Thoughts on “Avengers: Endgame”

“Avengers: Endgame” might be the last MCU movie that I just go out and buy as soon as it’s available. Still, I was very much looking forward to it. “Infinity War” was as far as I can recall the last MCU movie that I really enjoyed, after a string of ones that were “Meh” at best. I was looking forward to see how they managed to wrap up this story arc and seeing how it compared to the comics, which I had read.

It disappointed me.

The details will contain spoilers and so I’ll continue below the fold:

When I was watching it, I was puzzled by why the movie wasn’t really resonating with me. The movie in and of itself isn’t really bad. There are some great moments. It certainly tries to be a movie wrapping up what has gone on before and so the references are thick and heavy, and most of them work and when they don’t they’re easy to ignore. But the movie has a number of flaws that, ultimately, hurt it as an actual movie.

First, they start pretty much from the end of “Infinity War”, and start by resolving some of the leftover issues (Clint’s family, Ant-Man, the impact of the snap on Earth itself, getting Captain Marvel to appear, the Infinity Stones, and so on). The problem is that these sorts of things, especially showing the impact of the snap, are things that you’d generally see in the middle of a movie, not at the beginning. As a two-parter, effectively the beginning of “Endgame” is the middle of the movie, but what this means is that “Endgame” takes an hour of screen time at the beginning when we need to either maintain our excitement or get ramped up for what’s coming next going through slow and emotional scenes. This might work if you watch “Infinity War” and “Endgame” back to back, but together the two movies are over five and a half hours long. Few people are ever going to watch them back to back as one work. So most people are going to start “Endgame” at least a bit after “Infinity War”, and the beginning does not work as the start of a separate movie, even if we remember what happened in “Infinity War”.

This, of course, was always a risk with a two-part movie, but I have to point out that somehow “The Lord of the Rings” managed to do that with their trilogy with movies that were actually longer than these while facing similar issues. It might have been better to take a half-an-hour at the end of “Infinity War” to do the reactions and have the movie end with Ant-Man showing up saying that he had an idea than to try to do that in “Endgame”.

The second issue is that “Endgame” doesn’t actually have a plot. They cobble together a time travel way to get more references in and try to resolve the snap, but really that’s nothing more than a framing device. And it’s treated as such, being overall mostly irrelevant except to provide a way to get references out there and to get them the stones so that they can use them to undo everything after Thanos destroyed all of the Infinity Stones. That’s pretty much all the plot, though, other than Thanos finding out about it and time travelling to Earth to try to stop them setting up a huge — and unnecessary — final battle. So the individual scenes may — or may not — be interesting, but there’s really nothing much holding them together or giving them individual meaning outside of the references they allow the movie to make.

Another issue is that the movie leaves a number of threads from the original movie unaddressed. Gamora is seen as being in the Soul Stone, but is never restored from it even as her character is restored, as that’s a time displaced Gamora moving forward. So what did showing her as a child in the stone do? A number of people complained that Thanos’ plan made no sense, and the movie never does a good job explaining that it indeed made no sense. While there’s still some chaos going on in the galaxy after five years, “Endgame” even has Cap point out that on Earth a lot of the environmental issues were solved or at least improved — Widow calls him out for “looking on the bright side” — which implies that they, somehow, did think that Thanos’ plan would work. This carries over to the final battle where all Cap can do to argue against Thanos’ attempt to rebuild a new universe where no one will remember what happened is that he’d be making a better universe using blood, which is a rather weak argument at that point. I didn’t really need them to argue with Thanos on the basis that it wouldn’t work, but it would have been nice to acknowledge that.

It also pretty much drops any character arc for Thanos, which is bad since “Infinity War” spent so much time on him and is generally considered to have him as a villain protagonist. Along with the idea that his plan rather obviously wouldn’t work — as the population would eventually grow to fill in all of those niches and so it wouldn’t be a permanent solution — and that Thanos should have known that was a notion that Thanos seems to enjoy killing and hurting people more than he let on. This could easily have allowed for him to be confronted with that in “Endgame” and be a revelation, even if he ended up accepting that and still opposing the heroes. I even posited in a forum that that was almost certainly what they were going to do. Instead, they didn’t, and in fact implied that before this he had never enjoyed killing by having him say that he was going to enjoy destroying the Earth because of the resistance of the heroes to his grand plan. That leaves him learning absolutely nothing, despite him perhaps thinking more kindly of Nebula right before Thor kills him, which is not the Thanos that appears five years later. For a character that was so dominant in “Infinity War” that we never see any kind of payoff for all the time we spent with him in that movie is pretty bad.

We also get a poor resolution to the Hulk/Banner conflict in “Infinity War”. In “Endgame”, we get “Banner Hulk”, a Hulk with Banner’s intelligence, but it’s introduced and explained in a short scene that handwaves it all away. Again, it was a big part of “Infinity War”, and is reduced to an aside here.

They also never explain why this was the only reality where the Avengers could defeat Thanos, and so why Strange gave up the Time Stone to bring it about. Strange says that if he tells Stark why it won’t happen, but nothing would have stopped them from showing it and making it clear why that had to happen. And yet, they didn’t.

Not only do these things make “Endgame” worse, but they will also be all the more obvious if you try to watch the two movies back to back.

