Home > Reviews > Spoilery thoughts on AVENGERS: ENDGAME, with spoilers (Spoilers!)

Spoilery thoughts on AVENGERS: ENDGAME, with spoilers (Spoilers!)

I made sure recently to see Captain Marvel before Avengers: Endgame came out, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see Endgame right away, since it looked like the theaters would be jam-packed in the first week or two. I didn’t want to go to the theater and find the film sold out. My Facebook friends told me that the major multiplexes were showing it on a bunch of different screens at once, so it should be possible to get a seat, but looking at the seat reservation pages online, it looked like I’d have to settle for something on the edge or too close to the screen (I generally prefer the very back row in the smallish theaters that are common today). And there was an extra fee for ordering online, and I’ve never done that and didn’t want to go through whatever registration or rigmarole would be needed to do that. So I was undecided. But yesterday it looked like the theater I usually go to had added an extra showing for Tuesday morning (discount day, when I’d prefer to go), and since it was a late addition, it had more open seats than the ones around it. So on Tuesday morning I checked and saw it still had plenty of open seats, so I decided “What the heck” and drove over to the theater. I was able to get just about the exact seat I wanted, or at least the one next to it, but the seats around it were reserved already, and I ended up with a somewhat talkative couple next to me, which got distracting at times. And nobody but me seems to listen to the announcement about turning off their phones anymore, though the people around me did seem to stop texting once they got drawn into the movie.

So the spoilers begin below, and I’ve inserted a “Read more” cut for the front page of the blog, but here’s some extra spoiler space for those of you coming to it through Goodreads or Facebook or wherever:

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Final warning:

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Well, where do I begin? Well, I complained last time that there was too much plot to the detriment of character development, but Endgame avoided that since it had half as many main characters and nearly all of them knew each other already so they didn’t have to waste time on introductions. And basically the two films split the character focus, with the characters who were downplayed in part 1 getting the emphasis in part 2 and vice-versa, with some exceptions. As I predicted, the film was used to wrap up the arcs of the main MCU characters to date and pass the torch to the new generation. Which had the unfortunate effect of marginalizing most of the thrilling new characters we’ve become hyped for, so it felt like kind of an odd step backward while the MCU is moving forward. But it did provide an effective coda for the MCU to date so the new guard can really take the lead going forward.

It would’ve been nice to see more exploration of the impact of the Snap on the world beyond the Avengers. We only got glimpses. That’s the sort of thing I’d love to see Agents of SHIELD tackle, but it’s not clear when its upcoming final season will take place. Maybe some of the new shows that the Marvel Studios movie division is developing for the Disney+ streaming service will cover that, although the announced ones might not be in the right time frame. I guess the Netflix Marvel shows were cancelled in time to avoid the issue, but I wonder what Cloak and Dagger or Runaways will do going forward. But I’m getting off the track.

So… Five years pass. Tony finally gets a happy, quiet life with a family, which is an unexpected turn, but it kinda makes sense. Ever since 2008, he’s been obsessed with fixing the world’s problems, and he failed at it big time and finally gave up, which left him free to focus on just making his family work. Plus his near brush with death may have caused him to reassess his priorities. As for Cap, he stopped fighting but still dedicated himself to helping people in a different way, just as you’d expect. Thor had a rather poignant story despite the humorous aspects; he was devastated with guilt at his error in the final battle with Thanos, his one huge miscalculation that let Thanos win and that Thanos even taunted him for making. He was broken and ashamed, and his arc through the movie was driven by that guilt and his yearning for penance or atonement. That was pretty effective. As for Black Widow, it made sense that Natasha would cling to the Avengers as the one thing that gave her life a positive purpose, and thus would lead what was left of them. Rhodey stayed in the fight because that’s what old soldiers do, and because Tony didn’t.

