I have seen the Endgame, and it is good.
My non-spoiler review basically goes like this: Endgame is a towering, staggering, sometimes janky, all-the-times fun, full-spread comic book special series climax brought to cinematic life. It is not a perfect film, because that’s never what it set out to be. It is, however, a perfect conclusion, the kind of epic proportions, the kind that reminds you why you still haul your ass to the cinema. Endgame is a blockbuster that dwarfs all others in scope—in jaw-dropping visuals, in twists, and in tear-jerking conclusions. More than anything, Endgame is a reward. It’s three hours of undeniably fantastic fan service, a massive crossover comic book event served for the people who have thrown not just their wallets but their hearts at the MCU canon and the characters that stuff it to the brim.
But that’s not what you’re here for.
You know this. Those kinds of reviews have been out for days. If you’re looking for a critical analysis of this as a Film, keep on looking. This is a place for deranged MCU heads to reminisce and frantically grasp at every punctuated moment of unadulterated yet orchestrated madness. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, hold off on scrolling down and come back when you have, because I promise you that seeing this movie untainted, with its frenzy-inducing final arc, will be well worth the decade-long wait.
Now, let’s get to it.
SPOILERS FOR THE WHOLE DANG FILM BELOW THIS LINE!
SERIOUSLY, DO NOT GO A STEP FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT EVERYTHING SPOILED!
What do you want me to say? Avengers. Assemble. I am Iron Man. I love you 3000. Take your pick. They’re all rattling around my brain right now, along with about a million other quips and pronouncements and goodbyes and kick-ass action sequences.
Like its predecessor, Endgame isn’t really waiting for you to catch up. The dialogue helps you catch up as best it can, but for a film that raises your expectations with each passing scene, the film expects a decent amount from its viewer—mainly, that you’ve seen the 21 preceding entries in the MCU canon, but also that you’ve cultivated a paternalistic bond to the original six Avengers.
To test that, or to just show off how effective the studio’s efforts have been, the movie opens with the Avenger No. 6, Clint Barton AKA Hawkeye. Age of Ultron was a mess, but the one thing it did was take a considerable amount of time to expand on Clint’s life outside work. It’s fairly clear what’s coming and yet it still achieves its task of setting the tone for the opening hour—this is the movie’s sole visit to the The Snap. And it’s a credit (in this case to the Russo Brothers) that the opening scene both serves its purpose and reminds you why you care about a man who, to this point, has been Killer Dad with A Bow and Arrow.
After Captain Marvel swings by to save Nebula and Tony Stark, the rest of the first hour largely played out as I imagined. Tony is still pissed at Steve for leaving them vulnerable, the remaining team suits up and jets off to The Garden to reclaim the Infinity Stones from Thanos. But, wouldn’t you know, it just isn’t that simple, because Thanos (who we find extremely crispy) has destroyed the stones. That said, there were still a couple surprises, chief among them being Thor slicing off Thanos’ dang head! The Asgardian is pissed (he did fail in Wakanda, as Rocket hilariously points out), and when the titan reveals that he’s destroyed the Infinity Stones, and thus any chance of bringing back what are now known as The Vanished, Thor makes quick use of his new ax.
Following a time jump of five years, the camera settles in on establishing what the entire opening hour will be about—the film cares little about what happened to the people of Earth, instead focusing closely on the unsuccessful routes the surviving original six Avengers are taking to recovery. It’s actually a surprisingly tight opening 50 or 60 minutes in terms of narrative sprawl, given where/when it’s about to take us. While slow at times, what makes the opening so important, and an improvement over Infinity War, is where that film merely had the time to tell us where the heroes were on the chessboard, Endgame takes a beat to let the audience catch up to where the Avengers are in their post-Snap journeys to acceptance. Learning to stare past failures and reconcile with their consequences are recurring and not-so-subtle themes screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely clearly had on their minds.
