Everyone and their dog has seen Avengers Endgame by now, right? Do I really need to put on a big Spoiler Alert sign? No? Didn’t think so.
It took me this long to actually see the movie, because in my part of the world, the cinemas had been packed and tickets in short supply. Avengers Endgame is breaking all sorts of box office records and it’s being measured against current record holders like Avatar, which is definitely impressive. Not only is it immensely popular, the movie is also widely well-received, with streams of positive reviews.
Avengers Endgame delivers what MCU movies have been delivering for the last 11 years: wit, charm, humor, adventure, loud action. Following the cataclysmic events of Infinity War, I think most of us expected a big comeback with the surviving heroes. Somehow, they’ll find a way to reverse Thanos’ eradication of half the universe — we don’t know how, but the excitement is finding out, right? And the heroes always win, right?
In the grand scheme of things… yes. But the way Endgame plays out, it’s actually quite a different kind of movie.
While Infinity War was pretty much Thanos’ story (brilliantly portrayed by Josh Brolin), but Big Purple has done his part setting the stage for the heroes to shine this time. True to MCU movies, there are the big set-piece battles. The good guys succeed in their mission to reverse Thanos’ genocide. They face off against Thanos and defeat his purple ass. But those are the necessary payoffs — surprisingly, Endgame focuses on the characters. On their relationships, their interactions. In the aftermath of Infinity War, the question is asked of our heroes: there is a price for heroism. Sacrifice is part of it. What have they given up, and are still willing to give up for the greater good?
Before I sound like I’m gushing over the movie, let me point out what I DON’T like first: the use of time travel to reverse Thanos’ genocide. That’s right, TIME TRAVEL, the ultimate hokey deus ex machina which has the potential to invalidate any or all stories that came before. It’s the Pandora’s Box of storytelling that once unleashes, no continuity is ever sacred again.
On top of that, even if we handwave and accept that fine, Time Travel in a comic book universe is viable, the plan to assemble the Infinity Stones before Thanos gets to them is also highly questionable. Like Rhodey said, “Why don’t we strangle Baby Thanos in his crib?” Why indeed? We know why from a story perspective — it was to tie us back to the previous MCU movies, and a chance for our heroes to tie up some loose ends — but as a strategy it doesn’t make much sense.
Another part of the movie I’m not a huge fan of, is the portrayal of Captain Marvel. The character did a couple of kinda important things, but for the most part she’s this really powerful hero who’s not around much. And when she is present, she’s this cocky, aloof gal that I don’t really sympathize with. Among the featured heroes, Captain Marvel easily feels the least developed and least interesting.
Honestly the movie doesn’t give you a lot of opportunity to ponder how ridiculous the premise is, and it’s difficult to dwell on it as the movie sweeps you along with wit and charm. Five years later, we see Captain America and Black Widow trying to remain stoic in a broken world; we see a well-adjusted Professor Hulk who no longer fights his inner beast; we see a retired Tony Stark with a daughter who “loves him 3000”; we see a comical “Fat Thor” who hides his pain and failure behind booze and video games; and we see a “Ronin” Clint Barton with a murderous deathwish after the loss of his entire family. The sense of loss and grief intermixed with humor is very powerful, and it effectively sets the stage that SOMETHING needs to be done.
The time travel missions themselves are a love letter to previous MCU movies. We get to see the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton reprising) fighting the Chitauri in NYC, five years before the rise of Stephen Strange — and her realization that she’d have to give up her Time Stone for the greater good. We get to see the aftermath of the Battle of New York, and callbacks to The Winter Soldier. Thor has an emotional reunion with his mother Frigga (Rene Russo) on the day of her death, where he broke down and let out his pain and guilt. Tony Stark encounters his oblivious dad Howard in the past, and gets his chance to reconcile with his lingering turmoil over their relationship. Steve Rogers gets another glimpse of Peggy Carter, the love of his life and his greatest ongoing regret. Then there is Vormir, where Natasha and Hawkeye fight for the right to sacrifice themselves in exchange for the Soul Stone: I won’t lie, but with the opening scene of the movie where Hawkeye loses his whole family, I knew Natasha will die to give him a chance to see them again.
Once the Stones are assembled, it’s up to Professor Hulk to put on the gauntlet and snap his fingers. As soon as the deed is undone, past Thanos shows up with his entire army: his lieutenants, the Chitauri, the Outriders… all of them. The stakes are, in fact, even higher — what happened here shows Thanos that wiping out half of the universe won’t do it, as long as those who remain continue to find ways to reverse it. This time, he’s set to wipe out everyone. This sets the stage for a full out battle, with the arrival of the returned Avengers, all of Doctor Strange’s sorcerers, the armies of Wakanda and Asgard, the Guardians and the Ravagers. Wong is there, Hope is there, Shuri is there, Captain Marvel is there… everyone comes out to play in that epic fight. It’s going to end in a cinematic battle to end all battles, with everything hanging by a thread — if Thanos gets his hands on the Stones again, all creation still ends.
“I am inevitable!” Thanos exclaims.
“And I am Iron Man.” Start counters, after he reveals that he stole the Stones from under Thanos’ nose.
And with a snap of his fingers. Thanos and his army are gone. But with that truimph, Tony Stark has given his life.
I have to admit, I didn’t expect that. Downey’s turn as Tony Stark is one of the most, if not THE MOST beloved character of the franchise, leading man of the MCU, lays dead with a heroic sacrifice, leaving behind a grateful world and a wife and daughter. In another 10 minutes of the action’s epilogue, Steve Rogers’ story also comes to a close when he replaces the Stones back in their proper times, but returns to the present as an old man. He’s found closure by going back to Peggy Carter, and spent a quiet life with her that he’s always wanted. Now for a movie focused on over the top comic book superheroes, these endings are shockingly gut-wrenching. As Stark himself said “This is a real tearjerker”. This movie presents an emotional conclusion to several beloved MCU characters, but also sets the stage for the future: Sam Wilson is going to have his turn to be Captain America. Nebula is now fully a good guy while the Guardians (plus Thor) will have to cope with a time-displaced Gamora who doesn’t feel the same way about them. And who will take up the mantle of the Avengers?
On another note, the simple cast list takes my breath away. Endgame brought the full breath of MCU cast members back, even if many only had a brief cameo. I mean, how many movies do you know can count Robert Redford, Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer in cameo roles?
All in all, Endgame’s plot isn’t nearly as concise or well-laid out as, say, Infinity War, but it’s in fact a very different type of movie than its predecessor. Endgame has a lot of heart and emotion, especially for a comic book blockbuster action film. If you are invested in the MCU and it’s many well-developed characters, the payoff of wrapping up these characters is well worth the admission. Even for its faults, Endgame is easily one of the best MCU movies ever. If you’re one of the two dozen people on the planet who haven’t seen it yet — make sure you do!