So, Avengers: Endgame arrived a couple weeks ago, and with a well-timed snap, subsequently dusted the opening weekend box office record set by its predecessor Infinity War (by almost $100 million), as well as became the second highest grossing film of all time worldwide, finally passing up Titanic, and snagging a $2.2 billion profit tag in just 11 days. With the box office behemoth Avatar in its sights, Endgame only has about $550 million more to go in order to become the highest grossing film of all time worldwide (Star Wars: The Force Awakens still reigns domestically, with Endgame in 7th). All of this is not actually part of the review; it’s just something I wanted to talk about since it blows my mind every time I think about it, and I couldn’t do an entire post just about that. Anyway, now that the film has been out for a number of weeks, and the unofficial “spoiler ban” per the Russo brothers has been lifted, let’s take a deep, spoiler-filled dive into what will almost certainly be the biggest blockbuster hit of 2019. Avengers, assemble!
Let’s get this out of the way first: this will not be a step-by-step recap of Avengers: Endgame. This movie is 3 hours long, and that would be not only an exhausting amount of writing to do for one review/thought splurge, it would also be counterproductive as an actual analysis of the film. What I will instead talk about are the main things I liked and didn’t like about the movie, and yes, there are some significant things I didn’t like, despite giving this movie a high score in my spoiler-free review (which you can read here). This is not a perfect movie nor a perfect conclusion to the MCU that we’ve come to know and love. I think it’s a really great movie with a lot of great moments, and that it fittingly brings the story so far to a satisfying close overall, but I also think it takes a number of missteps; some are large, some are small, some I can overlook. Most movies have a few missteps if you’re looking hard enough (not Paddington though; that movie’s perfect). All that being established, let’s first dive into what’s not so good about Endgame.
For a start, this is meant to be a film about the original six Avengers, and all of them get a chance to really shine in the film, but some of the more supporting members like Hulk and Black Widow are given less compelling arcs than others. That’s likely going to happen in a movie of this size where so much happens it’s a miracle they packed it all in a 3-hour runtime, but it’s still a bit of a bummer. I’m not really taking a stance either way on Professor Hulk since it didn’t really bother or wow me either way, but when it comes to Black Widow, I did have a slight problem. While I absolutely contend that Scarlett Johansson’s performance in this movie is perhaps the best she’s ever been as Black Widow, and her character is given some real depth to grapple with, her sacrifice for the soul stone on Vormir doesn’t carry as much weight as it should for how big of a deal it’s meant to be for the audience. This may be the fault of the repetitive nature of the scene, since the same music and even some of the same lines occurred in Infinity War when Thanos sacrificed Gamora, but nonetheless, it just feels…incomplete, like there was meant to be much greater depth to the scene and what the character meant to the Avengers overall, but there’s not. Yes, the Avengers grieve for a little bit afterwards, but she doesn’t even get a funeral like Tony does. It’s not a large issue with the film (truth be told, I still felt an impact), but it does stack up as one of the weaker elements given how much Johansson absolutely brings it in this movie.
In other non-large issues with Endgame, the pace and tone of the second act comes to mind quite a bit, which incidentally contains that Black Widow sacrifice sequence. It’s not that the second act where all the time travel stuff is happening is bad, per se, but it just doesn’t carry as much weight as the first and third acts, largely (I think) because it spends too much time meandering during the Morag and Vormir sections while we’re waiting to get to the interesting parts like Cap fighting himself (we’ll get to that later) and Nebula’s past self beginning to foil the team’s plans. It’s certainly fun, and it’s definitely the most experimental and “weird” of the three acts of this movie, but when stacked against the other two, it just has a few more slow points, which I can appreciate, but have to be recognized as slower points (I suppose it’s not so much a flaw as it is an observation of pacing).
