WARNING: I KNOW THAT SPOILING ANY ASPECT OF THIS MOVIE SEEMS TO BE THE CURRENT GREATEST SIN A PERSON CAN COMMIT. HOWEVER, I ALSO FEEL IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DISCUSS A FILM’S THEMES PROPERLY WITHOUT DISCUSSING SPECIFIC MOMENTS. THEREFORE, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS LATER IN THIS REVIEW. IF YOU DON’T WANT ANYTHING SPOILED, STICK TO THE FIRST FEW PARAGRAPHS. I WILL PLACE ANOTHER WARNING WHEN I GET INTO SPOILER TERRITORY.
I remember being at the midnight screening for Iron Man. No one knew what to expect. He was not a popular character like Spider-man and Robert Downey Jr. hadn’t really made a comeback from his years as a desperate addict, where his jail sentences for possession increasingly outweighed the time he spent on sets.
And then we not only saw a great super hero movie (it still ranks as among the best Marvel movies I’ve seen) but one that showed a lot of promise for the future. In the after-credits scene where Nick Fury met with Tony Stark to discuss “The Avengers Initiative,” the audience went NUTS. We couldn’t image what seeing all of the Avengers on screen could possibly look like. I couldn’t even imagine a movie devoted to a character like Thor.
Yet as time went on, I grew increasingly disappointed. The best Marvel films, like Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Black Panther allowed the filmmakers to use the characters as a starting point and still improvise and create a new story. (I’ll also add Deadpool, even though that’s not a part of this franchise.)
But those were few and far between. After tripe like the first Thor and The Incredible Hulk, Marvel films were becoming less of a priority for me to watch. What sealed the deal for me is when the talented Edgar Wright was forced off the Ant-Man movie because he was not permitted to do the story he wanted. That battle showed that Marvel movies were not being made in the template of Iron Man, but were coming under the control of studio heads. If Iron Man is the first Star Wars movie – a risky proposition that no one thought would succeed, much less become a cultural phenomenon- then films like Iron Man 2 were The Phantom Menance – a spectacle created by middle aged accountants rather than younger, hungrier artists who wanted to explore why the characters and themes are important to so many people.
But against all odds, this attitude and viewpoint seemingly worked. Audience came out in droves and each release, for them, was an event. Part of this has to do with the phenomenally talented cast and part of it has to do with the fact that the superheros were not new, but already an important part of American pop culture. People already cared about the characters and the films, for the most part, used them very well. For all of its flaws, the Marvel universe has never questioned why people loved Captain America so much.
And now it’s all coming to an end with the aptly titled Endgame. The anticipation around it felt like a religious event more than a movie release. People packed into theaters, whispering in hushed tones in anticipation. And I get it, especially for people who can say they grew up with these films. If this turned out to be terrible, it was likely to have kick started an armed revolution.
But I have good news. It’s very far from terrible. In fact, the last hour may be some of the greatest blockbuster filmmaking I’ve ever seen. But it also borrows many of the flaws that the other Marvel films have. There are plot holes you can fly Nick Fury’s flying base through and some of the emotional impacts feel unearned. Yes, this was always going to be the last outing for several Marvel heroes (including Stan Lee, who makes his final cameo ever in this film) but that doesn’t mean we had to waste them.
I’ve made my views of Infinity War very clear. I thought the ending was a cheat for the audience and something that was ultimately meaningless. I know I may not be in the majority of that view – people still reference that “ending” a year after the film’s release – but it dimmed my view on Endgame.
First, I knew going into the film that the deaths of the major characters from Infinity War wouldn’t stick. Not because it was necessary to the narrative, but because business decisions regarding the future of the franchise had already been announced. Why should I be emotionally involved in Spider-Man’s turning into dust when I know he has another film appearance lined up? I figured it would be something that would be overturned very quickly.
Second, since these deaths weren’t permanent, I thought the filmmakers would very quickly overturn them. There would be no reason for any of the characters to properly acknowledge them. It would be about making sure all of your favorite heroes are resurrected and Thanos is found to continue the epic battle from the last film.
It would have been exciting, but also very cliched – like the average comic book, really. And that was not the film I wanted or the one I felt that audiences who have been following this story for ten years deserved.
But I was completely wrong, at first. And I’m glad the film earned its climax. But there were definitely some challenges on the journey.
FROM HERE ON OUT, THERE WILL BE DISCUSSIONS OF SPECIFIC PLOT POINTS. IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO KNOW ANYTHING, TURN BACK NOW.
SERIOUSLY, I WILL BE DISCUSSING SOME OF THE SPECIFIC EVENTS, INCLUDING CHARACTER DEATHS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
The film starts on a more hopeless note with the remaining Avengers finding Thanos, only to discover he has destroyed the Infinity Stones and reversing what he has done is now seemingly impossible. Thor quickly decapitates him out of rage, which just makes the situation that much more hopeless. This happens in the first twenty minutes, and it sets up a deeper fight.
