Avengers: Endgame (2019)

What do you do when faced with complete and utter hopelessness? How do you come to terms with the fact you have lost and others have paid the price? To reconcile with knowing you can’t fix the problem and realizing “you tried your best” still means jack-all to everyone who got hurt?

Earth’s mightiest heroes stopped a mad demigod with an army of aliens. And a power-hungry robot. And countless more threats that would have ended anyone else. But suddenly, a purple psycho shows up and decimates everything. Barely half of the superheroes in the universe are still around, but are shaken, defeated, and mired in agony. If they couldn’t defeat Thanos with all their allies and resources, what chance do they have now? And to what end: getting their friends back, and if they can’t, then what?

Dwell in despair, desperation, and denial. And dare to dance with danger against the deranged demigod.

The plot: With only a handful of Avengers left, what’s left of the team goes after Thanos (Josh Brolin), only to find out he destroyed the Infinity Stones so he could not be tempted to use them again.

Five years pass, and the world is still shaken by the event, and even the Avengers have basically given up. Suddenly, Scott Lang, AKA Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) returns from the Quantum Realm (the smaller-than-microscopic microuniverse we saw in last year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp) and explains how it felt like he was gone only five hours. He develops a theory that harnessing the Quantum Realm’s unique time characteristic could enable them to, essentially, travel through time. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has laid down roots and started a simple life with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and daughter Morgan, and wants nothing to do with the idea. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has reconciled with his second half and become the Hulk full-time while retaining his smarts and personality, but agrees to help Scott, Steve (Chris Evans), and Natasha (Scarlet Johansson). Soon, the team assembles, and they start planning how to go back in time, get the infinity stones before Thanos does, bring back everyone, and stop Thanos for good.

Hows the writing?: While this movie is exactly what I was expecting, there were parts that didn’t feel quite as engaged as I did in Infinity War. A huge reason why Infinity War worked was its tight-knit focus on Thanos, his oncoming threat to the universe, and all our heroes were doing to stop him. Here, everything has become much more scattered in terms of the plot, partly because the Russos were clearly determined to give us a new, unexpected narrative. Fans were speculating for a year how the heroes were going to come back (the fact they were going to come back was a given, but whether it involved using the time stone or releasing them all from the soul stone or using some alternate timeline was up in the air), so they had to make it as surprising and inventive as possible. I just think the lack of concise focus may have caused it to stumble.

Right away, the movie addresses MIA Avenger Clint Barton/Hawkeye, and his family, then jumps over to Tony lost in space and getting saved by Captain Marvel, all before the Marvel credit rolls. After they confront Thanos and come to the dead end they’d feared, the wind gets taken right out of the movie, as everyone becomes impotent, struggling to comprehend how to move on. But because of everyone’s resigning, if begrudging acceptance of the new reality after five years, the idea that maybe they could rectify it comes as a fool’s hope.

As they hop through time in different directions, it becomes so much more convoluted as each team scatters to gather the stones, as things go wrong, time paradoxes come into play, and personal issues flare, the narrative kind of falters. It follows through, of course, but it feels like a bunch of detours before it gets to the moment we were waiting for.

Does it give the feels?: Undoubtedly. While Infinity War made you sob for all the characters who were dusted away, this movie will make you sob in a very different way. The former used its legacy to make you feel heartbroken. Now it became about using everything we saw in the previous twenty movies to hit us personally with ecstasy.

As the characters travel back in time, most of them come face to face with a personal loss or regret, and if you’ve been paying attention all these years, you know just how poignant each encounter is. Thor running into his mother. Tony talking with his dad. Steve watching Peggy Carter. Nebula meeting 2014 Gamora. Each one is a profound encounter that resonates deep. In most movies, because of the minimal setup, they usually can only provide one these Earth-shattering moments per film. Here, we got several, and none of them would have made the impact they did had all these movies not been as good as they were. Just like in the first Avengers, the buildup from the previous movie’s made it work, and because they made us feel the way we did, it really, really stuck the landing.

Who makes it worth it?: There are definitely a handful of standout performances that make this movie so engaging. The first I want to mention is Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang, who really comes into his own here. He’s had two headlining movies of his own, where I liked them fine, but it’s a stretch to say I love them. Rudd definitely embraces the “dad” vibe and makes him lovable. In Civil War, we see how he feels standing next to people like Captain America, and it’s highly relatable, like a fan who won a sweepstakes. In Endgame, he’s thrust into the situation of being a hero more forcefully, and he steps up, even though he feels like he barely knows what he’s doing. When he’s explaining his time travel idea to Stark, it’s like watching a fan to pitch a movie to George Clooney.

Another great surprise is Banner, who, as I mentioned before, is now a hybrid of his two halves. We’re so used to mousy, nerdy Banner and the monosyllabic behemoth that no one foresaw what we got. For once, Banner is relaxed and jovial, but no less dorky, all while still a massive jade giant who now wears clothes and even glasses. I’m tied in my favorite scene of his between him taking selfies with kids to him pretending to throw a typical Hulk tantrum.

