Earth’s mightiest heroes get to mulligan the last eleven years.
The Avengers are broken and Earth is desolate after the events following Thanos’s “snap”, which eliminated fifty percent of the universe’s population. Hopeless, the remaining heroes find one final option to undo what was done…
It is almost impossible to talk about this film without spoiling elements of what happens, so straight away consider this to be your warning.
With Robert Downey Jr. becoming Iron Man in 2008, and for there to be a rich and steady escalation of films over the last eleven years, Avengers: Endgame had a huge responsibility to tie things up. Something of a strange concept, considering Marvel Studios became a Disney property and have most of the cinema-going public (and critics) under their sway and could go on forever, but the “Infinity Stone” story arc had to end some time. Endgame takes what was, as far as the modern audience is concerned, one of the most Earth-shattering cliffhangers of recent times, and spark some hope for our heroes. So that they can rise up and win.
Unfortunately, the decision was to go with one of the most overused, tropey, and hammy plot device that genre films and television can use… One that never truly satisfies: Time travel.
Before we get into that, the film starts with a very grim tone. As it should, considering the end of Infinity War. But we see Clint/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) on the family farm, enjoying life, only for his family to disappear with the result of the snap. We have this juxtaposed with Tony Stark, lost in deep space and dying of starvation. It is a suitably bleak tone to start on, it is greatly appreciated, and Hawkeye continues to have perhaps the darkest (and goriest) seen in the MCU.
Luckily though, with a five years later edit, our heroes learn how to travel through time. Stark literally invents the method of time travel over night, and “Back to the Future was wrong”; they can do almost anything without consequence. How convenient.
From this point on the film becomes a massive sprawl of recycled MCU assets, with our heroes dividing into three teams for three different time periods, straight from previous MCU movies. We go to New York during the 2012 Avengers Assemble finale, The 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy opening, Thor: Dark World, and even last year’s Infinity War, all for the purposes of collecting the Infinity Stones before Thanos does. This makes for a lot of jokes, immediately elevating the grim reality check of the previous film back into the jovial tones seen in Thor: Ragnarok. “That’s America’s Ass”.
There are other conveniences. For example, the Infinity Stone that had a direct reference to Thanos during the team’s debriefing has Hawkeye and Black Widow sent after it. Why? That makes zero sense. The most dangerous location, send the two regular humans. Then the plot happens, and it is a weirdly unconvincing convenience. Or, with Nebula on the good guys’ team, all of this time travelling shenanigans can be monitored by past-Thanos through past-Nebula. There’s even a scene where Thanos does the “zoom and enhance” cliche on a video recording.
This entire second act is a mess of fan service, almost like when a television show runs out of stories and does a “clip show”. When it isn’t joking, it is bombarding us with wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff which often doesn’t make sense in the best of narratives. You don’t really need a victory lap, Marvel, you release three to four films a year now.
Of course, there’s plenty of fun to be had. A lot of the jokes and comedy in the middle act land and have everyone laughing. The effects are solid and less noticeable than in Infinity War, and for three hours it did not feel like it; the pacing of the movie is absolutely spot on. It slows down for character moments and doesn’t bludgeon the audience with expanded action sequences. The one good element of time travel, is that a couple of main characters get some closure, which was really nice to see and could have done with a little more time dedicated to it.
The third act is dynamite; true enough it is another massive spectacle war, basically a do-over of last year’s massive spectacle, but this one literally has everyone in it. There are so many characters battling at once, and while it is bursting at the seams in terms of editing (it can barely keep up with it all) it has tremendous emotional resonance. The writers know what they are doing; a metaphorical pendulum swings over our heroes like an axe, and those of us invested in the series will be gasping and dreading where it might fall.
And as sure as dirt, some people are wondering what Captain Marvel’s exact contribution is to the film. Honestly, she only added muscle (and some more convenient help) when needed.
Marvel fans rejoice; you have a “perfect” conclusion, rammed with all the fan service and “feels” you could ever want. Perhaps its most efficient trick is to deliver spectacle but also emotional weight with our characters.
It might divide some people, but speaking openly, the time travel gimmick was terrible. For eleven years of investment to boil down to “we can just go back in time and fix it”, feels cheap. Now that time travel is possible in the MCU… is there any weight or consequence to anything anymore?
So it is a close one. One can’t deny that it achieves a great deal, and that key characters are given their conclusions in very clear and emotional ways. If only there had been another way to get there.
Additional Marshmallows: If you are a fan of Chris Hemsworth and Thor… I am… so very sorry for you.