Avengers: Endgame: A Satisfying, Heartbreaking Conclusion

Image Courtesy of Marvel

Image Courtesy of Marvel

By Oscar De Leon

NOTE: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

I was only eight years old when my brother and I went with my uncle to see Iron Man in Mexico back in 2008.  I never could have imagined a cinematic universe spawning from this one movie, but  I’ve been with the Marvel Cinematic Universe every step of the way. I’ve seen it triumph and I’ve seen it make mistakes.  It was truly a part of my childhood, as it was for many people. The MCU phenomenon is worldwide and has earned a spot in film history.  11 years after that monumental superhero movie, fans across the world were treated to the conclusion of the sprawling storylines it helped introduce, Avengers: Endgame.  It is amazing to see how Marvel was able create a 22-film story arc and keep audiences enticed for so long.  Endgame continues to smash box office records, making $1.2B worldwide within five days, and breaking $2B after its second week, while also winning over the hearts of devoted fans. Endgame is truly a satisfying, heartbreaking, and awesome conclusion to the 11 year story arc of the MCU.

NOTE: YOU ARE NOW ENTERING SPOILER TERRITORY

Endgame picks up where Avengers: Infinity War left off: the heroes have lost dramatically, and they are desperate to correct their failures.  The Russo brothers must not care for our emotional wellbeing because the movie begins with the tragic demise of Hawkeye’s family from Thanos’s snap.  This bold opening scene is a perfect preface to the despair that our characters are going to feel over the course of the movie. In fact, the emotional potency of scenes like this one is one of the movies greatest strengths; strap in, because it will toy with your feelings. The devastation of the film’s opening is quickly countered by a great moment of hope, as Captain Marvel rescues Tony Stark and Nebula. If you listen closely, you’ll notice that the music playing while Tony rests after delivering his goodbye message to Pepper returns later in the film, during another crucial scene involving him.  Opting to send the team (or what’s left of them) to kill Thanos within the first few minutes of the movie definitely felt rushed, but with good reason. It was a smart way to subvert our expectations, and open the film up to a more inventive plotline. It’s infuriating and a bit strange to see Thanos as a farmer. He looks beaten, but at peace.  Of course, we all know that there is no hope at the time to save the dead and Thor’s line “I went for the head” after chopping off Thanos’s head is both satisfying and heartbreaking. This emotional blow is only intensified by the words “Five Years Later” immediately appearing onscreen. It’s upsetting to see our heroes struggle and suffer.  For the first time in the MCU, it is unclear where this movie is going to go. Almost every movie before in our oversaturated market has followed a predictable “cookie cutter” formula. For the first time, fans had no idea what to expect. All the theorizing in the world couldn’t prepare fans for what was to come.

Scott Lang finally received the attention that his character deserved in this movie.  He was finally made prominent without being the butt of every joke.  Not only that, but he ends up being essential to the films’ plot mechanics, providing a crucial insight into how the Avengers can undo Thanos’s snap.  This is quite refreshing, and Paul Rudd’s performance is as charismatic as ever, delivering each line with humorous charm.  It is also super satisfying to see Tony’s family onscreen, which only intensifies the stakes for this beloved character.  Tony and his daughter’s relationship is fleshed out very well and the audience feels the love. They constantly have fun with each other, and fans will always remember the “I love you 3000” line.

For a three hour movie, it’s surprising how many pacing issues there are, though many are plot necessities.. For instance, the discovery of time travel is glossed over very quickly for the sake of plot convenience, and the resentment between Tony and Steve Rogers dissolves practically instantaneously. On the subject of time travel, the writers made the smart decision to differentiate Endgame’s time travel mechanics from those seen in movies of the past.  Even throwing in the unnoticed, but very amusing Hot Tub Time Machine was appropriate in establishing the logic of this film’s time travel.