As for Bruce, unifying with the Hulk and becoming the “Professor” incarnation was an interesting twist, and not an unreasonable resolution for the character’s core conflict, but it felt like there was something missing. In Part 1, the Hulk and Banner were at odds, with the Hulk refusing to come out and fight, and the reason for that was never explained (although apparently the filmmakers’ intent was that the Hulk was sick of being Banner’s lackey and only being called out to fight). And now they’re reconciled into one being, and the storyline just jumps over all the work they did to reach that point, which is unsatisfying. Also, it’s odd that the Hulk-sized Professor speaks with Bruce’s voice; he’s speaking with the Hulk’s anatomy, after all, and thus his voice should have the Hulk’s deeper timbre even if the personality behind it is Bruce.

The use of Carol Danvers in this film is also quite unsatisfying, after all the hype and buildup and so soon after seeing her star in her own film. She basically has the Superman problem: She’s so powerful that she has to be marginalized in a team story to justify the other heroes taking the lead. It doesn’t help that her part in this film was shot first so that the filmmakers didn’t even necessarily know her backstory, so that she’s more a plot device here than a character. It’s also awkward that the film just assumes we’ve all seen Captain Marvel and its mid-credits scene, giving Carol no introduction whatsoever within Endgame itself. That’s a narrative shortcut that was presumably dictated by how jampacked the film was with other storylines, but it’s still a serious structural flaw. It’s a pretty basic rule of storytelling never to assume your audience’s familiarity with earlier stories, always to provide some exposition about whatever’s relevant to the current story. Within the context of this film, even of this duology, Carol just shows up with zero explanation, a deus ex machina with magical powers, used to solve a couple of otherwise insoluble problems and otherwise marginalized. It’s a pretty clumsy way to handle any character in any story, but particularly one who’s been hyped as such a core player moving forward.

On the plus side, I gotta say, I love it that this time-travel movie finally comes out and says that the way almost every other time-travel movie does it is dumb and wrong. I’ve been saying that for ages. I love it that they actually consulted with physicists and went with a model of time travel that makes scientific and logical sense, and that serves the needs of their narrative as well. (Star Trek 2009 did the same thing, only to be trashed by fans who thought its scientifically valid time-travel model was “wrong” because they’ve been conditioned to believe the fanciful version used before.) Bruce/Professor Hulk did a terrible job of explaining the reason all those movies are wrong, but he’s right. Quantum physics says that if you travel to the past, you entangle that past with the future you came from and thereby guarantee that that’s the future you’ll create — or else you’ll follow two or more parallel paths, one of which is the original unaltered timeline. So either way, the movie is absolutely right that changing the past will not alter or erase your original timeline, but will only create alternative branches. Tony even tosses out some real physics terminology about temporal theory and it pretty much makes sense! Yay, science!

It seemed that they sort of broke it at the end, though, when they established that Steve went back to live out his life in the past with Peggy. Which is a great, beautiful ending for their story arc (an arc that’s been almost the exclusive responsibility of screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, who wrote all three Captain America movies and created the Agent Carter TV series as well as writing this duology), but I wondered, if none of their time travels could alter the established past but would just create new parallel histories alongside it, then how was Old Man Steve extant in this timeline instead of a separate branch? But apparently the intent is that he lived out that life in a separate time branch and just came back to this one to tie up loose ends. Here’s a chart plotting the time travels in the film. It’s nice to know it’s consistent after all, but it was left a little unclear in the film itself.

As for the rest, the immutable-past, branching-timelines model gives them the freedom to play merry hell with past events, but I do wonder about the logic of the plot — “We want to minimize our impact on history and remove the Stones inconspicuously, so let’s make a plan that takes us right back to the crucial moments that have the maximum potential for interacting with our past selves and screwing things up.” I mean, they could’ve taken the Tesseract from SHIELD’s labs at any time between 1989 and 2012. Although the script did deal with that by limiting the number of trips they could make so that they had a reason to focus on the time when three Stones were in New York City at the same time, during the Battle of New York. But the Orb/Power Stone was in the temple on Morag for thousands of years. So why did they have to go back to the exact time that Quill stole it and Thanos was looking for it? And why didn’t Nebula know how her own cybernetics worked so that she could’ve anticipated the network link to her past self? That’s the one time jump that did the most damage, and it seemed like it was the one that was most easily avoidable.

