Lost in space with no food or water, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) sends a message to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) as his oxygen supply starts to dwindle. Meanwhile, the remaining Avengers – Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) – must figure out a way to bring back their vanquished allies for an epic showdown with Thanos (Josh Brolin). But can they ever hope to defeat the evil demigod who decimated the planet and the universe?
There’s no point denying it: Marvel has done it again. And it’s done it better than ever before, too, giving us a properly triumphant finale in Avengers: Endgame. The superhero swansong is filled to the brim with high-octane action sequences, laugh-out-loud moments and plenty of reasons to sob into your popcorn – as well as some seriously stonking fan service throwbacks and triumphant moments for the characters we have grown to love so much these past 10 years.
Most importantly of all? Marvel has used Avengers: Endgame to take a look back at its past sins, own up to them, and set them right, too.
Endgame follows on from the events of Infinity War, in which we saw the evil Thanos (Josh Brolin) get hold of all six of the Infinity Stones, force them into a jazzy gauntlet, click his massive sausage fingers together and… well, and crumble half of the world’s population to dust. Among the fallen were many of our favourite superheroes – and the shock of that seemingly irreparable loss is still felt keenly throughout Endgame.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) floats alone in space, remembering the moment his protégé – Tom Holland’s Spider-Man – collapsed and disappeared in his arms. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is a man on a knife-edge as he tries to find meaning in a world without his family. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has hung up his Captain America shield and set up a cosmic grief support group for all those who have been left behind. Rhodey (Don Cheadle), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) are doing their best to set the world – or universe, in Carol Danvers’ case – to rights. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), clearly struggling with an undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, has retreated from the world and into his own shell as he seeks solace at the bottom of a thousand beer bottles. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is still working on his relationship with The Hulk.
But it’s Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) who seems the most changed. Holed up inside Avengers HQ, with her red roots untouched and her socked feet propped up on a desk, she survives on a diet of peanut butter sandwiches as she does her best to keep the superhero agenda – and all the hope that comes with it – alive. And it is she who works round the clock in a desperate bid to undo the events of Infinity War… although how she attempts to do this, or whether or not she is successful, is more revealing than I care to be (I’m not here to ruin the Endgame for anyone).
What I will say, though, is this: Endgame may feature some of our newer superheroes, but its primary focus is the original Avengers quintet. As such, it challenges us to look back at the Marvel films we’ve been given over the past decade – and it’s a stark reminder that they were dominated by white men. Sure, we had Black Widow, but Natasha Romanoff was always shoehorned into the role of love interest or ‘token’ heroine, depending on the needs of her male counterparts’ story arcs. Other than her (admittedly excellent) catalogue of witty comebacks, her main contributions to the story were her perfectly choreographed fight sequences, an impossibly precise hairstyle, and a sexy spandex outfit.
This time around, though, things are different. Marvel writers have shown Black Widow all of the care and attention she deserves – and Johansson is beyond brilliant in selling us this new and nuanced Natasha. She is brittle, and flawed, and vulnerable. She is smart, and determined, and unwilling to take any shit from anybody. She is, essentially, the glue that holds our band of heroes together – and, while her positioning on the poster makes it all too clear that she still plays second fiddle to her male comrades in terms of selling a movie, her role in the story makes her a key player. This is as much Natasha’s movie as it is the Avengers’ – no small thing, when you consider the fact that it wasn’t until 2018 that we got Marvel’s first female-centric superhero movie in Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Don’t worry, though. She’s not alone.
Just as Infinity War brought Black Widow, Okoye, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) together for the first time ever, Endgame makes a point of bringing its surviving female characters – whom I cannot name, because #spoilers – together for the sort of ‘girl power’ moment that has test audiences screaming and stamping their feet in approval. There are no catfights, no feuds, no queen bees. Instead, these feminist superheroes work together to form a team of impossible strength and force – and it serves as an incredible reminder of how far we’ve come. After all, when Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Universe way back in 2008, the only named female character was Paltrow’s Pepper Potts – and she was there solely to serve as “Stark’s personal assistant and budding love interest”.
Of course, I’m not here to say that Endgame is a perfect movie: it isn’t. And I’m not here to say that it ticks every box on the feminist film fan’s agenda: it doesn’t. Some characters are side-lined in our rush to get to the boss battle at the end. Some of the story resolutions are preposterous at best. And yes, some cynics might suggest that the Endgame is not quite the Endgame it professes to be (on top of the already confirmed Spider-Man: Homecoming, the stage has been set for at least another… ooh, shall we say five superhero movies? At least?).
Well, after 11 years and 21 movies, Endgame is so much more than a movie to its fans: it’s the end of an era. We love these characters, we care about what happens to them, and we want to see them honoured in a way that feels fitting after all this time. Thankfully, the Russo brothers are all too aware of this, and they’ve served up an exciting, entertaining, and emotionally impactful movie – one which feels, for every last minute of its three hour run-time, every bit as satisfying as the last bite of an extremely decadent chocolate cake. It is triumphant, and glorious, and almost dizzyingly nostalgic. It is entirely self-aware, and knows how to press its fans’ buttons. As such, it is the perfect ending to a much beloved franchise.
Just like that extremely decadent chocolate cake, though, Endgame leaves us with a choice to make. We can either step away from the table, utterly content, appetites sated, and absolutely convinced that the chef can’t possibly serve up anything better. Or we can sit a little while longer, give our stomachs time to settle, and wait and see what comes next.
I, for one, will be doing the latter. Because I have a feeling that, now that Endgame has set the stage for the next Marvel Phase, we’re about to be taken higher, further, faster than ever before.
Image: Marvel Cinema
Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.