But now we come to my biggest issue with Endgame: Thor. I like Thor quite a lot. I’ll make no false claims of being any sort of avid comic reader (that’s not really my area/field of expertise), but I am a huge movie fan, who recognizes great character arcs when they happen, and Thor’s arc from Ragnarok through Infinity War is one of the absolute best in the entire MCU, which is what makes it so disappointing that despite Chris Hemsworth’s immense talent as both a comic and dramatic actor, they really only use him as a punchline in this movie apart from the action sequences. After his “I went for the head” moment (a great moment and wonderful line, to be sure), Thor goes off to grieve and ends up becoming a fat drunk who’s refused to take care of himself and plays Fortnite with Korg and Meek from Ragnarok, only stopping to come to the harbor once a month for “supplies” (beer), as a Valkyrie cameo tells us. The issue with this arc, though, is not that Thor is fat or letting himself go, but that this change to his character is only ever used as a punchline, not as a dark extension or reflection of his inability to cope with not being able to actually avenge all his loss. One could say that this is an extension of his grief, but we’ve seen him go through many griefs before in losing his brother twice, mother, father, having to kill his sister, and lose his home, and yet they never made him into a Big Lebowski parody for it (Tony even calls him “Lebowski” once). Apart from his more dramatic moments in the second act and the finale, most of the comedy is aimed at Thor, and aimed at how he’s, well, fat. The result is something strangely fat-phobic coming from the MCU, a franchise which enjoys championing the more diverse, open direction it’s supposed to be taking post-Endgame. Now, all film is subjective, so perhaps this didn’t bother other people as much, but upon my second viewing, it stuck out like a sore thumb.
Luckily, Endgame has so much more to offer than just a few major and minor missteps to pad its 3-hour runtime, and there are any number of just pretty fun to wonderful and spectacular moments to share in with all these characters we’ve come to know and love. Let’s start with a few of those pretty fun ones before we get to what’s truly amazing about this movie. Firstly, “that is America’s ass.” Not only is that one of the funniest lines in the MCU, it shows that these characters can have fun even while the world is in imminent danger (and it’s a sentiment shared by many, including myself). This, of course, comes from the time jump back in the events of the original Avengers in 2012, a very fun callback, and one where Cap gets to fight the younger version of himself. There are a few small questions I have every time this scene comes up (why don’t the shields create a massive wave of force when they collide since they’re both made of vibranium and Thor’s hammer always made a massive wave of force? Does 2012 Cap ever get loose from the scepter control?), but they pale in comparison to how much fun I always have watching this experienced Cap react to his overtly optimistic self from the past. “I can do this all day.” “Yeah, I know, I know.” If there’s one big question this scene has hanging over it (despite how fun it is), it’s this: why did 2012 Cap even stand a chance against 2019 Cap? If you recall, Cap’s fighting style in the original Avengers was more akin to his WWII combat training, nowhere near as fast-paced and hand-to-hand as his fighting style in Winter Soldier, which happened after he trained with S.H.I.E.L.D. following the events in New York in 2012. So 2012 Cap shouldn’t even be prepared for how fast and close-quarters 2019 Cap is. Still, I guess he is fighting himself, and the scene is so fun, I can let it go. Plus, the “Hail Hydra” reference from Cap that immediately precedes it is such gold, both as a meta reference to that awful comic twist, and as a wink at the twist in Winter Soldier. There’s also a section during a surprise fourth time jump connected to this section of the film where Tony and Cap travel back into 1970; long story short, Cap accidentally ends up in Peggy Carter’s office and Alan Silvestri’s First Avenger score comes in and breaks your heart. It’s awesome.
There are more Captain America things to talk about in a bit, but for now, I’d like to dive a little more into the darkness that Endgame presents us with straight out of the gate. In fact, in my spoiler-free review, I said this movie actually begins in “Dark Night of the Soul” territory, and boy, is it a dark night indeed. Our opening scene (which a few people guessed from the trailers) is that of Hawkeye’s entire family disappearing right before his eyes. I still get chills every time he turns around and his daughter’s not there, the dust floating in her place. It’s an incredibly dire note to start on, and it really puts us in a position of understanding just how desperate and broken our heroes are after this loss, the horror that came with watching their loved ones disappear into thin air. That horror extends to Hawkeye’s mantle of Ronin, a samurai-like warrior who dolls out justice in a much more brutal and violent manner. I would have liked to have seen more of that particular arc for Renner’s character, but such as it is, that’s not what this film is about, and it’s still a PG-13 movie, so there’s only so much you can do, violence-wise.