I also have a big problem with the Vormir sequence with Black Widow and Hawkeye. So… you can only claim the Soul Stone if you lose someone you love? Dude! Clint lost his whole damn family! Condition met! Although if the rule is that you have to destroy someone you love, then surely suicide wouldn’t cut it (unless you’re a narcissist). So Nat and Clint trying to sacrifice themselves for each other should not have met the conditions for getting the Stone. To be consistent with the previous film, it would only count if one of them killed the other, not themselves. And as they’re both assassins, they’re the only two O.G. Avengers who should have been capable of making that hard choice. (Well, maybe a warrior like Thor could have, if he hadn’t already been so guilty about the uncounted lives he failed to save.) And I would’ve preferred it if Clint had been the sacrifice; honestly, I’ve never found Jeremy Renner an appealing performer. But I guess Natasha’s been the bigger part of this series, and the goal here was to bring the top leads’ story arcs to a decisive conclusion. (Although oh hey that pretty much guarantees the Black Widow solo movie they’re developing is a prequel. Which kinda limits the sequel possibilities. Phooey.)

Let’s see, what else… I liked the elevator scene where Steve got the Scepter — a nice echo of the iconic elevator scene in The Winter Soldier, and a cheeky nod to the controversial “Hydra Cap” storyline in the comics. Oh, and I loved it when James D’Arcy’s Edwin Jarvis from Agent Carter showed up as Howard Stark’s driver in the ’70s. At last, a character introduced in the TV side of the MCU appears in a movie! It no doubt helps that he’s a character from the show that the movie’s writers produced, but since he’s a character who’s only been seen in the ’40s, it’s easier to use him without any continuity hassles (although he didn’t really look 30 years older). And other TV characters like Coulson’s SHIELD team or the Defenders would’ve needed introductions for the benefit of the movie-only audience, something there wasn’t time for. Jarvis could just be taken by those viewers as a reference to Tony’s AI J.A.R.V.I.S., an “Ohh, so that’s where he got the name!” moment.

Speaking of brief cameos, it was pretty easy to tell that Natalie Portman was not an actual participant in the filming process, that the one clear shot of her was deleted footage from an earlier movie shoot digitally incorporated into this one. Although I gather she did provide a tiny bit of voiceover work. And really, it’s surprising how many other big-name actors got star billing in the end credits just for showing up and standing there wordlessly in one or two shots, like Marisa Tomei, Angela Bassett, William Hurt, etc. There were a couple of scenes here and there where it looked like some of the actors were inserted digitally, like the big funeral at the end. Some of them probably just showed up and stood on a greenscreen stage or in a digital scanner for an hour or so, went home, and pocketed an enormous paycheck for it.

Even with all these big, legendary actors, though, I think a case can be made that Karen Gillan stole large portions of this movie with a superb, complex performance as two versions of Nebula, who unexepctedly emerged as one of the most important characters in the narrative. I’ve always been impressed by Gillan’s acting since her Doctor Who days, and she was a standout here.

So there was a big fight in the third act, which I don’t have much to say about since it was just a big fight and those rarely do much for me, but it had some nice character moments. “On your left” was probably my favorite. Oh yeah, and Cap being worthy to lift Mjolnir, and Thor laughing and saying “I knew it!” Of course he’s worthy!

Remember the talkative couple next to me? The guy couldn’t figure out how Thanos could lift Stormbreaker (even though it didn’t have Odin’s enchantment on it, so anyone strong enough could lift it — heck, its handle is literally made of Groot’s arm), and when Cap picked up Mjolnir, the guy thought it meant Cap was really a disguised Loki, which… is totally not how it works. What was he thinking, that it was keyed to Asgardian genes rather than personal worthiness? Anyway, his confused chatter somewhat distracted me from Cap finally getting to say “Avengers Assemble!” on camera. This is why I rarely go to movies in the first week.

