It’s Kill Bill: Volume 2. That’s the least spoilery way I can sum up Avengers: Endgame. Infinity War was about building up the mystique of its villain and showcasing all the best fights. Its second part and conclusion decides not to really try to one-up that movie’s greatest strengths, and instead focuses on pathos and catharsis. But that’s not to say it’s not self-contained, Endgame is a complete story told in three distinct parts: the aftermath of The Snap, a celebration of the whole MCU, and a riveting, fan service-driven conclusion. Unless you’re someone who is only interested in the action, I’m sure you’ll be happy to have seen it. And if you have seen it, join me after the jump for some more details.
SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT
As I expressed in my Infinity War review, I was worried the Avengers would leap into hunting down Thanos without properly being forced to deal with the consequences of losing, so I was pleased with the decision to make the first third of the movie entirely about moving on. Once it became clear time travel was coming, I was also worried about all that not actually mattering, so once again, having the movie commit to not changing the timeline, just undoing The Snap, was absolutely the right decision for me. Infinity War mattered, it wasn’t undone, they didn’t cheat us. Vision is still dead, our Gamora is still dead, so many Asgardians, including Heimdall and the reformed Loki, are still dead. They found another way.
The best thing the movie did, though, was let Tony be the only one to really move on. He was the only Avenger that directly fought Thanos and still was alive. When the others went to kill Thanos, he stayed behind, and while the others fought back against the new world, Tony embraced how lucky he was that he and Pepper both were still breathing. It all makes sense, right? Tony has been on a lengthy losing streak since Iron Man 3: he lost Pepper, was betrayed by Cap, was partially responsible for his best friend being crippled, was nearly killed by Thanos, and then lost his surrogate son to The Snap. Why wouldn’t he want to hold on to what he’s still got?
Tony has every reason to not want to help the Avengers pull off a time heist, but he is compelled to because he’s a hero. Since the first Iron Man, Tony Stark has been a man obsessed with protecting the world. He has been constantly building and innovating these past 11 years, and that nagging drive to help will never go away. To quote Spider-Man 2, “Intelligence is not a privilege, it’s a gift. And you use it for the good of mankind.” Tony is all too aware of the burden his gifts weigh on his soul, and he simply cannot let himself stop trying to help. Cap once told Tony he wasn’t the guy to make the sacrifice play, but Tony, in the end, is the only one who can.
The MCU would not have been a thing without Robert Downey Jr, and Tony Stark’s story is the most complete character arc in the whole series. It couldn’t go on forever, and I’m grateful it ended so well.
Once they started treating Hulk like an actual person in Thor: Ragnarok, the conclusion of Banner’s story inevitably had to be Professor Hulk. Merging Banner’s intelligence with Hulk’s strength is the best of both worlds for the character, and I appreciate the subtlety with which Mark Ruffalo performs these three people. He had turned Hulk from pure rage into a childish, but well-meaning, jerk, and Banner’s calm had given way to manic desperation. When we meet Professor Hulk, he’s not just a big, green Banner. He’s confident and egotistical in a way much more akin to the Hulk. Ruffalo has portrayed all of this nuance as a supporting character in other hero’s movies.
Will we see him again? I really don’t know, the amount of damage the Infinity Stones did to his body looked pretty intense. But I’d like to think when whatever the next version of the Avengers needs a super scientist, they’ll know who to call. One of the advantages of being an entirely CG character is they won’t have to perform any of that de-aging magic to keep Ruffalo around.
The Hulk is a character who seems to just work better as part of the team instead of on his own. I’m just really happy we got someone as committed as Mark Ruffalo to step in and take over the role after Ed Norton left. It’s pretty damn hard to imagine Norton having done all these movies, right?
The third Avenger to be introduced to the MCU, Natasha Romanoff deserved better than to be thrown off the cliff of strong female protagonists sacrifices. Especially with both a Hawkeye series announced and a Black Widow movie heavily implied, I was expecting the Avengers to live up to their “we don’t trade lives” mantra and find another way to get the Soul Stone. But, I will give the movie credit for at least sending the two most suicidal Avengers to get that Stone, and making them fight a little bit about who is the one to take the plunge. And it makes sense: Clint is fighting to bring back his family, he should be there for them if they succeed (and he needed more screentime after getting cut from Infinity War).
Before all that, I like that with Fury and Hill gone, Nat stepped up as the new leader. Her conference call with her team of Rocket, Nebula, Okoye, Captain Marvel, and War Machine teased a fun alternate Avengers movie and shows how far this “regular” person has come, that she has all of their respect. Nat is the most hopeless character in the movie, absolutely lost when it comes to finding a way to move on. Just look at that sad peanut butter sandwich she makes, so pathetic. She’s been trying to redeem herself for whatever she did in her past for this entire series, and making the ultimate sacrifice surely does that. It’s just, I wish she could have realized she had already become a hero long before that.
Black Widow has evolved and gotten so much more interesting over the course of the MCU. And for a long time, she was the only person on the Avengers who wasn’t a white dude. It’s a shame the shot of all the female heroes couldn’t include her, but Scarlett Johansson helped pave the way for all of them.
Infinity War threw Thor off the path his story was on, and Endgame wisely leans into that. The reveal that Thor has become depressed and overweight is amusing, but it’s not played as a one-off joke. That’s who he is now. He ran from being a king for such a long time that when he finally embraced it, the worst catastrophe in the history of the universe happened. Everyone that matters to him is dead. The fates have been relentlessly cruel to the strongest Avenger, and now he is broken.