Most of the first act is littered with this sort of grief-driven brokenness, and it’s incredibly well-done, particularly wherein Robert Downey Jr. is concerned. His performance throughout is fantastic, but I was most impressed by it during the opening minutes, as he nears death on the ship with Nebula, and as he chides Cap for not being there when Thanos defeated them on Titan. He’s truly heartbreaking here as he says things like: “I said we’d lose, you said we’d do that together too; well we lost, Cap, and you weren’t there.” It’s so emotionally devastating to realize that he genuinely thought his friend would answer the phone call at the beginning of Infinity War, only to not have even gotten a call back, and when he tells Cap “I lost the kid,” that is a special kind of heartbreak. And later on, after the five year time jump, we finally get to see something I never knew I always wanted to: Dad Tony. Morgan Stark is the cutest, most adorable kid in cinematic history, and I will hear no ifs, ands, or buts about it. She and Tony interacting together touched my heart deeper than I ever thought it would, and if Scott’s interaction with grown-up Cassie is any indication, there was a lot of that going around in the writer’s room. And, in continuing that theme of fatherhood and legacy, Tony finally gets a moment during the 1970 time jump to spend talking to and thanking his Dad for all the lessons he ended up teaching him.
There are also a number of other pretty fantastic moments in Endgame that don’t have to do with Cap or Tony’s arcs directly. I won’t address all of them here (as stated earlier, that would be exhausting), but just to point out a few more: Thor finally gets to say goodbye to his mother (wow, The Dark World actually just became one of the most important MCU films despite being one of the weakest), Karen Gillan as Nebula gets to show off some real range here as both her past and present self (and ends up unquestionably the MVP standout apart from the main six), and Captain Marvel more than proves herself worthy of carrying this franchise going forward (even though the moment where she carries the gauntlet should have been Nebula’s but whatever).
And now, we’ve come to what is easily my favorite part of Avengers: Endgame – the third act. This is easily the biggest, most involved, and one of the most incredible final acts in MCU history. Emotionally, the end fight in Civil War might pack more of a wallop and as shock endings go (shock as in character-shock, not audience-shock), Infinity War ranks up there with the very best, but Endgame’s finale would have been worth it as a whole movie all by itself. This third act also features my favorite shot of the entire movie, one that speaks to the essence of the character, and is immensely impressive on a scene geography scale: Captain America, with half a broken shield, staring down the entire Black Order and all of Thanos’ army by himself, still standing despite the odds. And as if that wasn’t enough, the Russo brothers decided it was finally time to pay off almost every single thread, big and small, from the previous films, starting with arguably the biggest one apart from Tony’s last moments: Cap. Is. WORTHY. What a wonderful pay-off to that notion we had in Age of Ultron that Cap was, in fact, worthy of lifting Thor’s hammer, and that he deliberately chose not to in that film. Seeing Cap wield Mjolnir and absolutely devastate Thanos with it for the better part of a few minutes was a real treat, and the way by which Cap wields the hammer demonstrates that he’s more than capable of using it effectively in combat, with Thor delivering one of the funnier lines later in the battle later on as he and Steve have evidently switched weapons: “no, no, you get the little one.” Of course, before the battle begins, the best moment in the entirety of Endgame takes place, as Captain America, at the head of an army of Avengers from every movie up to this point, finally utters the words we’ve been dying to hear him say all this time: “Avengers!.................Assemble.” The music swells, the Avengers theme roars, the army charges against Thanos, and I actually yelped out loud in the theater because of how excited I was. What a moment. Apart from these standouts, there are also a few smaller callbacks to movies like Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Ant-Man and the Wasp, wherein Hope calls Steve “Cap,” Peter activates the “Instant Kill” mode on his suit, and T’Challa calls Hawkeye “Clint,” that are pretty fun if you catch the references.
