Avengers: Endgame succeeds not through its blockbuster action sequences, but its appeal is to be found in the quieter moments of exploration with these familiar characters. A story epic in its ambition and scale, we are unlikely to see a cinematic event of its calibre within this generation.
Directed by: Joe & Anthony Russo
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper & Josh Brolin (and many, many more)
Runtime: 181 minutes
Time Travel rules: Time travel is a bit of a bitch to get right, isn’t it? It’s such a convenient plot device to get out of a tricky situation. It was entirely evident before the film came out that there would be some aspect of time travel that would save the victims of Thanos’ snap from non-existence, especially with the knowledge of an uncoming Spiderman sequel on everybody’s periphery. Plus, getting rid of Black Panther and Doctor Strange, both heroes confirmed to be receiving the sequel treatment also? Something didn’t add up. That couldn’t be the proper ending. Coupled with that, we have throwaway lines in Ant-Man and the Wasp about the Time Vortex within the Quantum Realm, and there we have it. Yes, it is confirmed: the Avengers went on a greatest hits tour over their previous adventures, sprinkling nostalgia all over the place in some delightful callbacks to the previous films. There was, of course, the worry that this would become a Deus ex Machina situation, where everybody heads back in time and destroys Thanos entirely from existence and therefore eliminating The Snap entirely. Fortunately, Endgame doesn’t rob the deaths of a large portion of our cast by completely erasing them. By introducing some important concepts to their time travel rules, it is made clear in the film that they are unable to eliminate Thanos, as this would not eliminate Thanos in the present, but merely create an alternate timeline – else they would have had no reason to head back into the past in the first place. To this end, the Avengers head back on a Time Heist to steal the six Infinity Stones before Thanos gained them, creating their own Infinity Gauntlet and undoing the Snap with its powers. It’s this journey that reminds us of how far our characters have come from saving New York from devastation to cosmic storylines that place the entire universe within these character’s hands. Even when the group are successful in their endeavour to retrieve the six stones and reverse Thanos’ devastation, we do not feel cheated. There is no diminishing the loss that was suffered five years in the past. The loss and the grief is still felt, especially since there are some deaths that remain enduring: Natasha, Vision, Loki and Gamora are all still, within this timeline, deceased and that stays constant. What is done cannot be undone (well, technically, past versions of Loki and Gamora do seem to still be in existence, but “our” characters are still very much dead).
Family: The beating heart of this story lies in the concept of family, which is probably what makes it so emotionally resonant compared to previous outings. Everybody in the audience can relate to the stakes that the heroes endure, and what motivates them. Throughout the story, we see Hawkeye struggle with the devastating loss of his entire family from Thanos’ snap and risk everything to gain them back. We see Iron Man experiencing domestic bliss with wife Pepper and his young daughter, while still feeling monstrously guilty about losing his mentee Peter Parker, who was essentially his son – and Peter definitely views Tony as a father figure. Tony even then meets his own father and communicates with him before Tony was born, seeing parallels in his father that he was never aware of before. Black Widow laments the loss of her friends and views the Avengers as her family, doing everything that she can to ensure their safety. Thor is confronted with his own past in the form of the relationship with his mother. Captain America changes time to grow old with Peggy, the lost love of his life. Gamora and Nebula unite as sisters for the first time against their tyrannical father figure. Scott’s first thought when he comes back to the present being finding his daughter and discovering that five years have passed. The trope is brought up time and time again during the film, and is focussed upon the concept of family relationships, and enables these superheroes to become more human. They experience the same emotions and traumas that regular people endure – at the end of the day, they are, at their core, just like we are. They are placed in situations where their powers are of no assist to them: dealing with loss and defeat. It is within this personal exploration that makes Endgame a special sort of superhero outing. It’s not about the superpowers or costumes, it’s about the people who wield them when all of that is stripped away. Captain America is more than just a suit and a shield; Iron Man is more than just money and metal. Here we see them for what they truly are, and how being a hero is more about your inner strength than your outward strength.
Repercussions: You can tell from the beginning of the film that what you are about to witness will defy convention. The main villain is dispatched within the first half hour, by furious and vengeful god Thor, carrying out his threat to kill Thanos and also following Thanos’ advice to aim for the head. It’s a macabre callback to Infinity War, and then suddenly we flash forwards five years into the future. The heroes have lost: that much is plain. They are put in a situation where their powers are no longer useful, but they are forced to confront reality. What comes next is a testament to who they are as individuals, as opposed to the superhuman qualities they might each possess. It’s this particular period that is so telling. While Clint and Thor go down self-destructive routes, in the form of serial murder and depressive alcoholism, Steve spends his time helping others to rebuild their lives in the wake of such devastating loss, using his own experience of time travel to empathise. Tony lives out his time in domestic bliss with Pepper and his young daughter, while Natasha attempts to run the Avengers. Carol Danvers flies around the universe being cosmically wonderful, meanwhile, because her inner strength is a supernova.
