I recently re-watched “Avengers: Endgame,” only to realize I never did a formal review on the film when it came out. In fact, I haven’t reviewed any “Avengers” films on this site. So I thought it would be fun to see if the film holds up, close to two years after it was released.
And … it does.
When I first saw it, I thought it would be something future generations would struggle to understand, as it is so reliant off of pre-established characters set up in the over 20 other films in the MCU, but the arcs of each character are relatively easy to understand and remember. So upon another viewing, almost two years removed, I understood all that was going on, though the shock value of seeing everything unfold for the first time was lost on me.
In a nutshell, Endgame takes place right after 2018’s “Infinity War,” in which big bad Thanos (Josh Brolin) managed to collect all of the magical Infinity Stones needed to perform “the snap,” an act that led to half of all life forms ceasing to exist by turning to dust. Thanos has a decent argument about overpopulation, and how several parts of the universe have been pushed to their breaking point for lack of resources, though when held under a microscope, it realistically doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, as depending on a variety of factors, at least Earth’s population can still double in the lifetimes of our heroes (the doubling factors for alien populations is pretty much up to whatever rules Marvel sets for them). But this is also a comic book movie, so it can get away with a degree of being unrealistic.
Afterwards, Thanos is found, but he used the Infinity Stones to destroy themselves, making his snap permanent, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) kills him for it. We then cut to a five year time jump (presumably COVID-19 never existed in the MCU) in which Thanos’ plan has worked partially, but our heroes, led by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) have never given up, or let Thanos’ snap go.
The rest of the film centers around a time heist, as when Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) AKA Ant-Man returns from the quantum realm after five years of our time — which was only five hours there — it becomes apparent that it can be manipulated to achieve time travel, but Marvel was careful to differentiate their time travel rules from those of other films; changing things in the past in the MCU doesn’t affect the future, but past changes can create alternate timelines our heroes need to be wary of.
After some goofy experiments with Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) — the two have merged into one being — Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) AKA Iron Man agrees to step in and help on the condition that they save what they lost, but keep what they found in the five years since 2018. Tony had a daughter in between the jump named Morgan, who finally grounds his character and helps him fully realize his maturity. Gone is the reckless playboy from the “Iron Man” trilogy and first two “Avengers” films who arguably did more harm than good to the world, creating a few supervillains unintentionally in his time, and it’s very clear that this is where Tony’s character journey was always going to lead up to; from a reckless genius that could do anything, to a father grounded to the Earth by his family. When we look at the endings to Avengers 1 and “Endgame,” they’re poetic in a sense; with Avengers 1 ending with Tony willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good, though it is tinged by his immaturity and vanity and it proves ultimately unnecessary, whereas “Endgame” has him sacrificing himself for real because he knows there is no other way to save the world and others and as such, there is a great humility to his final sacrifice.
In a nutshell, Tony Stark’s arc over ten years of Marvel movies is about him learning to put his ego aside, learn what’s important in life, and be a hero.
The original Avengers also all have great arcs, but none eclipse Tony’s. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) AKA Captain America, during the time travel heist, gets a glimpse of Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), his long lost lover stolen from him by his decades being frozen in ice, and it makes him reflect on how long he wants to keep being a superhero, as the invention of time travel technology for the first time gives him a choice between being this super soldier and living the life with Peggy he always wanted. And in the end, he hangs up the shield and chooses a life in the past with her.
Bruce Banner’s character arc throughout the MCU has been one of conflict with the Hulk, as in his very first movie and for the first two “Avengers” films, the Hulk is this unpredictable beast and force of nature that is to be feared and controlled. In “Thor: Ragnarok”, the Hulk ends up controlling Banner for a time, and by the time “Infinity War” rolls by, Banner fears ever turning into the Hulk. But in “Endgame,” he’s finally accepted the Hulk as a part of him, and has allowed both himself and the Hulk to coexist peacefully.
Thor deals with depression, loss and people’s unrealistic expectations of him in “Endgame.” Having lost Asgard, most of his people, his father, his brother, his lover and everyone close to him save for the friends he made in “Thor: Ragnarok,” during the five year time jump, he has let himself go — but none of that makes him unworthy. Thor’s arc is more open-ended than that of Tony and Steve, because it’s not over, with his final scenes having him leave New Asgard — a town on Earth made up of Asgardian refugees — to Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), while he decides to join the Guardians of the Galaxy on their next adventure. Thor has nothing to salvage from his past, so he looks to the future to carve out his destiny.
Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow have followed opposite paths in the Avengers movies, as while both were specialized S.H.I.E.L.D. agents seasoned by difficult missions, Hawkeye was centered by his family, whereas Black Widow had the possibility of having a family taken away from her due to her brutal training. Both have arcs tied to the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and their installment as permanent members of the Avengers, with Hawkeye ultimately on a path similar to Steve Rogers in which he hung up his bow to be with his family (this was reversed in “Endgame”, after his family got snapped, but he returned to it in the end when his family was restored), and Black Widow warming up to the team over the course of the films she’s in, getting her to the point where the Avengers became her family. And while I believe Hawkeye’s journey ended with him getting his family back at the end of “Endgame,” I can’t help but think there’s still more to Black Widow’s story, mostly because there’s a still to-be-released “Black Widow” prequel film that’ll tell us more about her backstory and (I predict) will probably create a way for her to come back in future Marvel films.
Everyone else serves their part and while many get arcs, the film mainly uses its secondary cast for support and succession, as it was originally envisioned that Black Panther (played by the late Chadwick Boseman), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and others would be key players in the next decade of Marvel films, which with the exception of Boseman’s Black Panther (though I suspect that the title of Black Panther will be passed to another character), will probably happen when the pandemic lets it. I still am interested to see what it does with rising stars like Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) AKA War Machine, Sam Wilson “Falcon” (Anthony Mackie) AKA the NEW Captain America, and Bucky Barnes (Sebastien Stan) AKA the Winter Soldier, who should serve key roles in the next generation of Avengers, but have been banished to their respective Disney Plus series. It’s also interesting to see what the announced “Ironheart” series will mean for the future of the “Iron Man” franchise, which will probably be rebooted at some point this or next decade.
As a whole, “Avengers: Endgame” serves as a fitting conclusion and counterpart to “Infinity War,” which was arguably more about Thanos and its villains than its protagonists. “Endgame” deals with loss and grief, and as a result, while it’s not as well balanced as “Infinity War,” it has more clout, and its ending is perhaps the best possible conclusion one could hope for to end 10 years of strong, inter-connected Marvel films.
Watching this during the pandemic highlights the types of high-quality longform storytelling that we lost on this scale when theaters closed their doors in March. Hopefully, it also proves to give us a glimpse of what’s in store once the pandemic ends, as while it respectfully did not directly give us a preview of what’s to come via a post-credits scene like so many other Marvel films, “Endgame” sets up the next generation of heroes nicely, with the remaining cast of “Black Panther,” “Doctor Strange,” “Ant-Man,” “Captain Marvel,” “Spider-Man” set to lead the charge, as the likes of “Shang-Chi”, “Fantastic Four” and “Blade” are sure to join them later.
Many internet pundits have complained about the rise of superhero films in the late 2000s and 2010s, but no one can deny that what we witnessed with the Marvel Cinematic Universe was truly special and the fact that company is almost single-handedly responsible for a renaissance of superhero films during that time. And while 23 films can be a lot to watch, I think they’re far more digestible for future generations than I initially thought.
I still have hope that our best days are ahead of us, and that this pandemic’s days are numbered. And when it ends, I think we’ll look at this era of Marvel films as the start of an even more dominant wave of films.
Everyone has had a take on how Marvel was failing or is about to fail, especially after Avengers 2 failed to be as groundbreaking as Avengers 1, or how a particular film failed to meet their expectations. It’s always popular to predict something big and large will fail even when it’s doing fine, because people eat up those takes whether or not they’re actually based in reality. But I think Marvel’s path ahead after the pandemic is far easier than its path in 2008, when the first “Iron Man” film came out.
Marvel has already established themselves and their universe, and they’ve hammered out a winning template for the superhero film that they’ve proven with films like “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” that they can refresh by skillfully straying from the trodden path when they need to. Once the movie theater market comes back post-pandemic, I don’t see anything in Marvel’s way from dominating theaters once more.
“Avengers: Endgame” gets a 9/10