Warning: Heavy spoilers ahead! Quit reading now if you don’t want to be spoiled.
tl;dr: Endgame is a decent stand-alone movie, but it just doesn’t stand up to its predecessor. Especially when taken in the context of its predecessor. In other words, decent movie, bad sequel.
Endgame is the end of a lot of things. It’s the end of the Thanos arc in the Marvel universe. It’s the end of Tony Stark and Captain America. It’s the end of an era.
Today, we’ll be tackling the most popular movie of the season
Before we begin, for the most part, I’ll be assuming that you’ve already watched it. But just in case you’ve forgotten the plot, here’s a quick recap:
Immediately after the events of Infinity War, Hawkeye is seen, his family lost. Tony and Nebula are in the middle of space, and everyone else is depressed. Suddenly, Captain Marvel comes along, fixing everything! After a couple minutes, they find out where Thanos is and demand the Infinity Stones. Surprise, surprise! Thanos destroyed them. Everybody becomes depressed again. Five years later, everyone gets back together after Scott Lang gives them a shred of hope. Also, Thor’s fat now. They go back in time, nabbing the stones from the past. Hulk uses the infinity stones, blah blah blah, big fight scene, blah blah blah. Iron man dies, Captain America has a touching scene where he finally gets a break and lives with Carter by going back in time, Falcon becomes the new Captain America . . . End.
This movie is absolutely massive, with a wealth of topics to cover. So to begin, we’ll mention where this review is going. We’ll start with the individual characterizations, individual scenes I enjoyed and disliked, then steadily move onto the overall themes, successes and failures of the movie.
The first thing that needs to be addressed is Thanos’ portrayal. I cannot tell you how much I loath Endgame-Thanos. One of the big reasons I adored Thanos was his dedication to his philosophy. He forces us to think about real-world problems in a different light, making us question our morality from a utilitarian perspective. And even as a fictional character, he is fascinating. It was very interesting analyzing his motivations and psychology.
Even just watching him was a joy in Infinity War. His goal was mad from the hero’s perspective, but he was very, very sane when it came to figuring out how to fulfill said goal. On top of that, he was so single-minded and dedicated—Well, you see where I’m coming from.
Look at the beginning of Infinity War. The movie opens with a dark, gritty, somewhat monotone shot. He strides in looking larger then life as his acolyte proclaims the deification of the “Mad Titan”. We all know the rest, but the point is how much of an impression he makes in both that and virtually every other scene after. He’s imposing. Dangerous. A threat the Avengers are so clearly outmatched by. He sees the entire universe a bunch of sheep, and himself as the shepherd.
Now, look at his first appearance in Endgame. He’s quickly ground-pounded. Remember when he still felt dangerous even as the heroes had him on the ropes during Infinity War? Not in Endgame. Honestly, he just comes off as creepy. And not evil serial killer in the background creepy. I’m talking weird chihuahua staring at you creepily. The most memorable bit in that scene was when Thor chopped off his bloody head.
That actually brings up the most glaring issue. See, Thanos’ idea made sense. Albeit a kind of twisted, ridiculously evil sense. When the population of a species starts overflowing to the point where it starts hurting the ecosystem, what do we do? We kill off a bunch of the animals. Granted, it’s just a temporary solution, but it’s a solution that can be implemented repeatedly.
I don’t know what Thanos was thinking when he destroyed the Infinity Gauntlet. Maybe he thought that people would get into the habit of killing half the population. Maybe he figured it would pave the path for fellow genocidal maniacs. Maybe he got the idea that he would become such a legend that people wouldn’t dare not do the genocide thing. Whatever the case, legends fade with time. Traditions fall apart. There is no way that the same problem wouldn’t eventually pop up. But Thanos doesn’t have his Stones. Uh oh! He doesn’t just appear creepy, he appears plain stupid as well.
Thanos is just really badly portrayed in Endgame. That latent horror he once held is gone. Replaced by a forgettable-ness so strong Kellam himself would be jealous. The scene where he proclaims that he’ll destroy the universe entirely and make a new one really highlights all the issues with him. He completely abandons his dedication, which is easily one of the most core aspects of his character, in favor of raising the ‘stakes’ for the main characters. (For the main characters being key here, seeing as how humans think logistically and don’t see much of a difference between half the universe and the whole.)
Simply put, Thanos made for a good protagonist. But he severely lacks as an antagonist.
Hawkeye is the centerpiece of one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie. Namely, the beginning of the opening. Seriously, this scene is amazing. It opens with Hawkeye teaching his daughter a bit of archery. The family is playing around, the boys are about to sit down for a snack. As soon a Clint turns his back, the whole group is poofed. Clint turns around, asking for a response. He both hears and sees nothing of his family. It sounds simple in theory, but taken in the context of the last movie, along with the execution of the scene, it’s truly great. It sets the tone for the rest of the movie. It reintroduces Hawkeye and connects the movie back to Infinity War.
The following scene has Tony Stark and Nebula floating through space, their ship about to run out of oxygen. It tells us what Stark’s been going through, how Nebula and he have been bonding. As they’re about to die, Captain Marvel stumbles into them, bringing them back to earth. A fairly great scene.
This is where the opening starts to drop off, due to the aforementioned issues with Thanos.
I simultaneously hate and love these scenes for the same reason. Because they are good. Really good. More specifically, because it feels like it’s setting a totally different tone then four-fifths of the whole movie. More on that later. For now, let’s leave it at that.
Captain America. While I have a host of issues with Endgame, how they handled Captain is not one of them.