At this point in the film, we’ve already been introduced to the humorous new incarnation of Bruce Banner: Professor Hulk.  This was a bold choice that helps keep the character fresh. Fans of the Hulk often get screwed over because Bruce Banner simply does not want to become the green monster.  Fusing both Banner’s human form and his hulk form, is an inventive way to present the character in a new light. Now, we need to talk about Thor.

Immediately after the film’s release, social media blew up, of course, but the biggest negative reaction resulted from the film’s treatment of Thor. The reaction is completely understandable, but I doubt that the writers and the Russo brothers were intending to completely undermine the nobility of Thor’s character.  Thor’s body is merely the result of the new issues he’s had to grapple with in the wake of Infinity War, namely alcoholism and anxiety. Of course this is going to elicit a shocked response from his peers.  It’s perfectly understandable to accept that a few fat jokes are made here and some could be quite shaming, but ultimately Thor’s character arc conveys a message of hope and empowerment.  We will revisit why this is the case later.

By the way, the Lebowski joke needs more credit.

Despite pacing issues in the film, it is structured very logically, with each hour basically serving as its own mini movie, each with a distinct objective and theme. The first hour focuses on desperation and resilience. The second hour, arguably the cleverest, involves the team’s “time heist” to retrieve all six Infinity Stones.  Watching this go down was easily one of the best hours of my life. For almost every MCU movie, I have been there opening night and taken in each movie with such joy.  Fans will notice the tiny callbacks to each of these movies throughout the film, but mostly during the second hour. Immediately, we are thrown into the battle of New York City during The Avengers.  Watching scenes from this movie from a different angle is such a treat.  Meanwhile, Rocket and Thor find themselves in Asgard during Thor: The Dark World.  This is still awesome despite the original movie being awful.  Hawkeye and Black Widow unfortunately find themselves going to Vormir, as War Machine and Nebula wait for Peter Quill on Morag.  The Russo Brothers display Quill in his true moronic nature with the amusing callback to his “Come and Get Your Love” dance. Really puts things into perspective.

Captain America vs. Captain America is definitely one of the film’s highlights.  Future present foul-mouthed Cap gets a taste of his own medicine in the funniest way possible with one simple line: “I can do this all day.”  Praise for America’s ass.

In Asgard, Thor’s conversation with his mother brings him peace, something he desperately needs.  This is one of many satisfying moments for our heroes. It’s heartbreaking to see the strongest Avenger so broken with the knowledge that he can’t prevent his Mother’s death.  He gets one final push of motivation when he finds he’s still able to wield Mjolnir. The look on his face when he realizes he’s still worthy is the look the audience has been waiting to see from him.  He didn’t need to be the super-muscular fit guy to still be worthy. That is empowering.

During Nebula’s mission, we are reintroduced to Thanos for some reason.  If he wasn’t any more relevant to the plot, this might have been a cool cameo.  But it’s not, and we are left with a much less complex version of the brilliant Thanos we discovered in Infinity War.  As he finds his way back to the future, he once again becomes the film’s main atagonish.  Only this time, he has no idea who he’s fighting, but just that he’s fighting. We’ll talk about that later.

We then move even further back to see Tony and Steve in 1970, where we get our last Stan Lee cameo.  Here our protagonists are met with huge revelations. Upon acquiring the stones, Tony meets his father and Steve spots his love, Peggy Carter.  It’s in this moment that Tony finally gets to have the goodbye with his father he never got to have before his untimely death. His story arc is now finding a satisfying close.  

Then our final team has a bit of a conflicting scene.  On Vormir, Black Widow and Hawkeye have to decide who will die to gain the Soul Stone.  It’s this scene that reminds fans why we love these characters so much. Their chemistry is undeniably strong and we feel for them as they fight to make this decision.  It’s intense and very suspenseful. Ultimately, Black Widow sacrifices herself in a tearful goodbye. While this scene is a terrifying callback to Infinity War, it feels unnecessary to construct the scenes such that they are almost identical to each other - it takes away from the emotion and drama of the moment. And, with that, our second hour is finished.  The team is down Black Widow and has gained evil Nebula.

