As far as I was concerned, Avengers: Endgame only needed to overcome two bars, both of them fairly low: it had to be less of an atonal episodic hodgepodge than Avengers: Infinity War, and it had to be less unbearably fucking dreary than Captain Marvel. Missions both accomplished, and honestly by a pretty handy margin - to be sure, being less dreary than Captain Marvel, the ugliest of all Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and the one with the worst action scenes, is closer to the minimum that we should expect of one of the most expensive and highest-grossing films in the history of cinema than the maximum. But it's nice to remember that these movies are capable of being at least some fun to watch.

And Endgame is at least some fun - it's also some of just about everything else. With a spectacularly unjustified running time of 182 minutes (the longest theatrically-released comic book movie ever, and only one minute less than the director's cut of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), the film finds room to pack in just about every kind of tonality that a Marvel movie has ever trafficked in, and some that they so far haven't, dipping its toes into outright character drama alongside the more expected sci-fi, action, and comedy bits. Does this all cohere? Does it matter if this all coheres? I mean, I'd have certainly liked it more if it did cohere, but that was never the goal of producer Kevin Feige, directors Anthony & Joe Russo, or writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. What those men set out to make is basically a giant bowl of bridge mix: everybody's favorite thing is in there, but it's all mixed in with a lot of other stuff so that you can't really tell the malted milk balls from the caramels, and it's also totally devoid of nutritional value, and wolfing it down for three hours is a terrible idea.

"Fan service", they call it, but fan service has never been tried on such a vast scale, and I'd be hard pressed to imagine anybody trying to make it vaster. This is more of a movie than Infinity War, but mostly it's a delivery system for the things that MCU lovers have loved, in greater quantities than ever before. Basically, it's three completely different movies run end to end, each one of them showcasing a different aspect of the franchise. Do you prefer the characters, the plot, and the worldbuilding? Then you want Movie #1, which deals with the fall-out of the cliffhanger that ended Infinity War, showing how the six heroes of the first Avengers from 2012 - Tony "Iron Man" Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., seeming quite energised by providing the franchise he helped build with a grand finale; it's his second-best performance in the series after Iron Man 3), Steve "Captain America" Rogers (Chris Evans, seeming very much not energised by a character he obviously lost interest in years ago), Natasha "Black Widow" Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce "Hulk" Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Clint "Hawkeye" Barton (Jeremy Renner), and Thor "Thor" Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) - are coping with living in a post-apocalypse where space dictator Thanos (Josh Brolin) has erased half of all living creatures from existence. It is a surprisingly dour, heavy movie, especially the bits centered around Romanoff (Johansson is excellent in this first hour, her best work in this series yet), who is a somewhat unhinged do-gooder leading the ratty remains of what used to be the Avengers to fight whatever half-hearted crime still happens in this depressed world; it's so mordant, in fact, that when the film tries to bring in the typical MCU japery in the form of a very smart, articulate Hulk and a very fat Thor, it's kind of embarrassingly bad (Ruffalo's inexplicably dreadful performance and the bad CGI job they've done on the Hulk this time combine to make what is, no contest, the worst element of the film, and one that gets way too much screentime). Anyway, this is all frankly a bit dull; if we're looking to trim out some of those 182 (and dear Christ, we are looking very intently for ways to do that), the first hour presents the most obvious places to do that. But it's also at least interesting and weird to see a huge-budget megablockbuster spend so much of its time being openly depressed and traumatised.

Like the quips, the bubbliness, the "gee-whiz" comic book goofiness? Then you want Movie #2. It's the big self-loving victory lap, a sort of clip-show type thing revisiting some of the MCU's greatest hits (and also the extremely not-greatest hit Thor: The Dark World, which bizarrely gets as much attention as any other movie), and despite how emphatically I am not the audience for this, it's actually the part of Endgame that I think works the best. It's still bloated, with several conversations that do absolutely nothing but run out the clock - it is extremely obvious that "let's make a three-hour epic" was the first choice, and finding different arbitrary ways of filling those hours was at best a secondary concern - but it's also the most energetic and playful, the most creative and clever, and it has all the best material for Scott "Ant-Man" Lang (Paul Rudd, who I'd be inclined to call the film's MVP, or at least its most effortless, enjoyable star). It also answers one specific huge complaint I had about Infinity War, which is that it has several groups of people in several different locations, and it uses the 100-year-old technique of cross-cutting to rhythmically move between those groups, rather than studding them out like dog turds in a lawn. And while doing this, it backloads the most dramatically significant development (a development I intensely hated, but it is significant) to make sure that the cross-cutting feels like it hits an emotional climax right when it ends. Yes, I'm basically saying, "they put more than two seconds' thought into narrative structure", which is less than you'd ask of sophomore year film students, but it was more than Infinity War could claim, so the praise still stands.

Or do you like the series' action sequences the best? Then God help you and your bad taste in action cinema if that's the case, but anyway there's a 40-minute battle scene that makes up most of Movie #3. It is cut like absolute hell; I mean, the whole movie is cut like absolute hell (the very first scene crosses the 180-degree line at least five times in two minutes, and that's only once I thought to start counting), but the battle scene is the most hellish. It's also got some shit-ugly cinematography; I mean, the whole movie has shit-ugly cinematography, with Trent Opaloch refusing to budge from the "beige and grey" chunk of the color spectrum, and turning in the flattest, blandest-looking of his four largely-unattractive MCU movies (all of them directed by the Russos, whose disinterest in cinema as a visual art form remains unyielding), but the battle scene is the shittiest. And it takes place in a giant field of torn-up dirt and rocks that looks like the gravel pit from every single Doctor Who episode, but, like, during a week when they had a really high gravel pitΒ budget. And it is filled with the copy+paste CGI bad guys who've been making MCU third acts tedious ever since The Avengers. I really hated the 40-minute battle scene, is what I'm saying.

Anyway, it's a grab bag: some of it's good, some of it's bad, virtually all of it is much better if you have a pre-existing emotional connection to these characters, because Endgame itself doesn't devote so much as thirty seconds of those 182 minutes to helping to build that connection (myself, I don't have it; the closest I come is to the characters from Guardians of the Galaxy, and this movie does them real dirty). It sure is a whole lot of popcorn movie, though. And since being a whole lot of popcorn movie is the film's solitary goal, I suppose that means that Endgame is a success, even if it's a success that I don't frankly find very engaging. It was, emphatically, Not Made For Me, after all. If it was made for you, God bless.

Reviews in this series
Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) | The Incredible Hulk (Leterrier, 2008) | Iron Man 2 (Favreau, 2010) | Thor (Branagh, 2011) | Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011) | The Avengers (Whedon, 2012) | Iron Man 3 (Black, 2013) | Thor: The Dark World (Taylor, 2013) | Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Russo Brothers, 2014) | Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014) | Avengers: Age of Ultron (Whedon, 2015) | Ant-Man (Reed, 2015) | Captain America: Civil War (Russo Brothers, 2016) | Doctor Strange (Derrickson, 2016) | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Gunn, 2017) | Spider-Man: Homecoming (Watts, 2017) | Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi, 2017) | Black Panther (Coogler, 2018) | Avengers: Infinity War (Russo Brothers, 2018) | Ant-Man and the Wasp (Reed, 2018) | Captain Marvel (Boden & Fleck, 2019) | Avengers: Endgame (Russo Brothers, 2019) | Spider-Man: Far from Home (Watts, 2019) | Black Widow (Shortland, 2021) | Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Cretton, 2021) | Eternals (Zhao, 2021)