Avengers: Endgame review: Checkpoint Of No Return

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Premise

 

“They should make a movie called Thanos: Infinity Pool where Thanos has an infinity pool that he sits in for too long and then he gets all wrinkly and it’s like the origin story of Thanos.” – My editor, Jack Pizza

 

Plot

 

Part I: Marvelegy for 50% of the population

 

The movie starts with a cold open on Hawkeye’s farm, where he’s chilling with his family. They all decide to play a sick prank on him by turning to dust and disappearing into the ether. After the title card, we see Tony Stark and Nebula on their spaceship. They decide that camping out in a place with no accessible oxygen probably wasn’t a good idea, so they call Captain Marvel to come get them. The remaining Avengers deliberate on how to proceed with Thanos; Nebula says she knows where he is.

 

She leads them to Thanos’ Backyard, where he’s growing some cool eggplants. All of the Avengers attack him at once, but realize all of the soy he’s consumed has weakened him significantly. Thanos explains that he put all the infinity stones in the microwave to “see what would happen,” which destroyed them, and also broke his microwave. Thor chops his head off with an ax.

 

*5 year time skip*

 

At a support group for people who lost someone they knew in the “snap”, Captain America sits and watches as Joe Russo talks about going on a date with (get this) a man. At this point, half the people in my theater left in outrage, while the other half stood and clapped, because after 21 movies Marvel had finally put in one gay character. Truly a radical development in filmmaking.

 

At Avengers HQ, Black Widow holds a conference call. Everyone asks Captain Marvel to come back to earth, but she explains that she left her oven on and needs to go check. At a parking storage place, a rat gets into the Ant-Man-van (the ant-van, if you will), which retrieves Scott from the “quantum realm.” He walks back to his house in confusion, and yells at a child, demanding they explain what’s going on (also my experience going into this film). After reuniting with his daughter, he goes to the Avengers and theorizes that, since the quantum realm experiences time dilation, they could also use it to build a time machine. While the physics behind doing so is well-explained and understood by every character, Scott laments that he simply lacks the knowledge of linear algebra to implement it.

 

The gang visits Tony, now retired with a daughter. Initially refusing to assist on the basis of “time travel is fucking stupid,” he eventually comes around. He applies a singular value (“spectral”) decomposition to find the eigenvalues of a mobius strip inversion(?), which allows them to do the thing.

 

Black Widow goes to Japan where Hawkeye has become a fucking samurai (complete with anime-style sword fight), and asks him to come back. They find Hulk, now merged with Bruce Banner to become Professor Leonard. Hulk goes to Norway to retrieve Thor, who’s become sad and out of shape. All of them return to Avengers headquarters.

 

Part II: Montage of Ultron

 

The gang schemes on how to use their time shenanigans to retcon the events of Infinity War. Thor recounts the plot of my favorite movie, Thor 2: The Dark World, while Nebula reveals the location of the soul stone, casually neglecting to mention the blood sacrifice needed to obtain it. With all the information adequately exposited, they split up into teams and go into 3 previous Marvel movies:

 

The Avengers: In 2012 New York, Hulk visits the Dr. Strange temple place and tries to get the time stone from Tilda Swinton. Tilda explains that giving it to him would “totally fuck them over,” but is persuaded by the argument that if Strange gave it to Thanos at some point, he probably knew what he was doing. Meanwhile, Stark and Ant-Man go to Avengers HQ to get the tesseract, while Captain America tries to get the mind stone, contained in Loki’s pointy stick. Cap fights himself from the past and wins, while Tony drops the ball, leading him and Cap to go into a different timeline and get the tesseract from there instead.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy: Hawkeye and Black Widow travel to the soul stone place, where Red Skull informs them that one of them needs to die. Both volunteer and they engage in a literal fight to the death. Black Widow ends up winning, while Hawkeye is forced to continue living with his weird haircut. Don Cheadle and Nebula go to the opening scene of GotG, knock out Chris Pratt, and steal the power stone. Nebula’s presence interferes with the Nebula of that timeline, which alerts 2014 Thanos to their scheme. He captures 2023 Nebula and steals the time juice, sending back 2014 Nebula in her place.