Additionally, “Endgame” doesn’t even resolve its own arcs properly. A big part of “Endgame” was Tony being happy with his family and not wanting to risk that to undo the snap. This is why he refuses to try to build the time machine in the first place. However, his conversion to trying to do that was far too quick, and doesn’t resolve the issue because he makes it clear to Cap that whatever they do he needs to keep what he has. He then meets up with his own father in the past and gets the advice that his father would have done anything for him, even before he was born. This, then, should set up the end of his arc, when he puts on the Infinity Gauntlet (which he has no trouble putting on despite Hulk being almost killed just putting it on. Maybe Hulk wasn’t the right choice after all …) and decides to wipe out Thanos’ army with a snap. Here, what should have happened was that Tony would have a choice between being with his family or dying to keep the stones out of Thanos’ hands. But Thanos was attacking the world, was likely to kill everyone there, and at a minimum was going to kill Pepper since she was in the battle and fighting Thanos. And Thanos was going to wipe everything out anyway and start over. Tony didn’t have the choice between his family and the world, and so that arc is never paid off. If at least Thanos had said “If you don’t use it and give it to me, when I remake the universe you and your family will be in it, with no memory of this happening”, that would have made it a choice Tony had to make. But there was no choice and so it was a sacrifice, nothing more, despite his arc being set up to force him to make a choice.

Cap’s ending also falls flat. I’m not 100% certain why, though. You’d think that they’d at least be able to pull off an appropriately emotional ending with Cap aged and passing the torch to Falcon, but it just seems hollow. Maybe it’s because we don’t really get Cap wanting to live that life with Peggy so badly that he’d put aside helping people — and Sharon — just to do so, and Falcon accepting it has no real oomph because there’s no reason given to think that he didn’t want it or that Bucky would want it, or that Cap’s choice has any real meaning or that he’s giving it to Falcon because of anything special to him. Even the scene is structured poorly, as when Cap gives Falcon the shield and Falcon says “It feels like it belongs to someone else”, in general Cap would respond with something like “It felt that way to me at first, too. You get used to it” because it seemed clear that just giving him the shield was symbolically passing the mantle on to Falcon. Instead, Cap says that it doesn’t and it’s only then that Falcon seems to realize that Cap is asking him to take on the mantle, which makes the scene rather awkward.

Of course, I would have far rathered that Cap had simply asked them to find someone worthy to take up the mantle and then had a Captain America movie explore that and introduce U.S. Agent to the universe …

They also mess up the sacrifice of Black Widow to get the Soul Stone. They don’t really say why it has to be Widow, and there’s a really good case that after Hawkeye went to Ronin that sacrificing himself there would be the way to atone for his fall. The only reason I can think of that’s hinted at are that Natasha thought that he had a family to return to and she didn’t — other than the Avengers — and so she’s the better sacrifice. Another angle would be to pull from Chuck Sonnenberg’s reasons for not letting Loghain sacrifice himself to end the Blight so that he’d have to do the hard redemption of actually serving to make up for what he’d done. Neither of these are really explicit in the movie, and Hawkeye never really does anything to be redeemed or show that he’s redeemed, so it, again, just comes across like a sacrifice, not as a meaningful arc, despite being presented as an arc for Hawkeye.

Now, let me get into some of the things that bothered me about the movie.

While the movie isn’t really a Social Justice oriented movie, I couldn’t help but notice the one scene where Captain Marvel takes the Gauntlet from Spider-man and is supported by a wave of female characters. Part of that is the social context where it’s far, far too easy to suspect that they did that deliberately. Another part of that is that the combination of heroes was too artificial to seem anything other than deliberate, especially since Mantis was shown who, at the time, wasn’t going to be a major contributor to the effort (and, remember, I like Manits). But what really bugs me about that is that it would have been the time to show the passing from the old guard — Cap, Thor, Stark and the others — to the new guard, which would include Spider-man if we’re talking about the MCU. I suspect, though, that they also did that intentionally to pull off another “The Force is female” type of notion to show that the future will be “inclusive”. Since I dislike deliberate attempts to do that, I found it mildly annoying … but it’s not a major flaw of the film and works narratively even if the implications in this social context aren’t quite as good, at least for me.

This is a movie that suffered from not having access to the Fox characters, as when Tony refuses to create the time machine it would have been a perfect time to introduce an unpowered Reed Richards who could do it, setting up for his experiment later and the creation of the Fantastic Four. As it was, it was given to Banner Hulk and played for laughs.

The movie often introduced humour at times where it really didn’t work, which was my issue with the previous “Meh” movies as well.

I disliked Thor giving Valkyrie the leadership of the Asgardians. His wanting to do something else was understandable — or, at least, to atone for his failure — but we had only seen that character in two movies and she hadn’t done anything in either to show that she was some kind of competent leader, which is why he gives it to here. I guess Sif was killed in other movies, but it would have gone so much better if it had gone to her instead, as at least she was someone that we knew could lead and had had the time to get to know and like.

Thor being worthy of lifting the hammer is going to make giving it to Jane Foster in the next Thor movie … awkward. And there is no explanation for why Cap couldn’t lift it in the first Avengers movie but can do so now, unless he could lift it then but chose not to, as Thor almost hints with his “I knew it!” line. They could have made that more clear.

I think Tony should have lived but be weakened or at least retire a hero while Cap should have died. Tony had finally found something that made him happy, and his death leaves his family broken and sad. Cap had as little to live for as Natasha — other than Sharon, who the movie forgot about — and his sacrificing himself or getting himself locked inside the Soul Stone would have been a fitting ending for him. Tony also works better as someone that you might bring back for short sequences, which would be less demanding on the actor and yet allow a more direct passing of the guard or at least callback to what had gone on before.

Tony’s death, however, is one of the emotional scenes that does really work.

Anyway, the movie isn’t a terrible movie. But it’s three hours of a “Meh” movie. I might watch it again, but only as part of rewatching “Infinity War” and seeing the ending. I can’t see myself wanting to watch the movie again for its own sake.

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