Lastly, Thor. I have always loved the demigod’s cocky attitude, where despite all his efforts to be humble, he would often accidentally condescend. He was never mean-spirited or intentionally rude, just basically like a trust fund kid who pals around with his lower middle class friends. But what makes it work is his character arc. As he told Rocket in Infinity War, he lost his evil brother many times, he lost his father, his mother, his home, his hammer, and found out about his evil-er sister. Worse still, he got his ass handed to him by Thanos, a fight so insignificant it happened, chronologically, in the twenty minutes or less offscreen that we saw from the end of Thor: Ragnarok to the cold opening of Infinity War. Even worse still, he failed to kill Thanos a second time, a measure that directly led to the snap. When Thor finds out about Thanos destroying the stones, he does not take it well. Throughout most of the movie, Thor is a hopeless mess, having gained a beer belly, a massive beard, and becoming a recluse in his new home, which is both funny and heartbreaking. You can’t really blame him for being in this severely deteriorated state, and as much as you laugh at his bare belly rubbing Rocket or Stark calling him “Lebowski”, you sense the deep pain he’s feeling. Heck, he actually looks like a cross between the Dude and a Hobbit extra.

Best quality provided: This movie was absolutely made with love. The characters look, sound, and act real. The story arcs came full circle in satisfying ways. Each character was used exactly as needed, not feeling shoehorned or overstaying their welcome. That’s not including the intimately satisfying moments that were exactly what we’d been waiting for, like Captain America finally, finally saying “Avengers, Assemble!”. Or, you know, Cap wielding frickin’ Mjolnir! There were even surprise cameos from Robert Redford, Tilda Swinton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ty Simpkins, Frank Grillo, even Natalie Portman.

Of course, there is that great, nay, grandiose moment where everyone came back, minus the heroes that did not die due to Thanos’ snap. As much as I wanted to see Gamora, Vision, Quicksilver, or Loki, I had to be happy with what we got. Or as Wong put it, “You wanted more?!”. It was a clearly telegraphed line meant for us fans who hoped Deadpool or Wolverine or the Thing were going to show up.

Much like Back to the Future II, we got to experience some classic moments from The Avengers (2012) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) from different angles. It just further exemplifies the love that was put into this movie and how much it wanted to make fans happy. Not to mention, it’s nice to see a time travel movie that didn’t have to stress about causing the butterfly effect. It’s a fresh take on such a restrictive rule in these kinds of stories.

What could have been improved: While I’m not going to cry sexism at a franchise that has given us Black Widow, Gamora, Peggy Carter, Valkyrie, Jessica Jones, Hope van Dyne, Shuri, Okoye, and Carol Danvers, there are moments that certainly raise my eyebrows. Oh sure, we had that kickass moment where all the Marvel women march into battle, we see Valkyrie on her Pegasus in all its glory, and don’t get me started on Carol shrugging off Thano’s head butt like it was nothing.

But have you ever heard of the “women in refrigerators” trope? It’s a comic-borne cliché that refers to a woman’s autonomy being stripped away as she’s killed (like in the 1994 Green Lantern comic where Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend was killed and stuffed in a fridge, hence the expression) just to drive the male hero to go do his heroing. While I liked Clint’s wife and kids, in Age of Ultron, it doesn’t excuse the fact that their deaths are what cause Hawkeye to do his thing in Endgame. Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy falls into this, too, considering the only reason he goes after Ronan and Thanos is to avenge his wife and daughter. Gamora’s death causes Quill to cost our heroes a win in Infinity War.

But then there’s Natasha’s death. I didn’t want either her or Hawkeye to die, and the fight they had on Vormir was cartoonishly cringeworthy. But aside from losing the two most kickass women in the franchise permanently by throwing them off a cliff, it felt unnecessary and cruel, and not in a good way. If either had to go, I’m sorry, Mr. Jeremy Renner, but I’m much more interested in the upcoming Black Widow movie than any potential Hawkeye movie.

Also, I could be upset we didn’t see the Defenders, but I can get over it. However, considering the Fox buyout was underway for well over a year, I was hoping we’d get a tease of Deadpool, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four. After all, if the screwing around with alternate timelines was so integral to the plot, it provided ample opportunity to allude to the sudden appearances of mutants or the FF. But that remains to be seen, either in phase four or on Disney+.

Verdict: I can sum up this movie in two words: “fan porn”. If you haven’t watched any of the MCU movies (if you that’s the case, why the smoo are you here?), you are going to be so very, very lost and confused. So many decisions were made as fantastic emotional payoffs for the previous films that going on cold would be a monumental waste of time. But for someone like me who has been with the MCU since phase one, this movie was a glorious finale. I give this movie nine Stan Lee cameos out of ten.

Excelsior, indeed.

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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