 

Thor 2: The Dark World: Thor and Rocket make it back to Asgard in order to suck the reality stone out of Natalie Portman. Thor decides that he doesn’t actually care about seeing Natalie Portman, and goes to talk to his mom instead. Rocket gets the stone offscreen, and the two journey back to present day. This was by far the best 10 minutes of the movie.

 

Part III: Infinity War II

 

Back at HQ, the gang puts all 6 infinity stones in an Iron Man hand, while Nebula sneaks off to do evil things. Hulk puts on the glove and snaps, bringing all the “vanished” people back to life. Nebula retrieves 2014 Thanos’ ship from his timeline, and he launches a full-scale assault on the SHIELD building. Miraculously, every single character survives, albeit under some rocks.

 

Hawkeye retrieves the new gauntlet but gets intercepted by 2014 Nebula, who’s then shot by 2023 Nebula and 2014 Gamora. They get the gauntlet up to the surface. Meanwhile, Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man fight 2014 Thanos. The fight kinda reaches a stalemate, and Thanos calls in his gigantic army. Just then, Dr. Strange and friends, now un-disintegrated, teleport from Wakanda to HQ.

 

There’s a big battle, which I honestly remember very little of. Everyone punches either for like 15 minutes. Eventually Tony gets the gauntlet and uses it to snap Thanos army (Thanos army) out of existence. In the process, Stark suffers burns to half his body, and becomes Two-Face. He flips a coin to determine whether every single hero in the movie should die or not. They all come up heads (something something 1 in 14 million chance), and Stark dies from exhaustion.

 

At his funeral, a bunch of people stand around looking sad. They send Captain America back to return all of the infinity stones they took, but he fails to reappear. Across the lake, they find an old Captain America sitting on a bench. He explains that he stayed in the past to live out his life, which makes absolutely no sense given how time travel worked in the movie, but whatever. The last scene shows a young Captain America in the living room of his house, slow dancing with Peggy. The end.  

 

Characters

 

Thanos- So there are two Thanoses in this movie, which is really, really funny. Like they literally reused the villain from the previous movie— not the same villain, with emotional growth or development— but a carbon copy of the character from before any of the previously depicted events had occurred. I guess I should touch on “continuity Thanos” for a second— I thought Infinity War T-man actually had a really solid arc. You could tell how vindicated he felt in this movie; he had done the thing, and when the Avengers came to, well, avenge, he didn’t even really care. That man was actualized as fuck. New Thanos, while somewhat underwritten in this movie, actually worked pretty well, since the writers could just go to their last save point and fall back on all the development the previous movies had set up. It was a little ridiculous how strong he was even without any infinity stones, but I guess he’s 4 years younger than Infinity War Thanos, so chalk it up to the vigor of youth… or something.

 

Captain America- Can we talk about how Steve Rogers’ character arc in this movie is the same as Edward Norton’s from Fight Club? He starts off sad and in a support group, he denounces the consumerist pressures of modern-day America, he fights himself, he gets together a big group of people whose only common trait is that they all like fighting, and he retires with a girl after blowing everything up. He also kinda blows off all his responsibilities to go after a lady he likes. If all that isn’t peak toxic masculinity, I don’t know what is.

 

Iron Man- Remember in Infinity War when Tony had that emotional beat with Spider-Man dissolving in his arms? Well this movie gives him so many emotional beats you could probably make an old Drake album. Thinking he was about to die away from everyone he cared about? ✔️ Has a wife and daughter he’s emotionally invested in? Check. Gets to interact with his dad that died when he was young? ✔️ Heroic sacrifice to save everyone else? ✔️ Oh, and he was still sad about Peter for most of the movie. In a lot of ways, Tony reminds me of my editor, Jack Pizza. Like when The Avengers ask him to do their math homework and he’s like “I don’t wanna” but then he does it anyway. Classic Tony.

