It’s the biggest movie of the year, possibly ever?? I might as well say a few things.
Be advised, THERE WILL BE LOTS OF SPOILERS IN HERE. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Picking up right where Infinity War left off, Endgame is structured into three main parts:
- Letting Thanos’ eradication of half of all life in the universe really sink in, dwelling in the new status quo he created.
- The planning and execution of the “time heist” in which each Infinity Stone is swiped from a point in history, to be brought back to the present, assembled into a new Infinity Gauntlet, and used to undo “the snap.”
- Thanos being brought from the past to the present, unfolding into a climactic battle, followed by a series of resolutions that conclude the film.
It’s pretty neat and tidy. From a storytelling mechanics standpoint, I can appreciate that so much complexity is managed well. I am someone who thrives on over-engineered plots, and this movie sure had ’em.
So, let me talk about what I liked. The “time heist” stands out as the strongest part of the film. It’s very tight, makes a complex series of events easy to comprehend, and (of course) it is pivotal to the finale. It’s full of great little character moments and it is the part of the film where the stakes feel the most real. Once the heroes have the stones and a new Infinity Gauntlet, we know that victory is only a matter of time. It’s in the midst of the time heist that the stakes feel highest, and where there are enough unpredictable possibilities to keep it interesting.
Tony Stark’s sacrifice worked on an emotional level, as the capstone to his character development. He had a decent arc in this film, even if it didn’t mesh well with his arc from previous films.
The “Avengers: Assemble!” bit, which presumably everyone had been waiting for since this series of films began, was appropriately over-the-top. As pure spectacle, it is hard to match.
Both of Thanos’ deaths are satisfying, albeit in different ways. His visceral beheading at the hands of Thor is a great, if empty, catharsis on the heels of Infinity War. Seeing his final defeat, in which he watches his entire army dissolve around him (before he himself disappears) is more of a relief than anything else. He’s gone, and can do no more harm.
There were plenty of nice little moments, like Wanda getting a crack at Thanos, Black Widow finding a new purpose in holding together a galactic council (of sorts), Tony Stark as a father–the list goes on. Taken in and of themselves, many of them are great and effective. It’s just a shame the surrounding film lets those moments down.
The film’s efforts to humanize Thor were worthwhile, but ultimately not that successful. I’ll talk more about that later.
So, on to the things I didn’t like so much: let’s start with Captain America’s ending. I didn’t watch Agent Carter though I’ve heard plenty about the ways in which Steve Rogers going back to spend his life with her undermines that show. That’s fair enough: Kevin Feige, the producer of these films, has been on record that the movies are not obligated to respect anything that comes out of the TV shows. But it also just seems out of character for Cap. Instead, it feels very much like a forced conclusion owing to the fact that Chris Evans’ contract is up. Likewise with him passing the torch to Falcon: where was the buildup to that? There was plenty of reason to think Bucky would take up Captain America’s mantle, but since Disney has other plans for him, someone else has to pick up the shield. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with Falcon picking up where Steve Rogers left off, but this was not something the film built up to in any logical way. Both Steve’s happy ending and his handing over the reins to Falcon felt forced and unearned, as if they belonged in another movie.
I’ll tangent for a sec on some criticisms of Cap’s tenure in the past, though: though he would have created a branched timeline by staying in the past, so long as he kept his time bracelet and some Pym particles, he could easily return to his original timeline at the end. Just because we didn’t see him do this doesn’t mean he didn’t. However, another criticism I’ve seen is totally correct: with the Infinity Stones now all in stone form, how is going to “put back” the ones that were definitely not in stone form, such as the Tesseract and the Aether? The film does not care to deal with this at all, and we’re just supposed to roll with it. You could fly Thanos’ ship through plot holes like this.
Back to things that matter: Thor’s arc. This film tried to give us a broken Thor, a God of Thunder brought low, suffering from PTSD. Unfortunately, the camera was more interested in making the audience laugh at his pot belly. I lay this squarely at the feet of the Russo brothers, because Thor’s dialogue didn’t generally indicate that his struggle was meant to be humorous. It’s the way the camera lingered on his belly and drew attention to it that suggests the directors thought this was something to milk for yuks. The Avengers’ final victory over Thanos and his passing of the baton to Valkyrie suggests a new chapter for Thor, alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy, but what of his arc here? Is he fine now that Thanos is beaten and his failure is (sort of) undone? Even a hint that victory left him feeling no less whole would have added something to this particular story, but there’s too much going on to spend time with it.