Bruce Banner AKA the Hulk may actually be the only one who’s used the time constructively, having accepted the Hulk as a part of himself and merged their two beings into one intelligent, massive being. This is the perfect on-screen iteration Professor Hulk, though no character ever calls him that. Mark Ruffalo balances the two personalities magnificently, blending Banner’s earnestness with Hulk’s honest dickishness and it works!
This seems like as good a time as any to say what everyone already knows, that Paul Rudd is delightful and pitch-perfect with his timing and somehow also 50 years old?? As Scott Lang AKA Ant-Man, Rudd plays well with every character he gets to share a scene with—his flustered attempts to express admiration for Captain America (“As far as I’m concerned, that’s America’s ass”) and his coffee shop scene with Hulk standing out.
Meanwhile, the rest of the team is reeling in one way or another. Natasha AKA Black Widow is running point on a makeshift Avengers team of War Machine, Captain Marvel, Rocket, and Nebula, trying to suffocate the grief with busy (albeit important) work. Steve Rogers AKA Captain America is spending his days telling others to “move on,” despite the fact that his facade of giddy optimism continues to crack with each passing day. Clint is now Ronin, though the nickname is never said, which basically amounts to him slicing through foreign criminal syndicates with a very cool sword. Losing his family has sent him over the deep-end, enacting extreme violence against people he believes deserves this bloody fate.
Well, I suppose that depends on your perspective, because Fat Thor absolutely gives him a run for his money. We find Thor—and Valkyrie and Korg and Miek!—in New Asgard, a quaint fishing town where he is just being intensely depressed and slovenly as hell, pounding beer after beer after tequila. While he has plenty of words for that weasel NoobMaster69, Thor doesn’t even want to say Thanos’ name and largely rebuffs Hulk and Rocket’s invitation to join the team in an attempt to take back everything Thanos snapped away. (Oh yeah, Ant-Man popped out of the Quantum Realm van, figures out what the hell happened, goes to see an older Cassie, and then heads to Avengers HQ to kick the whole “time heist” plan into motion.)
Tony Stark, meanwhile, has fucked off to the middle of nowhere, fit with an incredible lakefront house and—oh by the way, his wife Pepper and their four year old daughter named Morgan. I should have known then. I should have known the minute I saw the young Stark crawl out of the tent wearing Pepper’s blue Rescue helmet. But that’s what these movies do, after having spent the better part of a decade and six films with Tony. You’re sucked into his world, into the idea that this one-time self-centered asshole has transformed into a damaged but hopeful individual. As the film quickly reminds us, Peter Parker was the precursor to this life, his first foray into guardianship over someone who didn’t have the whole world or universe pegged for what it is just yet. And the lake house and all that’s in it is Tony’s attempt to move on. Even when Cap, Black Widow, and Ant-Man swing by to present their plan, he seems to be approaching acceptance.
The second act of this movie—the time heist part—is the one that most requires a couple more viewings to gain a better grasp on just how well it will hold up over time. My gut is telling me that it serves as just as good a payoff as the movie’s brazen fan service of a third act.
In particular, the visit to the Battle of New York was handled just so smartly at every turn. Future Cap tricking the ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ agents in the elevator (“Hail Hyrda”), Hulk being forced to take the stairs, Future Cap fighting Past Cap (“I can do this all day” “I know!”), the slight hiccup that sends Cap and Iron Man even further back to Camp Lehigh circa 1970. It all worked incredibly well, offering new angles on old scenes and filling in the gaps and simply relishing in the small moments that occur after the Big Fight ends.
Another highlight for me was the focus on Nebula and Gamora. Their relationship has, from the start, been one of the most intriguing and well-acted character developments, and this film makes good on the setup that started way back in Guardians of the Galaxy. Not to get too far ahead of myself, but the entire concept of Future Nebula meeting Past Gamora and revealing that not only do they “become sisters” but that she now knows that Gamor secretly wants to undermine Thanos’ plan as much as she currently does is just whip-smart writing and, again, a testament to the increasingly focused MCU canon. (The cut to Nebula and War Machine watching Peter Quill slide and sing was also gold.)
