Avengers: Endgame (spoiler version)

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After the fervor around Endgame has settled down and everyone and their brother has seen the movie (twice), I thought I’d discuss the film in a bit more depth and go full-on spoilers. If you’re one of the six people that haven’t seen it and actually care, stop reading now.

After twenty-two movies, thirty-some main characters and over a decade of character growth and plot twists leading into this movie, directors Joe and Anthony Russo have really achieved the impossible: they made a mostly satisfying, surprising, and certainly worthy culmination to the Avengers saga that began all the way back in 2008 with the first Iron Man. Every issue I had with last year’s Infinity War (and there were a lot) seemed to be addressed here in one form or another. Instead of tackling the movie in order, I’m just going to separate everything by topic.

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The First Hour
The setup of the film is bleak. Half the universe has been wiped out and the remaining Avengers aren’t sure what to do. Tony is dying in space with Nebula. Thor is burdened with a ridiculous amount of guilt. Captain Marvel/Carol has joined up with the team and after rescuing Tony and arguing over next steps, they figure out where Thanos is and search him out, and after kicking his weakened ass, Thor goes for the head this time. Unfortunately, he’s destroyed the stones so there’s no way to undo what he did, which means we get a time jump to five years later (a bold choice). The world is still empty. The team is still barely holding it together. Carol got a new haircut in space. And then along comes Ant-Man. I’ve seen the movie a few times, and while there’s gold throughout, the first hour is necessary but also exhausting. It could stand to turn down the maudlin a skotch, but we are dealing with universal genocide, so it’s at least understandable.

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The Time Heist
My biggest gripe with the film would be its reliance on time travel. For one, I’ve always hated time travel as a plot device, but I had a year to make my peace with it, since we kinda knew it was coming. What surprised me was that the movie created its own logic in regards to time travel. They weren’t going back to the past to change the future (always my issue), or even really to stop the snap from happening. They were going to equip themselves to bring half the universe back, even after five years had passed. Really, that the whole thing hinged on Ant-Man (and really really that the whole universe was saved because of some rat), was a great turn. Having Scott (Paul Rudd) mixing it up with the other Avengers gave the film a much-needed jolt of levity, thanks to the naturally charming Rudd. The time heist also gave us two returns I didn’t know I needed: Rene Russo’s Frigga and Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One. While revisiting Thor: the Dark World, one of the worst movies to ever come out of the MCU, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor had a reunion with his mom shortly before her death and it helped refocus his character. While Swinton’s character was used mostly as an exposition machine, she was a good foil for Banner, and the exposition she gave us was supremely necessary. So much of this section was great, from the Cap vs. Cap scene, the Cap in the elevator redux with a throw out to the Secret Empire story from the comics, to the fuck-ups that allowed a version of Loki to escape, a Gamora to come back, and Karen Gillan (Nebula) to have to do some of the emotional heavy lifting in the film. The section with Tony and his dad was a little drawn out, and served to really telegraph his ending. Watching the film a second time to see Nat’s final words to the team being “See you in ten seconds” was brutal. But more on that later. Overall, it was a solid plan and execution that allowed for the right plot points to be hit and made way for the final hour-long throwdown that might be the best superhero action segment this side of Civil War.

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The Original Team
I do think they could’ve mixed up the surviving members of the team to not just happen to include the original members of the team plus a few extras (Rhodey, Rocket, Captain Marvel, Nebula). The biggest issue with Infinity War was the lack of attention paid to the core team, so they were at least paying that off. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers were sidelined for most of that film but really have a lot to do in this one. We see Clint and Thor at their lowest, with Thor’s Odinson Lebowski used mostly for comedic effect. Mark Ruffalo’s newly integrated Professor Hulk was also a great addition, but after a movie teasing a big Hulk-out that we never got, this film was also absent any great green moment. Of course, everyone takes a backseat to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, the founder of the universe and the glue holding the entire MCU together. His presence was often felt in movies he wasn’t even in, and knowing this was likely going to be his swan song, the film anchored everything to him, especially the emotional stakes-Tony had a new daughter and thus was against doing anything that would jeopardize her existence. RDJ certainly delivered and made the time travel hokum make sense, and his final sacrifice at the end quite resonant.

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The Thing with Black Widow
This was the only aspect of the movie I was spoiled on, and it really frustrated my first viewing experience, because I wasn’t quite sure if I could believe it, and then I could, and then I hated it. On second viewing, free of that, I was able to understand and appreciate Natasha’s story. For one, she got a hero’s end fitting for her character. Having her and Clint fight over who got to sacrifice themselves was a great way to end their relationship, but as we’ve seen time and again, she’s a better fighter than he is, and she’s willing to fight dirty, so there was really no way he was going to (or should be) winning this. To watch her fall to her death (as Gamora did in the last film) was heartbreaking, but had a sense of hope that she died attempting to save the universe. She was the Coulson that was needed to push the rest of the team to see the mission through. I’m on board with all that. The biggest frustrations to this story were why Clint and Natasha were chosen for Vormir in the first place. We know why it had to be them story wise, but in context, this was the most mysterious place of all the stones, the one no one had been to before. So why send the two characters with no powers and no history in space? Secondly, while I can make peace with her death, the way it was handled afterward was horseshit. Tony gets a big lavish funeral and they can’t even add an extra wreath for Nat? When Wanda and Clint are talking, they couldn’t have that conversation in front of her headstone, or a statue in her honor? It just cheapened the whole thing, which Natasha the character, this powerhouse woman who hung around superpowered beings with no powers but her own cunning, who intimidated gods, and was the BFF of two of the remaining Avengers, and the almost love interest of another, that Natasha deserved better. Some people view her death as “fridging,” that unfortunate comic-book trope where a female character is shuttered to give a male depth and pathos, and I have to disagree. No one else’s story was furthered with her death. She helped save the universe. It was the culmination of her own story, her own endgame, and while it’s unfortunate we didn’t get her in the last hour, and she wasn’t part of the A-Force lineup (more on that later), it was certainly a full story arc for the character that debuted all the way back in Iron Man 2, and was easily the best thing about that piece of shit.