The “five years later” sequence is also underdeveloped. Humanity and Earth–the entire universe, in fact–have been through a catastrophe in which half of all life vanished without a trace. There’s a line about some governments surviving. We get to see a San Francisco neighborhood full of abandoned houses and cars on cinder blocks. We see a memorial to the vanished. We see dozens of boats shored up against Liberty Island, and Avengers HQ feeling desolate and empty. Beyond that, though, you’d be hard-pressed to know the universe suffered such a devastating calamity. Tony Stark lives in a lake house outfitted with high tech holograms, evidently still capable of making high-end armor suits (like the one Pepper wears for the climactic battle). I realize this film isn’t about the “little people,” and the only stakes for mere mortals are in the form of Hawkeye’s insta-family, but it sucks to set up this premise of a radically altered status quo and then be so quick to dispense with it.
The other end of this scenario bears examination, too. Are we ever going to hear about “the return” again? Thanos’ snap wasn’t simply reversed, undoing the intervening time. That would have felt like a cheat. But now we have a present in which half the population was simply gone for five years, and now they’re back. If the next Spider-Man movie is set after this one, does that mean all of Peter Parker’s classmates got snapped? Any that didn’t would now be five years older than Peter. Think about how many siblings have had their age orders reversed–the elder sibling is now the younger sibling. It’s clearly a win to have everyone back, but this is still an incredibly radical change. Not to mention, all the damage caused by half of humanity being gone for five years can’t be erased overnight, can it? It’s likely governments collapsed, whole industries failed, infrastructure crumbled–the fallout from all this would have been massive, and while having everybody back will lend more manpower to rebuilding efforts, this doesn’t seem like something that should transpire offscreen and never get another mention. Unfortunately, that is probably exactly what will happen. In my opinion, the next Black Panther movie would be a great opportunity to explore this issue in depth. How did Wakanda fare during the five years? How will it help with rebuilding? Is it in much worse shape than the rest of the world, or is it holding up better and now a global leader?
I also want to talk about the way women are handled in this movie. There is a fun bit of fan service where all the women in the final battle line up together, and it is an awesome moment–up there with Cap wielding Mjolnir in terms of its fuck yeah effect–but it’s brief, and then it’s gone, and it drives home just how little women matter in this tableau. Captain Marvel is in this film just long enough to save Iron Man and Nebula from death in space, and to help shuttle around the Infinity Gauntlet. Otherwise, she is off helping the rest of the universe–which is OK, but makes her absence for much of the movie a bit convenient. She could’ve been a big help during the time heist, for instance.
Black Widow has a promising arc cut short by her death in exchange for the Soul Stone. She and Hawkeye are sent off on one more mission together, to get that stone, and for a moment they are united by their lost humanity. Natasha lost hers while working as a Russian assassin; Hawkeye lost his in the course of taking revenge upon random criminals once his family was wiped out. Because the man getting his family back is more narratively satisfying than a woman realizing she can be more than a tool for other powerful men, it’s a foregone conclusion which one will come back from this quest alive. It’s still fucking bullshit.
Nebula fares better in that she does not have to die–one version of her survives, at least. It is baffling that nobody notices her (evil past counterpart’s) absence during the scene where the new Infinity Gauntlet is created, though. What, nobody thought she’d want to stick around for the payoff of all their hard work? That didn’t concern anyone, not even War Machine, who’d gone into the past with her?? This is the sort of thing one calls an “idiot plot,” because for it to work it requires the characters to be stupid. Well, mission accomplished.
It also strains credibility, to say the least, for everyone to survive Thanos’ bombardment of the Avengers HQ. Come on.
Right, but I was talking about women. Wanda and Captain Marvel get a chance to whomp on Thanos, and that’s nice. It’s a shame Gamora has had virtually all her character development throughout the GOTG movies reset, though. The rest of the women in this movie get in a quip or two. Better than nothing, I guess, but it hammers home what a Bro Show the Avengers films have been.
This film just feels like less than the sum of its parts. What does it have to say, really? It’s not really about anything. It has a complex, clockwork plot that manages not to be horribly confusing. It has fewer characters to juggle than Infinity War (since so many are dead), so it has an easier time holding focus. But it uses that breathing room to give us a cliched story about a rich man finding true wealth in fatherhood, a PTSD sufferer that is treated like a punchline, and America’s Ass just kind of… being an ass.
It’s not that I hated it. But as with almost all of these films, I left wanting more–not more movies, but for them to reach out and say something interesting. Black Panther stretched the most in this regard, which is why I have hope it can go even further the next time around. I wish for an ending that dares to be challenging, in the way that Infinity War dared to punch the audience in the gut with abject failure. Endgame was never going to end on such a dour note, but the extent to which it produced happy endings for almost everybody is profoundly silly. At least T’Challa had to lose his father, die, come back, and kill his cousin to fully pain through his character arc. Tony Stark spending a bajillion films being a selfish jerk with flashes of humanity having a chance encounter with his father in the past, causing him to come to terms with sacrificing himself for the greater good is… well, it’s a payoff, just not an especially interesting one.
On the other hand, seeing Star-Lord spend most of his screen time getting the crap beaten out of him was worth the price of admission.