I love that even in the final battle, Thor’s armor can’t hide the fact that he’s not the warrior he used to be. While he basically destroyed all of Thanos’ army in Infinity War, this time he is just part of the team. Thor learned two important lessons from his father: The Hammer does not make Thor worthy and Asgard is not a place, it’s a people. He’s been living that truth since The Snap. But the final step in his journey is a lesson from his mother, “Everyone fails at who they are supposed to be. The measure of a person, a hero, is how they succeed at being who they are.” Excuse me, I’m gonna go get some tissues.
Chris Hemsworth is so good playing this sad sack version of Thor, all those franchise comedies he’s done are really paying off. While this might be the last we see of the other five original Avengers, we damn well better get the Asgardians of the Galaxy movie we were just promised.
Endgame opens with Clint Barton, apparently oblivious of what’s been happening, out with his family on a picnic. His horror in losing them in an instant drives him into becoming a super hero again, but a much darker one with nothing to lose. As Ronin, he has apparently been killing the world’s criminals for being lucky enough to survive The Snap. Hawkeye is just a family man without much arc of his own, so I liked that Endgame made him the counterpoint to Thanos’ twisted logic.
In Infinity War, Thanos tells Gamora that her world is thriving now because of his genocide of half the population. However, in Guardians of the Galaxy, we are shown on one of the Nova Corp’s screens that Gamora is the last of her people. Thanos didn’t save her world, he doomed it. He just assumed he was right and never bothered to check in. Earth is the same way, the world is dark and decrepit and people go on dates to cry with each other. Thanos’ plan does not make sense, so of course the consequences of it being realized are dire.
Nothing proves Thanos’ madness more than how his past self reenters the story. He sees firsthand that his plan succeeded and it did not create the grateful universe he thought it would. Logically, that should be the end of his Infinity dreams, but instead, he decides what he actually has to do is wipe out all life in the universe. Yeah, you aren’t saving anyone, bud. Clint is living proof that perfect, random genocide doesn’t double the resources available, it just increases the suffering.
Jeremy Renner kind of never got his due as Hawkeye. While Black Widow was a big part of Iron Man 2, Hawkeye is barely in Thor. He’s a bad guy for a lot of the first Avengers. Age of Ultron really focused on him, but only I like that movie. With Black Widow punching way above her weight class, Hawkeye became the everyman of the team. And that’s fine, they needed one of those. Plus, he’s the best golfer on the team, can’t take that away.
Of course Steve Rogers started leading a support group, what else could he do? He might not be Captain America anymore, but Steve could never stop being a soldier. He said as much at the end of Age of Ultron, he couldn’t imagine settling down and having a normal life. That’s why post-Civil War, he’s been living a hard life as a fugitive instead of getting a house on the beach like all the Fast and Furious characters do between each movie. Even in a time of uneasy peace, all he can do is try to help people.
That’s why Cap tells the Avengers that everyone else can move on, but not them. They saved New York, they saved the world, they cannot stand to take this one loss. When Ant-Man tells him he has a chance to undo The Snap, that becomes his mission, his reason for living. But going back in time gives him a chance to see both the man he used to be and the life he gave up on. Like an inverse of Tony, the guy who has constantly tried to make the sacrifice play finally realizes he doesn’t need to. He makes the selfish choice, and decides to finally have that dance with Peggy.
As much as these three phases of the MCU begin and end with Iron Man, Chris Evans has played Captain America in a movie every year since 2010. It’s scary to imagine not having him in 2020, even if this was the perfect end for this character.
Endgame was focused on the original six Avengers, but it finds time for a few of the others. Obviously Ant-Man and his experiences in the Quantum Realm are integral to the plot, and Paul Rudd is only the best. I also liked how much comedy the movie trusted Rhodey with, I knew Don Cheadle was up for it since his small part in Age of Ultron. Also, this is maybe the most Nebula we’ve ever seen, and I’m glad she didn’t die and James Gunn will get to use her more going forward. That moment when she and Rocket comfort each other is great.
It’s a shame that Okoye and Captain Marvel aren’t around too much, but the excuse that all the most powerful people in the universe shouldn’t be in the same place all the time makes sense. I loved getting cameos from Robert Redford, Tilda Swinton, and fucking of course John Slattery as Howard Stark, but the best was seeing James D’Arcy as Jarvis, the first time a TV show actor got called up to the movies. Yay, it all matters! Worth it. Let’s see, Pepper getting her Rescue armor and just showing up in the final battle could have been better set up… Am I getting into nitpicks? I guess I am. My biggest one is how the Infinity Stones are reduced to batteries for a glove. Individually, the Stones give you incredible power, remember how it took the whole Guardians team to just pick up the Power Stone? Remember how Thanos brought Vision back to life with the Time Stone? Oh well, I guess they’re destroyed now anyway so it doesn’t matter.
Will I someday lower this rating to four and a half stars? If the Retrospecticus is any indication, yes. Does that matter to me right now? No, because I just got to see a moving, thoughtfully constructed conclusion to the best movie series of all time. A season of network TV is what, about 20 episodes? This was the twenty-second movie in the MCU, and damn, what a season finale it was. One thing about watching shows on TV is the “next week on” commercial that comes on during the credits, which always feels notably absent when you watch a season finale. In the same way, Marvel movies always have had teasers during their credits and Endgame doesn’t. After the credits, it’s just over. It’s sad, but then again, part of the journey is the end, right?
MCU Power Rankings: It’s the best.