thing our heroes have left. And what they do with that time is what makes Avengers: End Game one of the most rewarding films in the MCU.
End Game is everything Infinity War was not. Where part one was anxious, part two is pensive. Dialogue takes precedence over demolition and you can feel the air in the silence between their words. Angst and regret hang heavy in the pregnant pauses. The camera is allowed to linger on the grief in their faces as they contemplate what to do with all of these disembodied memories. Where Infinity War seemed to careen to a destructive and inevitable conclusion like a train with no brakes, treating death like an abstract consequence, End Game is about respecting life, living with the loss of it, and setting things back on track. From the opening scene, the grim reality of The Snap is driven home with tear-jerking precision by looking inward, not to the stars.
As the film progresses we learn that, obviously, life after the purge has been hard and witnessing how humans, heroes and even Thanos, have been coping with the pockets of emptiness is equal parts heartbreaking and entertaining. It’s hard to avoid comparisons to HBO’s series “The Leftovers,” about a post-Rapture world, but the difference here is that those left behind know exactly what happened and who was responsible. Living with that fact has inspired unpredictable coping mechanisms. Some are in group therapy, others have given in to their vices en masse. But when enough time passes, they dare to hope again and options present themselves for redemption. Whether the hope influences the plans or vice versa is up for debate.
Part of Infinity War’s charm was navigating the first-time meetings between various characters and factions, a la the duel of the accents between Thor and The Guardian’s Peter Quill. We’re treated to more of this as the earthbound heroes interact with the more celestial beings with a mix of awe and animosity. It’s easy to forget that, despite being among the strongest humans alive, some of our heroes have never broken Earth’s atmosphere. It’s humbling—for them and us— to realize that what has impacted “Terra” has been replicated exponentially across the universe.
Tonally the film moves along with the intensity of Mission: Impossible as the remaining Avengers go about the very delicate business of trying to bring their loved ones back. Their plan requires as much will power as fire power, and pushes the limits of scientific theory, even by comic book standards. But more important than their sometimes comical trial and error, is what is revealed about each character. Themes of risk and privilege are unpacked as we discover that stakes are not the same for everyone involved in this new existence and it’s a masterful turn of storytelling to see which sacrifices are made and why.
If directors The Russo brothers have learned one thing from their MCU peers it’s that humor is an effective salve for the darkness, and belly laughs abound in End Game. Moreover, the writers have done a better job of weaving together the disparate storylines and there are legit surprises that will have fans of the series jumping out of their seats. Lastly, call backs to the previous films are plentiful but meaningful. Key characters are given substantive chances to come full circle and the emotional payoff is cathartic.
Nevertheless, Avengers: Endgame is not a perfect movie, as some scenes feel a bit on the nose, wedged in as fodder for viral moments on social media. Which leads to the more glaring truth; Infinity War and End Game could and should have been one truly epic film, not two halves released a year apart. While Endgame is the more redeeming half, it is more so because of the closure it provides and the space allowed for characters to do more than take a punch. The greatest DJs in the world can keep a crowd tethered to a phrased in hushed obedience as they juggle back and forth between two turntables, suspending time on the tips of their fingers. But eventually you have to let the song finish and allow the listeners to exhale, and this release is exactly what makes Avengers: Endgame more than worth the time. Theirs and yours.