The rest of the time travel was fine and definitely worked, but not quite as much as the above two sequences. The Ancient One showing up was a pleasant surprise, but there wasn’t really much to do there considering all Bruce had to do was tell her that Dr. Strange willingly gave the Time Stone to Thanos. Rocket and Thor’s trip to Thor: Dark World was more interesting, with Rocket yet again being thrust into the position of leading the hapless god. The conversation with his mother was quick but effective, and held true to Thor’s ongoing trend of eschewing the heavy expectations of a demigod-king to simply be the person he’s supposed to be.
The Natasha-Hawkeye trip to Vormir was well acted by Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson, but it was a little underdone by the inevitably factor that comes with seeing those big slabs of rock again. I did find the cut from Red Skull explaining the deal to them sitting around trying to decide smart, and the constant one-upping to see who would leap to their deaths kept me on my toes, but in a film so full of surprises, that one was just unfortunately telegraphed by Infinity War. It doesn’t make Natasha’s sacrifice any less meaningful—her setup in the first act, her talking about the Avengers as the family she never had, her history with Clint (inset mandatory Budapest reference here) makes it all work.
Once it clicks for Future Nebula that Thanos knows, the clock is ticking. And shit gets very real, very fast. So, to that end, I am not going to break down every single thing that happened in the last hour because, well, I have other work to do and that would require at least another two hours and 5,000 words. [Ed. note: Thanks Nick....]
There are a couple highlights, for me, from the fight scene to end all fight scenes. First, obviously, is CAP WIELDING MOTHERFUCKING MJOLNIR!!! And not just picking it up, but beating the ever-living shit out of Thanos with it and then summoning lightning and holy shit I just cannot believe it. I really can’t. I need it played again and again on a reel, with my memory being erased each time so I can relive that first time of hearing Thor cry out “I knew it!” and hear my audience lose their shit like we were at a sports bar on Game 7. That’s the good shit, people.
Second—and this is a Cap-heavy list, I know—is The Shot. You know what I’m talking about. The one where Disney flexed every single cinematographic muscle it had and gave us the photo coming to a poster near you. After Thanos had had enough of getting smacked around by a kid from Brooklyn and broke his damn shield in half, Cap rises, sees the impossibility of the situation in front of him and rises anyways. That shot was maybe the single best shot in any blockbuster ever—no, I am not kidding. That we finally got an “Avengers. Assemble.” line after it felt like stealing. And it somehow only got crazier from there.
I’m going to get to The Big Stuff and wrap things up in a second, but first:
The Nits that Need Picking, And Other Observations
- It’s unclear to me how or why Captain Marvel finds the Milano in space—the post-credits scene to her solo film indicates that she responded to the pager call sometime in the three week interval that Endgame leaves to the imagination. But as she makes clear at least three times through dialogue, Captain Marvel seems very concerned with the post-Snap states of other galaxies; why would she be wasting time on helping a single lost ship? I assume it’s because some combination of Rocket and Captain America and Pepper told her where Tony had gone, but again, unclear.
- To stay on that track, Captain Marvel really wasn’t in this move much in terms of serving a meaningful narrative purpose, save for getting Iron Man and Nebula back to Earth. She’s more like a giant, opportunely timed flying fist, which works because she soars into the final battle and flexes on the whole damn army (before Thanos puts her out of play with one Power-Stone enhanced punch), though it does kind of leave you to question just how the hell the MCU heads are going to cook up a worthwhile Phase 4-6 uber villain.
- A certain car company really shelled out for this one, huh? RDJ is going to be cashing those sponsorship checks and the royalty checks for a long, long time.
- Spidey shouting out “Activate Kill-Mode!” really got me and was another callback that helped personalize a truly insane final sequence.
- Thanos’ Children all show up this time around, with Ebony Maw getting the majority of the screen time, but really, as they were in Infinity War, they exist in this film as punching bags meant to be pulverized in various fashions by the returning heroes.