Oh, and when everybody was trying to get through the horde of bad guys to get the glove with the Infinity Stones to the time portal… you could say they were running the Infinity Gauntlet Gauntlet. I wonder if devising the sequence that way was some sort of subtle pun on the filmmakers’ parts.

And yeah, the climactic moment was pretty impressive. I knew that the reason Dr. Strange gave up the Time Stone in exchange for Thanos sparing Tony in Infinity War had to mean that the only timeline Strange saw where they won was one where Tony was crucial to the victory. And that is how it turned out. And Tony did it by calling back the famous closing line of the very first MCU movie, which is a fitting way to bring his story to its end.

As for Cap, I love it that Steve chose Sam to be the new Captain America rather than Bucky. I always wanted it to go that way, both because of what it symbolizes in this day and age for the embodiment of American values to be a person of color, and because Anthony Mackie is about a thousand times more charismatic an actor than Sebastian Stan. I’m a bit puzzled that they’re developing a Disney+ series called Falcon & Winter Soldier, if Sam is Cap now instead of Falcon. (Although maybe the announced title was a misdirect to avoid spoilers?)

I also wonder how the heck everyone in the upcoming Spider-Man: Far from Home is still in high school 5 years later. Did the entire class get dusted? Or is it a prequel?

Anyway, it does seem like the torch has been pretty decisively passed to the new guard. Iron Man and Widow are gone, Cap is retired due to age and/or returned to his alternate timeline, and Professor Hulk has apparently lost the use of his right arm. Thor is with the Guardians now, which means he could stick around, but in a different capacity. Hawkeye will presumably stay retired, at least until his Disney+ spinoff series. Rhodey and Pepper could potentially still be around, but I don’t really expect them to play a major role (although it’d be cool to see them as mentors in an Ironheart movie). Fury’s still around, and he’s featured in Far from Home, but after that, who knows? I guess the focus has now shifted to the likes of Spider-Man, Ant-Man & Wasp, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel, as well as the Guardians off doing their own thing, plus the Eternals, Shang-Chi, and whatever else gets added next, possibly including the Fantastic Four and the X-Men in some form. I’m actually pretty surprised at how sharp a break they’ve made, bringing so many lead characters’ stories to decisive ends. And they’re being pretty coy about what lies ahead.

In any case, what they’ve done over the past 11 years is pretty extraordinary. 22 movies sharing a single reality, averaging 2 per year, building a vast unified narrative among them with relatively few inconsistencies as long-running movie series go, spinning off 11 TV series (to date) set in the same reality and maintaining a similar consistency among themselves (although the movies have almost completely ignored them, and I think we’d all prefer to ignore Inhumans). The Marvel Cinematic Universe has largely transformed the feature industry, bringing a comics-like level of inter-series continuity and a TV-like serial writing process to a feature film franchise, and inspiring many, mostly failed attempts to copy it by other studios. And it’s brought unprecedented prestige to comic-book storytelling and invited an unprecedented number of top-grade, legendary actors, up to the caliber of Robert Redford, Anthony Hopkins, Tilda Swinton, and more. So whatever they decide to do next, it’s likely to be very interesting.

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  1. D. Bache
    May 21, 2019 at 3:23 pm

    Excellent review, Mr. Bennett. I’m sorry you had to sit next to a chatty couple. With any luck, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema will open a theater near you. It’s my theater chain of choice solely because of their strict no talking rules.

    My biggest issue with the film was the random rat stepping on random buttons to free Scott from the Microverse (I’m not fond of the term ‘Quantum Realm’). I probably would have had less issue if it were a person goofing around with the equipment, but a rat was a bit too plot-convenient for me.

    That said, I did enjoy the film. My girlfriend gave this one-time physics major a bit of cheeky grief for my whispered “Yes!” after Bruce shot down Back to the Future as a strategy.

    • May 21, 2019 at 3:34 pm

      Given that the van was in storage and probably had rats crawling on it fairly often, the fact that it took five years before one rat happened to step on the right buttons is not that huge a coincidence. My thought when I saw it was that it was a good way to explain why it took so long for Scott to return.

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