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Captain Marvel
I get frustrated by the continual comments of “she’s too powerful,” an argument that was never leveled at Thor, even if he took on a star. I do think there’s an inherent sexism in the idea. She’s basically the MCU’s Superman, but that’s becoming a different sort of problem. Superman is fucking boring, and while I have no issue with Carol being supremely powerful, it does mean that there are only so many stories you can really tell with her. Every threat has to be Omega level or she could just wipe the floor with them. It was great to see Thanos actually knocking her down and her having to get up and keep fighting, we need more of that, but I fear her stories going forward are going to be relegated to space and aliens, which is all you can really do with someone that powerful. And Carol is, or at least should be, more interesting than that. That, and I really want to see her keep mixing it up with the Avengers, maybe even leading them, but if she’s too powerful to keep around I don’t see that making sense. It’s why the movie had to shutter her off to parts unknown for the bulk of this movie. The Time Heist would’ve gone differently if she were involved.

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The Final Battle
If you were to ask a number of fans what they wanted out of this movie, I imagine that a fair number of them would’ve listed things like Captain America wielding Mjolnir and saying “Avengers Assemble.” Two things that are relatively inconsequential but had everyone around me in every screening cheering, and me looking for who was cutting onions in the theater. These two moments were executed so perfectly. My list would also have included seeing Valkyrie riding Brightwind, which we also got. Really, the entire battle was just edge of your seat awesome the entire time. There was the quiet moment right before they took on Thanos with the big 3 (Cap, Tony, Thor) who spent their first meeting fighting amongst themselves and a decade later (film time) were working together to save the universe. There’s a shitton that doesn’t make sense with the re-snappening-Clint’s wife is magically brought back. Where? Clint kept the payments up on the farm after his family died and he was rampaging over in Mexico and Japan? Laura’s phone was charged after five years or she had it on her that she could call him within seconds? Okay, never mind all that. When all the heroes reappeared, I can buy that Strange brought them all up to speed. He saw this future, right? So a couple tricks and glowy circles later and they know what’s up. But for characters like the Wasp, who had never met anyone else, how did she get up to speed so fast? Some things you just have to let go, I think. It was great getting all the characters back that were snapped out, even if they had barely anything to do beyond fight. Spider-Man bumping into Stark was a solid flex, and a necessary torch passing. Scarlet Witch rematching with Thanos was Arya Stark levels of badass. Also, getting Pepper in her Rescue armor worked well, and even though I’m sure Paltrow feels like she’s slumming it, I don’t think Tony’s death would’ve worked so well were it not for her performance. Pepper understanding the severity and telling Tony he could rest was a perfect gut punch. And Thanos giving up before he turns to ash was the perfect culmination to his story.

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A-Force
Okay, so for seventeen seconds or so in the movie, all the women heroes take a group super selfie and people get bent out of shape. I had one friend (a male) who said it took him out of the movie because it was forced and pandering. I had another friend (a female) who said she cried because she felt seen and important. It was a blip in a three-hour movie. Who cares? For one, I think in a film that treated Natasha with such disrespect (post-death, Tony gets a Viking funeral and she gets a thrown bench), a little pandering that female characters matter isn’t a terrible thing. For two, it was awesome. The only one that I couldn’t make story sense of was Mantis, who is probably ridiculously useless in a fight like this, but again, it’s no big deal. Let it go.

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Captain America’s Ending
I kind of hoped that after we saw Cap wasn’t coming back, we’d see Natasha over on that bench, that he’d traded his soul for hers. I’m okay with that not happening, because I do think Cap’s story was a well-earned one. He’s been jumping on grenade’s since his first solo movie, doing everything for the greater good. That he figured out a way to grow old with Peggy was a fitting end to this hero, who was, really, the best of them. Passing the torch (err shield) to Sam was fitting both from a source material perspective and in the context of the MCU. It could never have been this Bucky. And since it was fairly obvious that Bucky knew this plan ahead of time, he probably gave his blessing on the new Cap as well. I wonder if the Disney+ series will actually be Captain America and the Winter Soldier, and if we’ll get a Cap with shield and wings. Fingers crossed for both. That the final shot of the entire first chunk of MCU films is Cap dancing with Peggy, is a surprising choice, but a well-earned one.

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What’s Next
This is a tough one. There’s a lot of characters left for the MCU to mine, but not a lot of heavy hitters. With a number of side characters moving to TV (Sam, Bucky, Wanda, Vision, Hawkeye) in some form, and others like Daredevil and Luke Cage kind of existing in this universe already, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the MCU. Spider-Man: Far From Home is next, where will likely and hopefully get a little more details on what the re-snappening means. We know there’s a Black Widow movie, and sequels to Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy and likely Captain Marvel and Ant-Man and Wasp. We know Eternals and Shang-Chi are on the docket, but the order of these and how they are peppered throughout are unknown. The infinity stones and the threat of Thanos didn’t appear out of the gate. It wasn’t until the fourth MCU movie (Captain America: The First Avenger) that the Infinity Saga really began, but what will be the next big thing they will build to? My guess would be Doctor Doom, and (finally) a Fantastic Four movie done right, but who knows. I hope we get another Avengers at some point, even if (and especially) if the team is Carol, Rhodey, Black Panther, Spider-Man, Wasp and Ant-Man. Fingers crossed.

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