Conclusions: The rest of the plot unravels with a sort of inevitability. Tony stumbles upon the theory of time travel and the mission is set, with the movie providing the perfect vehicle for moving these character’s storylines forwards and, in the case of others, to a conclusion. Tony sacrifices himself in order to defeat Thanos, leaving behind a wife and child, Natasha sacrifices herself to secure the Soul Stone for Clint and Steve loses himself in time to be reunited with Peggy in the past. Thor overcomes his trauma due to some sage advice from his mother, and ends the film in a more similar place to where he was found at the end of Thor: Ragnarok, jetting off into space with the Guardians of the Galaxy. It very much appears that lots of Endgame is moving chess pieces into place in preparation for the future of the Cinematic Universe. Falcon is named the new Captain America, for one, as well as the continued presence of Captain Marvel and the reunited Guardians ready to explore space once more, with Nebula and Thor in tow.
Representation: Something else in the film that I have been debating is the presentation of women. At moments it is brilliant, though at others it is sorely lacking. For one, out of the main sextet (Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye, The Hulk and Black Widow), only one of them is a woman. Technically, Nebula, Rocket, Ant-Man and War Machine are also in tow, but that only adds one more woman – who is a cyborg – and only one person of colour. How is it possible that there is the same number of anthropomorphic racoons as there are black people in this main cast? It seems ludicrous. What’s more, out of this group to throw themselves through time, the one to sacrifice themselves has to be one of the original women – bearing in mind that she dies in exactly the same way as a female character (Gamora) in Infinity War whose agency was robbed from her by being a plot point purely to be murdered to further the plot of the male character (Thanos, in his quest to get the stones). So I’m not quite sure how I feel about Natasha getting this ending, especially after her shoddy treatment at being a glorified romance subplot in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Captain Marvel is largely absent from the film, though when she does appear she essentially betrays how overpowered she is which pretty much explains why she wasn’t in it in a larger capacity. There is a wonderful moment during the huge Act 3 battle sequence in which the women band together to protect Captain Marvel and you get to see all of the strong female characters that the MCU has created. It literally gave me chills. You see female characters being the pillars of strength throughout the story, such as Black Widow being the leadership figure within the Avengers even while struggling to keep a grip upon her own sanity, Captain Marvel traversing the galaxy and fixing the universe’s problems, Valkyrie leading the Asgardians while Thor becomes a recluse, as well as Pepper staying strong in the face of her husband dying and leaving her to raise their young daughter by herself. However, I am wondering to what extent this is a good portrayal of women, or sending the message that it is the duty of a woman to sacrifice their own happiness in order to be strong for others. Pepper is put in the position where she has no choice but to be strong, because she has to care for a child. Black Widow’s leadership is a burden that she shoulders because she fears that nobody else will do it and that this is her function. A belief that ultimately leads to her sacrifice for others. Again, while we are showing women being comparatively put together in contrast to their male counterparts, like Thor, who becomes a shell of his former self and completely recedes from existence, these are roles that are thrust upon these women. Are they ones that they have necessarily chosen for themselves, or are they victims of circumstance? It’s tricky to decide – and the one surviving woman of colour at the beginning of the story – Okoye – who remains the most senior member of Wakanda still alive is shoved to the sidelines and her story is not explored at all in favour of white men, because we haven’t had enough stories about those. One character whose portrayal I did really enjoy, however, was Scarlet Witch, who had the perfect moment of defiance against Thanos after what he did to Vision (admittedly in his own future). One thing Scarlet Witch does need to remember/decide, however, is whether or not she is Eastern European because that accent is not one.