There are a few articles out there that make the point that Endgame doesn’t really earn its big “A-Force” moment where all the female Avengers are pulled into one shot in an effort to protect Captain Marvel as she carries the Infinity Gauntlet towards the ugly brown van time machine, because the MCU to this point has not afforded its women the agency or narratives they deserve, and while I certainly understand the sentiment and fully agree that the MCU’s treatment of its women thus far is not particularly stellar in most cases, that moment never came across to me as a celebration of how far the MCU has come; rather, it is a picture or snapshot of where they’re going, building up a more diverse lineup of Avengers in their movies and shows for and from which to tell compelling stories, a future diversity that is further signaled when Cap gives away his shield to Sam at the end of the film. It’s not a shot that will rub everyone the right way, but in my case, it gave me the hope of a brighter future when it comes to diversity in the MCU.
And finally, there’s the finale. After desperately trying to get the stones back where they took them from, the Avengers are helpless as Thanos destroys their only time machine left, and manages to snag and don the Infinity Gauntlet once again. But when he goes up against Tony, he doesn’t think about the stones, just the gauntlet, and Tony manages to rip the stones out, having incorporated a new gauntlet into his suit, and utters his last words, the same from the first movie in this entire project: “And I…am…Iron Man.” He snaps his fingers, and Thanos and his entire army turn to dust. Wow. We saw earlier in the film that snapping the Gauntlet did brutal damage to the Hulk, but he could walk away from it due to its radiation being mostly gamma-based. With Tony, it’s a different story, and the entire right side of his body is practically burnt to ash despite holding together. And so his avenging has come to fruition, and his job is done. As Pepper points out in the scene, he can finally rest. Peter tells him they’ve won. It’s devastating, and perfect, and I sobbed both time I’ve seen this movie.
The funeral he has doesn’t let you off easy either. After the music has played, Tony’s original arc reactor has floated across the lake, and you finally realize who that kid was in the back of Tony’s friends and family (it’s Harley from Iron Man 3!), there’s a somewhat quiet moment between Happy and Morgan, where he asks if she’s hungry, and she responds that she’d like some cheeseburgers, to which Happy replies, “Your Dad liked cheeseburgers. I’m gonna get you all the cheeseburgers you want.” In the first Iron Man, the first thing Tony asked for when he got back to the States was an American cheeseburger, to which Happy replied that exact second line. Even just typing this up, a tear rolls down my face thinking about it. And after all of this, Steve Rogers travels back in time (after giving Bucky the same goodbye that Bucky gave him in First Avenger when Bucky went off to war) and doesn’t come back, finally finding his peace, and being with the love of his life, finally having that dance as “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” plays in the background, no longer a man out of his own time. It’s a sweet, satisfying note to end on, and a fitting conclusion to 11 years of storytelling.
And those are my spoiler-filled thoughts on Avengers: Endgame. I do apologize for the long read, but that’s what you get when the movie is 3 hours long and there’s so much to talk about. To be clear: I don’t think it’s perfect, and I think there are a number of missteps it takes, as well as a few plot holes (although, what time travel movie doesn’t have plot holes), but make no mistake about it – I love this movie. Even if the MCU were to end after this, on a permanent basis, I’d still be satisfied with ending it here. What Kevin Feige, Sarah Finn, and everyone at Marvel Studios has managed to pull off with bringing comic-book style continuity storytelling to the big screen and managing to bring it to an almost wholly satisfying conclusion is unprecedented and deserves every ounce of praise. What a wonderful world we live in where movies like this exist and we get to see them on the big screen. And what a wonderful time to be a film fan. Thank you all for reading, and tell me what your favorite parts of Avengers: Endgame were in the comments section below!
- The Friendly Film Fan
5/8/2019 08:32:42 am
Excellent read. I hated Thor's character, too. The only saving grace is that I think this version of Thor will fit in with the Guardians of the Galaxy. I also was (slightly) disappointed with the plot of time travel because it's pretty cliche. That being said, this is probably the best time travel movie that I've ever seen. It was incredibly well done. This movie definitely redeemed Captain America's character and stayed true to the arc of Stark's rise to heroism. Going back to each Avengers film, Tony's sacrifice becomes more and more inevitable.
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Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.