Maybe the hardest part of telling a story is sticking the landing. It’s HARD to tell what’s just enough and what’s too much. It’s hard to match tone, to express your themes, to satisfy the needs of an audience that is starved for satisfying stories.
The best thing I can say about Avengers: Endgame, without yet getting into spoilers, is that it sticks the landing…and then some.
The bar is high in the MCU. I mean, we’re 22 movies in at this point. Most are good, a few are not so good, and a few are incredible. If you ask me, Iron Man 3 is the worst of the lot, and even it’s not THAT bad. Before this movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was hands down my favorite film in the series. Now, however…I’m questioning everything.
The burning question that everyone has going into this movie is, who lives and who dies? There has been so much speculation about the Big Three (Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor) and the state of the contracts of the actors, with some of us hanging on every interview given by Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth. Going into the movie, I had come to the conclusion that everyone was going to survive, because this is a comic book movie, so why the hell not? You don’t have to kill anybody for the actors to be done. Besides, there are so many films on the horizon, right? Eternals, Black Widow, Shang Chi, Black Panther 2, Dr. Strange 2, Guardians 3…not to mention Spider-Man: Far From Home, which comes out in three short months!
Personally, I went into this movie confident of certain things, secure in certain knowledge.
Within the first ten minutes of Avengers: Endgame, the floor had well and truly been ripped out from under me, and I had no idea what was REALLY going to happen. And it was glorious.
The movie’s tone is set by the opening scene, which is basically Hawkeye losing his entire family. (Maybe the most annoying thing about the snap for me was WHO got dusted. Hawkeye’s wife AND all three of his kids? ALL of the Pyms? NONE of the original Avengers? That started feeling convenient after a while.) That told me straight up that there would be loss in this film, that everyone WASN’T getting back alive.
Like, five minutes later, we were through damn near ALL of the trailer moments…and Thanos was dead. The Avengers killed him, but too late. Thanos had destroyed the Infinity Stones. There was no going back for them. Half the universe was dead, and it seemed that was how things were going to stay.
Then the words “FIVE YEARS LATER” appear on the screen.
At this point, my jaw was on the floor. In very short order, a new status quo was set up, a status quo that I was not expecting, and the movie could begin in earnest.
Honestly, I don’t want to summarize the whole movie. I can’t, there’s just too much. Let me just hit on some key points instead.
- This all began with Iron Man, and in a certain sense, that’s how it ends. Tony Stark, when first we meet him, isn’t much of a person. The best way to describe him is self-serving. Endgame does a great job of bringing us back to that by letting Tony met his father in 1970, and letting Howard Stark straight out tell us who he is, someone whose self-serving nature ultimately overcame his ability to do good. Tony’s character arc over the course of the movies was always struggling with this. In Avengers, Captain America tells him that he’s not the one to make the sacrifice play, and Tony doesn’t…can’t…deny it. In Age of Ultron, Tony jeopardizes the world so he can stop being Iron Man. In Civil War, he breaks the Avengers so he can feel better about the damage they’ve caused. Not that Iron Man isn’t a hero, he claimed that mantle ably in his first film, but taking one for the team isn’t exactly in his nature. In this film, he doesn’t want to save the day, because his day has already been saved: Pepper did not succumb to the snap, and so they begin a life of marital and familial bliss. But Tony steps up to the plate, and when he realizes that the only way to SAVE THE UNIVERSE is to lay down on the wire, he doesn’t hesitate. His closing line, “I am Iron Man,” is sheer perfection, because what is Iron Man, after all, but a hero?
- In many ways, Captain America is Iron Man’s opposite. Iron Man has this long circuitous route to take to become truly a hero, while Cap throws himself on a grenade before he even gets his powers. Captain America doesn’t change, he changes US. Cap doesn’t need to learn what the right thing is, he does it naturally. It’s in his DNA. Cap makes the “sacrifice play” whenever he’s call upon, and he pays for it, losing the only woman he’s ever loved and everything he’s ever known to save the day…and then jeopardizing his new life, his freedom, and even his very identity as the Sentinel of Liberty, to redeem the friend he’d failed to save. Cap’s final reward is just that…a final reward. He goes back and gets the life that he was denied, which should frankly be the fate of everyone that tries to serve the ideals of this country. Cap’s story ends the way that they tried to end Batman’s in The Dark Knight Rises…but here, they stick the landing.
