Marvel Plays Their Greatest Hits – Avengers: Endgame

Okay folks, I’ve waited long enough. I’m not going to “spoil” anything, because you’ve most likely already either seen the movie ($1.2 billion worldwide opening), have already been spoiled (seriously, LeSean McCoy, WTF Shady?), or simply just don’t care. I will discuss plot elements, and I will reveal one late item that is already public knowledge from the studio so you can judge what to do with your time, because this film is just over three hours long. Apart from that, you can rest assured that I will not give away the game on this.

But yeah, it’s time to look at Avengers: Endgame, the movie that will almost certainly be the top-grossing film of the year. After 11 years of world-building, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has finally brought its proceedings to something of a conclusion. Yes, the movies will continue; in fact, strictly speaking, the upcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home is the “official” end of the MCU’s third phase. But really, I think of that as a hidden bonus track on a CD (for you kids reading, CDs are what your parents and smart friends still use so that they have their music on a physical medium that doesn’t die the moment you drop it in the toilet), one last bit of musical interlude once the main story on the album has been completed.

And really, thinking of Endgame like the final track of a massive concept album is a good way to understand how everything plays out. There have been rises and falls, crescendos and trail-offs throughout the MCU, with this film being the proverbial show-stopper, filled with both references to the previous tracks and thematic reexaminations and embellished movements to help bring the whole thing to the coda. It makes for a very entertaining, if sometimes baffling experience, but on the whole, it’s definitely one you’d want to add to your collection.

Picking up after the events of Infinity War, muscular intergalactic California Raisin Thanos (Josh Brolin) has collected the six Infinity Stones and wiped out half of all life in the universe with a snap of his fingers. Having been on an extended break for much of Phase Three, the film begins with Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, under house arrest/early retirement, getting ready for a cookout with his wife (Linda Cardellini) and children. When the ashy effects of Thanos’ actions are revealed to him, he’s devastated. Me? I would’ve been happy to have all the hot dogs to myself.

Fast forward five years, and the world is adjusting to life with only 3.5 billion people on Earth (which was honestly only about 50 years ago). Memorials are erected to “The Vanished,” as if this was an episode of HBO’s The Leftovers. Abandoned suburban neighborhoods are mostly covered in new overgrowth. The remaining Avengers go on various missions led by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) coordinating from headquarters. For the most part, everyone’s trying to simply get on with their lives.

In San Francisco, a random rat in a storage facility gets inside the Pym van that was previously left on top of a parking garage during the credits scene of Ant-Man and the Wasp. It fidgets with some controls, releasing Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) from the Quantum Realm. He’s been in there for five years, but to him only five hours have passed (which calls into question how Michelle Pfeiffer aged 30 years herself inside said realm, but whatever). Formally introducing himself to most of the core Avengers, once he understands what’s happened, he believes they can use the Quantum Realm to travel through time and undo what Thanos did.

Most of the crew is convinced to at least give it a try, particularly Captain America (Chris Evans), but Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is having none of it. He and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) have gotten married and had a child, Morgan (Lexi Rabe). He’s not willing to risk his own life, much less hers, on a slim chance of hope. That is, of course, until he somehow figures out time travel overnight.

It’s at this point that the film has its most inspired bit of fun. After arguing the effects of time travel based on movies they’ve seen (apparently Back to the Future is bullshit; don’t tell Zemeckis), the group decides that they can go back in time and get the Infinity Stones before Thanos gets his hand on them, then use them just as he did, only to bring back everyone who was snapped away. Using Pym Particles and retrofitted suits, the group splits off into their own teams, traveling through time to previous major MCU moments in order to get the stones. Black Widow and Hawkeye travel to Vormir to claim the Soul Stone, War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) go to Morag for the Power Stone, Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) travel to Asgard to get the Reality Stone, and Cap, Iron Man, Ant-Man, and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) go back in time to 2012 New York City to capture the other three.

Now, for anyone familiar with the MCU, you already know what this means. The New York crew literally appears in the middle of the climactic battle in the original Avengers movie. The two space crews infiltrate Infinity War and Guardians of the Galaxy. The trip to Asgard centers around events in Thor: The Dark World. This allows for both the surprising (and in some cases quite welcome) returns via cameo for some departed MCU characters, and for the cast to just have a lot of meta fun viewing the same events we’ve seen from an outside perspective. The gimmick essentially turns the Marvel heroes into their own audience, making for a very creative angle of engagement with those of us sitting on the other side of the screen.