Back on Earth, we flash forward five years. It reminded me of Children of Men, where people still pretend like society is intact (including having the characters visiting a diner where kids ask for a picture with Hulk) but no one can move on from the mystery of why their loved ones are dead. Sure, the Avengers know what happened, but the average person doesn’t seem to understand. Even Ant-Man, when he re-materializes after being trapped in the quantum realm, is shocked by the sheer scale of the destruction of the world. He asks a little boy what happened, only to be replied with a scoff.
But then the film introduces an element that can be very problematic for any narrative – time travel. Yes, the second act of this movie follows the remaining Avengers on a Back to the Future II style adventure as they travel back in time to moments from their previous films so they can collect the Infinity Stones, reassemble the Gauntlet, and snap everyone back into existence.
From a marketing standpoint, this makes sense. We should get an opportunity to relive some of the famous settings and moments from the previous the films. This was the only way to do it and, in fact, Endgame builds on them by adding things we didn’t see. It’s a great way to get another look at Battle of New York at the end of the first Avengers and a funny way to see Star Lord dancing to “Come and Get Your Love” all over again – or watch him dance and realize how weird his behavior is.
But then the film goes out of its way to a.) establish rules for time travel (you basically can’t change the past because when your future self goes into the past it becomes your future and changing anything would just create an alternate reality rather than change the current reality) and b.) immediately break those rules to remind people of scenes they liked before.
For example, one of the most memorable scenes in Infinity War had Thanos sacrificing Gamorah to win the Soul Stone. That exact scene is duplicated here with Hawkeye and Black Widow. And I don’t mean it’s a variation – I mean it’s the exact scene where one of them has to be sacrificed to get the stone. And then we’re told that the character who died can’t be brought back with the Infinity Gauntlet.
Except that point is immediately rendered moot. Gamorah is “resurrected” (well, her past self is sprung forward in time and skips the whole “death” bit from Infinity War) and no one stops to think if the same could be done for other characters. (Thanos is also resurrected via time travel, as he discovers what the remaining Avengers are trying to do.) It felt like a major character had to die to satisfy audience expectations (the actual hero body count is surprisingly low, considering the hype) and so the filmmakers duplicated a previous scene for a check mark.
And this film seems focused on those check marks. We see an extended scene with the Battle of New York, including extra moments like The Hulk getting angry about having to take the stairs. It’s tonally reminiscent of the scenes in the first Avengers, such as the moment when the Hulk interrupted Loki’s villain speech to smash him into the floor.
That scene worked the first time because it was an opportunity to play these opposite characters against each other. This time, it’s not revealing anything new about The Hulk. Yes, it’s admittedly funny when he looks down the climb and bellows, “STAIRS!!!!!” But we’re dealing with a reality that’s far different than the reality of the Battle of New York. Is it to remind people of better times? I don’t think so – none of the characters pause to reminisce on this major part of their lives. It was for the audience to nod with recognition.
Those moment, and a lot of other moments, didn’t feel like a narrative necessity so much as an “event.” Blockbusters are becoming increasingly reliant on “meme moments -” those moments that will be spread and parodied online with little regard for how they fit into the larger work.
Endgame is full of those moments, but when they work, they work beautifully. Most of these moments come in the final battle of the third act. When I said this is some of the best popular filmmaking I’ve ever seen, I meant it. It’s in the third act that every hero comes back to battle against Thanos’ army. When Captain America cries out, “Avengers, assemble,” it’s moment that earns the applause. And there’s never any moment where one character has to carry this massive scene. Every single major character is given a heroic in this final battle, even if it consists of just raising a finger. Plus, we do end up learning more about the characters and what really matters to them. The moment where Peter Parker and Tony Stark are reunited is an emotional one. And I have to admit I cheered when the female superheroes teamed to protect Peter as he tried to get the Infinity Gauntlet back. And finally, yes. This story for these characters is definitively over and newer characters will be what drives the story forward. That’s all I’ll say.
Endgame is very likely to end its run as the highest grossing film of all time. I am not going to ruin the party by saying we’ve all been duped and Endgame is terrible. It is not. There are a lot of great moments in this film and I’m glad that everyone involved was committed to giving this story a proper ending. But I also can’t ignore what doesn’t work about it. Most of the second act is padded with emotional moments we’ve already experienced and the result is sort of reminiscent of the movie Mr. Burns entered into the Springfield film festival. By now you’ve already seen it and made up your own mind. But for those who haven’t – expect a good time. But I can’t say that, in the future, this will hold up as well as we hope.
On another note, I can officially state I am a member of the “Didn’t Take One Restroom Break During Avengers: Endgame” club. We are an elite group, and proud.