 

Black Widow- Black Widow is probably the most consistently underutilized character in the MCU. She’s been in like every movie, but she’s never had a satisfactory amount of development in any one of them. Endgame actually gives Black Widow a lot to do, and I think her character was way stronger compared to all the other Marvel movies. You got a pretty good sense of how emotionally invested Black Widow was in all of the Avengers, and she basically carried the team for the first third of the movie. Plus, all the weird sexual tension with Hulk, Captain America, and Hawkeye got resolved when she catapulted off a cliff. Speaking of Hawkeye…

 

Hawkeye- Everyone like to razz Hawkeye for being all lame and not having powers and stuff, but he probably has the single best arc in the entire MCU. He chills with the Avengers for a bit, retires on a farm with his photogenic family, then when said family gets taken away, he goes on a vigilante rampage across the world, ending with him getting his family back. This man went on like two hero’s journeys in the background while everyone else was busy quipping.

 

Captain Marvel- I have to say I was kinda surprised; I expected Captain Marvel to be more important to this movie’s plot. I mean I guess she crashed Thanos’ ship, which was cool, but that was kinda it? I was getting ready for the deus ex machina— I had the God’s Not Dead theme song queued up and everything— but instead the writers decided to make her not… super relevant. But while we may not have gotten a deus ex machina, we did get…

 

Douglas ex machina (Ant-Man)- The fact that Paul Rudd was the most important character in this movie is absolutely hilarious. Not only was Ant-man and the Wasp not very good (I didn’t review it, but probably worse than Captain Marvel), Ant-man has basically been a meme from the beginning of the franchise. I guess it made sense to use him if they wanted to include time-travel shenanigans sans time stone, but just the way in which they brought him back and his contributions to the plot were wonderfully dumb. Also something something Paul Rudd good.

 

Nebula- If you had asked me to name the least interesting character in the MCU, I probably wouldn’t have said Nebula, cause I didn’t remember that she existed. The fact that Endgame manages to make her compelling and sympathetic without sacrificing her underlying cyborg-ness is actually pretty cool. Doesn’t really explain how 2014-her was magically able to use the time machine, but no one’s perfect.

 

There are some other ones too but whatever.

 

Dialogue

 

There were a lot of pop-culture references in this movie, which led to some passionate declarations of “cringe” by the internet’s foremost cringe-sentinels. Maybe my current-day reference tolerance is higher than my 80’s/90’s reference tolerance, but I didn’t think it was that obnoxious. I mean yeah Thor played Fortnite, but it’s not like he did a Blueface remix called “Thortiana” while the cast of Game of Thrones read the unredacted Mueller report out loud on Tik Tok. Or, y’know, whatever’s popular nowadays.

 

There were some lines that I probably would’ve been annoyed at in a more earnest movie, but gave pass to on account of how dumb this one was. At one point Ant-Man and Tony objectify Chris Evans, but it’s Chris Evans from 2012. Think about that for a second: someone went back, watched The Avengers, noticed that Captain America’s ass didn’t look as good with his old costume, and then wrote that into the script for this movie. It’s still weird, but in a more self-aware way.

 

Going back to the “new Thanos” bit for a second— if you consider using a past version of Thanos that hadn’t actually interacted with The Avengers up to that point, you might realize that there are a few issues. While Thanos is still fighting the same people, he doesn’t really know anything about them. This is addressed beautifully, when, during the big battle, he’s confronted by Scarlet Witch. SW, sad about previous Thanos ripping out her boyfriend’s brain rock, gives this really passionate speech about how much she hates him, how she’s going to get her revenge, how he’ll be sorry, etc.  And he just doesn’t register her at all. And the scene gets even better when you remember that Scarlet Witch was also just brought back from the soul stone like 5 minutes before, so there was 0 perceived passage of time. So she watched some purple guy kill her mans over in Africa, got turned to dust, reappeared, teleported over to the US, sees the same purple guy, and then he doesn’t know who she is. Talk about dramatic irony, am I right kids?