Spectacle: Visually, I am debating whether or not I am impressed with Avengers: Endgame. Despite an overwhelming number of locations and different plotlines, it does not seem to be as visually diverse nor interesting as its predecessor Infinity War. When comparing the final battles in the two films, for example, Endgame almost did itself a disservice. Despite the fact that it was empirically daytime when Thanos unleashed his attack upon the Avengers HQ, his presence caused some sort of giant gas cloud to completely mask the action and make it moody and grey. Meanwhile, the confrontation with Thanos in Wakanda was just as effective in daylight, perhaps even more so because of the way it was paced. The final fight was so frenetic in Endgame that I practically got whiplash, and in a sense it felt less epic because all of our heroes were within the same location, as opposed to having the liberty to separate and show them in different situations. I personally found the slow motion effects far more emotive and moving than the evident destruction we see towards the finale of Endgame. It felt more chaotic, as well as raising the stakes to an unbelievable level just so that there was a visual enemy to fight against. Was this a necessary plot beat, I wonder? Perhaps killing Thanos off early in the film actually put the writers in a corner in which a slightly convoluted alternate-timeline version of Thanos resulted in turning up, necessitating his second death. I’m not sure what my problem with it is necessarily, but I would have preferred a brighter final confrontation in which I wasn’t squinting through half light. Things can still be threatening and see helpless even when there is sunshine, and it would have made it much more visually spectacular, in my opinion. Furthermore, the battle at the end of Infinity War felt more intimate because there were definite moments shared between Thanos and different characters aiming to defeat him. Obviously it would have been a bit of a replay had it happened here, but I definitely find the former more affecting – though, I suppose they did achieve a touch of this with Steve being able to wield Mjolnir.
Selfish? Another facet of the plot that I am still not wholly at terms with is Steve ending up with Peggy. I know, I get that she was the love of his life and I totally sympathise with that, and of course Steve is Peggy’s great love too. But isn’t it quite selfish of Steve to deprive her of her development and the growth that she would have endured without Steve? Isn’t it a little selfish of him to erase her original husband and children and family that she would have had in the timeline as it was originally? For him to make that decision for her, without her even knowing what else could have been, makes me slightly uneasy. But perhaps I am being overly critical, considering all of the other things that we know about Peggy’s life from Agent Carter and beyond. It is a fitting ending for Steve, and I appreciate they did not have all the time in the world to show Steve travel back to see her and then deciding to rejoin his old life for the sake of the original timeline. I’m being overly picky, I know! But what else are reviews for?
Forgetful? Has anybody seen Thor: Ragnarok? It’s an entire film about Thor and his sense of worthiness coming from within and how he doesn’t even need a weapon to be able to be fierce and be a good fighter. And yet, as soon as he appears even within Avengers: Infinity War, he is suddenly obsessed with finding a good enough weapon, and he spends all of Endgame as a caricature of himself, turning into some bro stereotype who spends his time drinking and playing video games as opposed to dealing with his emotions in a productive way, allowing somebody else (Valkyrie) to do all of his work for him. It’s difficult to sympathise with Thor when he spends the entire film being a bit of a douche and one massive fat joke when he has placed a burden upon other characters, despite showing so many redeemable qualities in Thor: Ragnarok. Obviously, he has suffered a monumental loss, but Thor is still responsible for the safety of his people, and to expect us to believe that he has sat for five whole years wallowing is completely unacceptable. He could have disappeared, yes, and be in a highly remote location and not caring for the Asgardians, but the way that the storyline was handled was poor. An emotional story about how he deals with his feelings of failure and guilt would be great, but that’s not what we see at all here.
Moving forward: It is impossible to please everybody with such a film. It is a story on an obscene size, with a ridiculous number of characters and locations to deal with and, don’t get me wrong, I love the film and it’s such a love letter to the fans. Does it make it above rebuke? Certainly not. And these were the things that, upon first viewing, I feel could have been better. That will probably change with repeat viewings, and my own thoughts about it afterwards may well have coloured my experience. I was in no way disappointed with what I saw, this is just me spitballing out loud. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe settles down and enters something a little bit more sedate, I am looking forward to how the Guardians of the Galaxy continue to trail blaze across the universe with Thor and Nebula along for the ride, perhaps even encountering some other Marvel creations, now that Fantastic Four and X-Men are now part of the Universe. Speaking of which, I would love to see a MCU reinvention of the X-Men. I mean, we have had the origin story so many times that it needs a rest for quite some time – but we thought that of Spiderman and here we are with the greatest Spiderman film in quite a while. We need some of that fun MCU energy injected into a movie franchise that has been guilty of taking itself a little too seriously. The success of X-Men relies upon the relationships between the core characters and, if there’s something that the MCU has proved is its ability to explore characters and their relationships, as well as balance many plot points within and across films. Additionally, I am excited to see what else Spiderman has to offer, as well as delving headfirst into more magic with Doctor Strange and additional mysteries in Black Panther. One thing that I would really love is for the MCU to keep up with the flexibility of having other characters turning up in other films. Put Hulk in a Black Panther film, why not? No reason not to. Make the whole thing more of a family affair, I’m on board. I also hope that the sight of the women together on the battlefield is a sign from Marvel that they are actively aware of the need to be providing more female, as well as non-white, representation within their films. An overwhelming conclusion to what has been a wild journey, rooted in realism and humanity until the end. “Part of the journey is the end,” says Tony Stark. In the words of Captain Jack Harkness, however, “The end is where we start from.”