Now we’ve reached the final hour of the film, which is pure movie magic, minus a few inconsistencies. Thanos is, once again, the main threat, and he initially has to face Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor.  What follows is an ass-kicking battle that makes you question if Thanos is more powerful from the past or if the writers forgot about power consistencies.  I’m sure someone has the answer, but upon multiple viewings it doesn’t make sense how Thanos can take down these three Avengers and survive blows from Mjolnir and Stormbreaker without a single Infinity Stone.  The reason he’s such a threat in Infinity War is because of the stones.  Like I said, I’m sure someone has an answer.

Every blockbuster action movie needs that one scene that makes their audience go “Fuck yeah.”  In Engame, that scene was when Captain America picks up Mjolnir. Not only does it call back to Age of Ultron, but it brings his character to bigger and better heights.  Plus, it’s probably the most badass moment in the movie.  As if this moment isn’t exciting enough, it’s followed by a Marvel fan’s best dream.  Our dusted heroes are brought back in stylish fashion and ready to kick some ass. If you had the pleasure to see this movie on or around opening weekend, chances are the theater erupted with cheering and screams and applause at this moment.  An entire army of 11 years worth of characters are back and together. This could’ve been such a disaster, but instead it brought thunderous applause and joy.  And finally we got to hear the line “Avengers assemble.” I vividly remember seeing audience members around me in awe with tears of joy streaming down their faces, myself included.  This was unimaginable.

Now our characters are battling and fighting, as one would expect. Only, it’s the little moments during these battles that make them worthwhile.  For example, Black Panther offering to help Hawkeye safely bring the stones to safety is a nice little resolution to their “feud” from Civil War.  Also, that hug between Tony and Peter Parker is beyond heartwarming.  This is the character interaction presented in Infinity War on a much larger scale. This is fan service done well.  No other moment in the MCU has handled so many main characters so elegantly.

The battle is over.  The Avengers have won, but at great cost.  Tony Stark’s arc is completed. “I am Iron Man” brings his arc full circle, and watching him pass away feels like losing a loved one.  Those who’ve been with the MCU since the beginning know this feeling. Back in 2008, Stark would have never sacrificed his life for anything in the world.  Now, with a wife and daughter in his life, he gives his life for the rest of the universe. I’m sure many people saw this coming, but watching it play out and having to actually say goodbye hurt.  It hurt really bad.

Eleven years and 22 movies later, the first chapter of the MCU is over.  Families are reunited, and almost everyone has the happy ending we wanted them to have.  Tony’s goodbye message to his daughter only adds to the overwhelming emotion, and of course he has to throw a final “I love you 3000” for an added emotional blow.  As the wreath floats into the river, the camera pans across the lawn and we see every single surviving hero from the very beginning of the MCU and their families. Keep in mind, that is a long list of people.  Even the kid from Iron Man 3 makes an appearance.  We’re shown just how many people Tony Stark has impacted.  This is what makes it even harder to say goodbye. Again, I saw this movie twice on opening night, and each time I couldn’t help myself from balling my eyes out.  Neither could anyone else in the audience.

Where does this leave the MCU?  With Spider-Man: Far From Home coming out in July, we aren’t given much clues as to how Disney and Marvel plan to go forward. There are some small setups, such as Thor joining the (As)Guardians of the Galaxy, Valkyrie becoming the queen of New Asgard, and Sam Wilson becoming the new Captain America.  As for the rest of our characters, only time will tell.

Avengers: Endgame is a movie that makes mistakes, but overall wins the hearts of fans and fans to come.  It is a satisfying conclusion to 11 years of dedication and fandom. Marvel did not take advantage to tease the new Spider-Man movie or a new villain in the end.   Instead, we are given a satisfying conclusion to Steve Rogers as the mellow melody of Harry James’s “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” rings while Steve and Peggy Carter get the dance we’ve been waiting for since 2011.  And with that, it’s over.

FilmSteven Norwalk