 

I was pleasantly surprised that at no point during the discussion of science-related topics, any of the characters asked for the explanation “in English.” Of course it kinda went the other way, where it seemed like everyone was too comfortable with everything that was going on. But like, I’d rather have a team of super-genius superheroes than breaking flow every ten minutes to mansplain pseudo-science to the audience.

 

Tone

 

Despite arguably having more (impactful) character deaths than Infinity War, this movie takes itself way less seriously. Even the “depressing” first act has more apathy than misery. I think they kinda got the whole grave, dour bit out of their system with the last movie, so here they pulled a Met Gala and fully returned to camp. They probably also figured that making the big send-off of the Marvel universe too sad would leave people with a bad taste, so they needed to end upbeat. It is bookended with some melancholic moments; the beginning has the Avengers all sad that Thanos fucked them over, while the end has Tony’s mitten martyrdom to save the planet. So still dark compared to like, Iron Man, but not quite the nihilistic German expressionism we’ve come to expect from DC.

 

Playing into that, no one really gets killed, it’s pretty much all just self-sacrifice (except Thanos, but even he kinda accepts it). I think they took this note from Star Wars, since that’s a very them move, but it does work. I think all the deaths here were more poignant and less scary, especially for younger audiences.

 

Visuals

 

Presentationally, this movie is actually just Infinity War 2. I’m gonna skip over the “blah blah CGI fights boring” because, while true, I think it’s fairly justified for the climax of a 22 movie long series to have a big battle scene. Not to mention, despite being 3 hours long, the 3rd act Thanos battle is pretty much the only big action scene. That’s some pretty solid restraint by MCU standards.

 

One quick thing I did wanna mention was this one weird tracking shot. When Paul Rudd is looking at those big name-list pillars to try and find his daughter, there’s a weird uncanny valley effect? Like the movement is so smooth it must’ve been done with some kind of robot/dolly set-up, but then it also kinda sways a bit to make it look handheld? And there’s a lot of forward motion so it’s a little disorienting. I’m not sure which of these elements were just part of the shot, and was added/edited in post, but that 30-second sequence stood out to me.

 

Also, fun fact: if you take a frame-by-frame compositional average of Endgame’s color pallet, you’ll find that the second two hours of the movie lacks any shades of blue, red, yellow, purple, green, or orange, a subtle reference to Thanos’ destruction of the infinity stones.

 

Sound

 

Similar to the previous section, this movie’s sound design is basically an amalgamation of all the preceding movies in the MCU. You could’ve told me that there wasn’t a single original piece of music in the entire movie, and I would’ve believed you. Then again, Marvel movies in general are pretty competent sound-wise, so it’s not really a criticism. They did bust out the orchestra again, this time with even more instruments than the last film. Unfortunately the end of the series may mean that Marvel no longer has all those musicians on retainer, but I’m hoping they got a nice check for their contribution— they certainly earned it.

 

Conclusion

 

I think “bittersweet” is a good way to describe my feelings towards this movie. Not because it actually was that, but because the conclusion of the MCU throws my entire relationship with cinemà out of whack. There’s a certain hollowness, a sense of “endui” if you will, no longer being able to rely on the tri-yearly release of the latest comic book movie for material. The Marvel content well has run dry, and with it, a large sense of my purpose. What is there to do? Should I start watching actual movies? Branch out into other forms of media? Even… books? But I hate reading! This is a disaster, absolutely horr- oh wait never mind, they’re making more Spider-Mans. All good.

 

Good for: Thor 2: The Dark World, since it’s officially cemented as the greatest film in the MCU

 

Bad for: Every Marvel movie that isn’t Thor 2: The Dark World, since it’s worse than this one

 

6.1/8

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