- (Also, Captain America fighting Thanos wielding his shield and Mjolnir is damn near everything I ever wanted from this life. Cheers and tears from yours truly.)
- Thor’s story is sort of Chris Hemsworth’s story. They didn’t get Thor quite right in the beginning. Thor and Thor: The Dark World aren’t great movies and Chris Hemsworth eventually chafes under that. It’s not until Thor: Ragnarok that the innate comic nature of the character, and the actor, are allowed to flourish, and Hemsworth clearly stated that making Ragnarok rekindled his love for the character. They wisely keep the character’s quirky new direction, without ignoring the tragedy inherent in the concept of being heir to the throne. Thor has lost EVERYTHING, and more than that, he failed to save the day in Infinity War. Thor is not Captain America…he breaks under pressure. That breaking is a joy to behold, and unlike Cap and Iron Man, there is more to say with this character. He will be, it seems, sticking around. There might not be a Thor 4…but maybe he’ll be there for Guardians of the Galaxy 3 (and Avengers 5).
- THEY KILLED BLACK WIDOW AND NOTHING MAKES SENSE ANYMORE.
- Professor Hulk. I hope they have plans for him, because they in no way explored the potential of this character.
- Hawkeye gets his family back, whether he deserves that kind of happiness or not.
The most remarkable thing about Endgame is how it serves not just as the end of a story started in Infinity War, but also how it finishes stories begun in Iron Man, in The First Avenger, in Avengers, in Dr. Strange, in Ant-Man and the Wasp, in Guardians of the Galaxy…really, in all of the MCU. It sticks the landing for so many narrative arcs, and for a bunch of emotional ones as well. It clears the board of almost everything from Phase One of the MCU, leaving plenty for the new and as yet unseen heroes to play with.
BUT I HAVE QUESTIONS…
- Am I the only one intrigued by the situation with Loki? Loki apparently escaped with the Space Stone due to the blundering of Iron Man and Ant-Man. Captain America supposedly went back and corrected the timeline by putting the Infinity Stones back where they got them from, but how would he have put that genie back in the bottle?
- What happens when you return the Soul Stone? Does that mean that Natasha can come back? Is that Black Widow solo movie gonna be a prequel or not?
- Was that the kid from Iron Man 3 at Tony’s funeral?
- Where is Mjolnir? Did Cap take it back to Dark World-era Thor?
- Does this mean I get a post-WWII era series of films starring Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell? Given what Steve Rogers knows about SHIELD…can they please found an Invaders team? PLEASE?
- “I do have America’s ass.” “Hail Hydra.” “I can do this all–” “I KNOW.” Cap got almost all the best lines.
- “I totally am from the future.” ALMOST all the best lines.
- This isn’t a question, but man, did they get a lot of HUGE stars to do teeny-tiny little things for this movie. Robert Redford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Marisa Tomei, Michael Douglas…was that stuff with Natalie Portman new, or did they reuse footage from The Dark World?
I simply cannot wrap my head around the size of this undertaking. The writing of this script must have taken FOREVER. There must have been so many drafts. To get some many things wrapped up while also getting so many things right…to deliver on the action beats and emotional ones?
This film was scary good, and that’s not hyperbole. It’s insane that there are people out there able to deliver work of this scale with this kind of quality.
It’s all the rage to rank your Marvel movies. I have my own ranking for the first 21 films. I don’t know where this falls just yet. I liked it more than Infinity War…I think. Maybe more than Avengers. But is it better than Civil War? Than Homecoming? Does it challenge Winter Soldier? I’m seeing it again tonight. We’ll see.