- Endgame is among the funniest entires in the entire MCU, which, for a movie so intent on hammering home the ramifications and reactions to grief and depression, somehow plays well. Rocket has about a half-dozen crowd-tickling zingers, Ant-Man’s genuinely human nature rolls well with Iron Man’s self-seriousness, Cap cusses a ton, and the effects and makeup team make even the Fat Thor gag not nearly as cheesy as it should have been.
- The Asgardian guards calling Rocket a “rabbit” as they chase after him was one that actually slipped past most of my lively and fantastic opening-night crowd but it was very, very good.
- There are some out there that are pissed that Hulk never got his rematch with Thanos. While I appreciate the sentiment, this film makes it clear that Banner/Hulk’s fight is not with Thanos, or any villain; it’s with his internal struggle of dueling identities, which he’s finally able to put to bed. Maybe that happening off-screen set people up to think we’d get some magnificent fight between him and the MMA-loving titan, but Hulk already had to go through hell to find peace. Thanos just wasn’t his battle in the way the titan was for Thor, Cap, and Iron Man’s, and that’s OK.
- Why the hell was Dr. Strange relegated to water dam duty? Seeing as he and Wong have a couple hundred magic interns on the field of battle, feels like one of them could have handled that while he helped out with the encroaching alien army. Just a thought.
- Thor as a member of the Guardians is such a genius idea and I am very much down for it.
Whatever It Took
The endings for the the two most-important Avengers were both handled in the most caring, gut-wrenching ways possible. The perfection doesn’t make it sting any less; I can’t stop thinking about either.
The easy one to start with is Cap. The First Avenger has long been my personal favorite, for a variety of probably lame reasons, and in this film, the Russos finish slowly unravelling the tightly wound career military man they started with in Winter Soldier. Long a glass-half-full type, that facade cracks in this film. He’s cursing regularly now and slightly vengeful.
But for all that The Snap wrought on his heart, this is still the man out of time. He’s still the hero that fights like he has nothing to lose, that runs full tilt at a being that could break him in half if he made one wrong move and comes back for more when the breaking is nearly done. Over the course of a trio of solo films and smattering of team-up appearances, Markus and McFeely have taken a shrimp of a do-gooder and proven time and again, that supersoldier serum or not, the doctor was right, all the way back in 1943. It wasn’t the brain or the brawn that defined Steve Rogers. It was his heart. And it’s that core that makes this the perfect send-off.
I loved Bucky’s acknowledgement and farewell prior to Steve’s entry in the time machine at the end of the film—for a man that spent the last five films constantly pointing his fists and his mind ahead to the next mission, his heart never left the past.
Steve finally got his dance.
I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. It felt clear in the moment that Dr. Strange saved Iron Man’s life on Titan, the lingering stare, the “It was the only way” allusion to a not-so-far impossible decision. (I was not a huge fan of the Dr. Strange lines in this one, as they kind of gave the game away; thankfully, the final battle had so much going on, you had time to forget, or at least be distracted from the dire foreshadowing.)
Iron Man has been a character simultaneously defined by an unrelenting stubbornness and a penchant for monumental achievement due to a nagging sense of a higher responsibility since he first graced the screen in 2008. That it works is wholly thanks to Robert Downey Jr., whose portrayal has been an achievement in divining moral clarity from a man whose vast wealth and even richer ego have cost him greatly. So when it was time to say goodbye, you still want just a moment longer—one more quip, one more genius breakthrough. But that moment never comes. Rhodey, Spider-Man, Pepper all get their turn to tell him goodbye on the field, but by then, Tony’s already uttered his last living line.
Between the extended conversation and closure the screenwriters allow him to have with his father and his family, I am stunned at how well this movie was able to set up and close the book on this iteration of Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr.’s curtain call was his finest hour in the MCU, maybe by a long shot. From emaciated and pissed the hell off to his attempt at a complete life reboot with his daughter to his final reentry into the role of the man who would willingly lay down on the wire to let the rest of the team crawl over it, Downey Jr. was Iron Man.
It was tough to watch, and it’ll be just as tough during the upcoming second and third times, but like the truly deranged decision to watch this entire series, it was so, so worth it.