There are some cheesy moments of attempts at revisionist history (like making The Dark World interesting…), but for the most part there’s just a lot of entertainment to be had. One of the more inspired moments sees Rhodey and Nebula on Morag just as Star-Lord arrives to retrieve the orb containing the Power Stone for the Ravagers. In a replay of the signature opening from the first Guardians movie, Chris Pratt recreates his performance of Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love,” but without the aid of the ambient soundtrack, so the two interlopers simply watch him dance and sing high-pitched karaoke, leading Rhodey to observe, “Oh, so he’s an idiot,” to which Nebula concurs. I laughed harder than I probably should have.

Through some sort of technical mumbo jumbo, Thanos gets wind of the Earthlings’ plan, leading him to attempt interception and an even earlier accomplishment of his original plan. This sets in motion the final grand battle, a massive CGI-fest filled with enough applause breaks to stretch the State of the Union address into a four-hour affair (including one major “girl power” moment that isn’t really earned). Heroes reunite, hearts are broken, and the story is resolved in glorious fashion. Without revealing too much, it all ends rather fittingly.

There are a few gripes to be had, mostly with the rules the film sets for itself with regard to time travel. The film does stick to them, which is to be admired, but there’s so much expositional arguing about it that’s intentionally designed to confuse the hell out of the audience so that we never actually question what’s going on. It ends up working out logistically, especially when it determines who comes back from the dead and how. But still, it was much ado about creating much ado about nothing.

Also, while they were good for a couple of early laughs, I didn’t care for the redesigns on Hulk and Thor. In the film’s catch-up sequence to end the first act, we find that the surviving Asgardians have settled in Norway and founded a colony called “New Asgard.” Thor is the de facto leader, being a god and all, but he basically leaves Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) in charge of day-to-day operations, so he and rockman Korg (Taika Waititi) can eat, drink, and troll teenagers on Fortnite. Never mind the high unlikelihood that the game would maintain its popularity after a purge of half the planet and five years of recovery, the idea of beer gut Thor was just a weird bit of makeup and/or costuming and/or CGI.

Similarly, the CGI on Hulk has never been great, except for perhaps his gladiator form in Thor: Ragnarok. So you can imagine my disappointment when Mark Ruffalo himself basically doesn’t appear in the film. We see him at the beginning, still unable to Hulk out, and he exists in a transparent form during a great encounter in the second act, but apart from that, he’s in Hulk form the entire time, only he’s a well-adjusted Hulk who completely retains his cognitive functions and Bruce Banner personality while still being a sickly green animated mess. It just feels like money and resources that didn’t need to be spent, especially when the result looks so subpar.

Finally, I was disappointed in the usage of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). Given the urgency with which she was summoned at the end of Infinity War, and given the power she developed (way too fast) in her own film, it’s quite a letdown that her role is reduced basically to a couple of ex machina moments, a quip or two, and a new haircut. In retrospect, I almost want to bump the Captain Marvel movie up a grade, as part of the reason I discounted it was because she was promised as the savior of all, when in fact she barely has a part to play in Endgame. I won’t say how limited, nor what actual part she plays, but I was given the impression that she meant so much more than she ended up actually doing, so in that sense, I kind of want to remove the penalty I gave her stand-alone film for not presenting her with appropriate gravitas. It’d still be a B- at best, but still…

If you’re one of the few dozen people who want to see this movie but still haven’t yet, I apologize if anything I’ve said here ruins the experience for you. It is not my intent. It’s simply hard to examine such a sweeping moment in popular culture without divulging a few details here and there. But like I said, none of this should prevent you from enjoying what was, despite its missteps, a truly fun and satisfying way to wrap up the main threads of the MCU. There are still a lot of unanswered questions going forward, not the least of which is how the timelines will be restored after all that jumping around, but those are arguments and analyses best saved for another day.

Because when it’s all said and done, it really is fitting to think of this film as the final movement of a symphony, the climactic track of a great album, the farewell tour of an iconic band. The MCU has enjoyed massive success for its best work, scathing backlash for its failures, and respectful credit for enduring long enough to carry their concept to its fruition. It’s only appropriate then, that I do semi-spoil one thing, and as mentioned earlier, this is already public information from the producers themselves. And that is the fact that there is no post-credits scene. I think the credits are still worth sitting through, because the above-the-line curtain call for the cast is touching, and there is an audio Easter Egg at the very end that you can interpret how you will. However, if you, like any normal person, has a bladder near the point of explosion, don’t feel obligated to wait another 10 minutes before relieving yourself. It makes perfect sense that there’s no tag scene, because at this point (again, save the next Spider-Man outing, which is like one last bit of fan service before this chapter of movie history is officially closed), there are no more dots to connect, no more sequels to tease. It’s over. You made it. Give yourself a hand…

… just not Thanos’ hand.

Grade: B

Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Who was your favorite Avenger? If you were to give Thanos the finger, which stone would you attach to it? Let me know!

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