Over the years, I’ve had a complicated relationship with the cap. At first, I loved him for being such an excellent representation of everything good about America, heck, humanity in general. As we went through each movie, I grew to really like the guy. Civil War changed my opinion. I was all about sticking to the man, but the cap was sticking it at the cost of a bunch of other people. Looking back on it, I see that it’s not so cut and dry. He was a human being, same as anyone else. Endgame knew this and took advantage of it for all sorts of character development. In the face of powerhouses like Thanos and Captain Marvel, he didn’t back down.
This subtle character building endeared me to him big time. When his epilogue rolled around, it actually made me tear up a little. It was the end of an era and the start of a new one. Watching him simply dance with his love made me feel emotion in a way that Tony Stark simply failed to do.
Speaking of Tony Stark . . .
Frankly speaking, I liked Tony’s character development. Him becoming a father, overcoming his fear and resolving things with his dad, well, it was good stuff. Not amazing, but it’s a decent payoff for all the stuff we’ve gone through in both the Iron Man films and the Avengers films. The issue I have is how they handled his death. I get it. His arc was over and they wanted to kill him in a suitably epic way. But . . .
I dunno. The Cap had such a bittersweet ending. And the way it linked back to his first movies and his origins as a boy growing up during the era of swing was beautiful.
Stark didn’t have nearly as much a nostalgic connection (except maybe the ‘proof Tony has a heart’ Arc Reactor) And it just felt so overdramatic, with everybody standing by his house as the loud ‘sad’ music plays in the background.
I don’t like it.
Although, how it contrasts with Steve’s end is interesting. Iron Man went out saving the day with a flourish. Steve went back in time to grow old with Peggy. Iron man had a dramatic funeral. Steve had a bittersweet dance scene.
This feels personal for me, so I don’t know if I’m being biased or not.
This is the end of the characterizations. Everybody else can be summed up with an ‘I liked so-so, Black Widow’s death had an effect on him/her that I liked.’
Something that is never addressed is why they make an exception for the Thanos Snap victims and not everyone else. What gives these specific people more value then if they died naturally?
The Fetch Quest of Time
By far, one of the worst issues in Endgame is the bloody fetch quest/second arc. Picture your first time playing through The Legend of Zelda. As you’re humming along your adventurous way, you finally arrive at the tower or the temple or whatever and you’re promptly told you need to adventure halfway across the continent again to grab some fancy rock to prove your ‘courage’.
This. This is the feeling I get when I think of Endgame’s whole time travel junk. I’m reminded of filler in anime.
Now don’t get me wrong. Multiple narrative stands isn’t a bad idea in and of itself. Infinity War used it and to excellent effect. Nor is it the time travel gimmick that hurt me. I like the characters looking into the past, resolving their arcs, and calling back to the older movies.
I really like how it’s executed for Thor and Stark, in particular. Stark and Thor interacting with their mother and father respectively are easily the golden scenes of the movie.
But it feels like for every golden scene in this movie, there’s also three of debatable quality. War machine, Hulk. All character growth in favor of slow plot progression and mindless action scenes. Painfully reminiscent of bad isekai-trash anime. Actually, this links back to what I mentioned in my analysis of the opening. Both Infinity War and the opening give that hopeless feeling of fighting an insurmountable enemy. Even when the characters were joking during Infinity War, there was always that nagging feeling in the back of my head that the conflict is coming. That the main characters will go face to face with an inevitability.
In Endgame, I never felt that, with the exception of the opening. I knew what the overall goal was, heck, I even had a good idea of what was coming. But that nagging fear? Never felt it. I think that at least part of that was because of the fetch quest. I never felt a sense of pressure because the movie was split in so many different directions that detracted from the main plot that I couldn’t even perceive the stakes. So it just ended up dragging for two hours.
That and the stakes were simply too high.
In longtime running shonen anime and TV shows, there’s an issue known as ‘Power Escalation’. It’s when the protagonist has saved the day, so to excite the audience, they raise the stakes. However, after a certain point, the audience stops caring. The human brain can’t comprehend half the universe dying. What it can comprehend is Spider-Man or the Cap dying. This is how Infinity War skirts around the issue.
Endgame doesn’t seem to know how to manage this. Don’t get me wrong, there were some golden moments (opening and ending), but for the most part, I didn’t care. I didn’t care that Iron Man died. I was never curious as to how they were going to win. I wasn’t worried about any of the characters. Maybe this is less their fault, and more mine. Truth be told, it’s been running for so long I just don’t care.
Now, none of this means Endgame is a bad movie. The problem is the expectations many of us put into it. No movie could’ve reached the absurdly high bar Infinity War set. Especially when Infinity War is dragging said movie down.
At the end of the day, Endgame was still a good movie. It was engaging and made me smile. It could actually juggle tons of characters at the same time without breaking a sweat. But at the end of the day, it could never have become truly great due to the standards we set for it and the expectations caging it. Marvel never had a chance. This is a lesson that we, as consumers need to learn. That we are at least somewhat responsible for what content we receive. When we simply allow terrible content to run free rain, it’s somewhat the consumer’s fault for them not saying ‘no’. By the same token, when we hype a movie up beyond belief to the point where no movie could possibly not disappoint everyone, it’s somewhat our fault.
Whether or not this is applicable to Endgame is debatable. Personally, I think that the movie will eventually be looked back on with distaste and moderate reception, if not outright dislike.
Nonetheless, Endgame is still a must-watch, if only because it ties up quite a few loose ends. And leaves quite a few more loose ends behind.
Side note: For another perspective, I would highly recommend Screen Zealots’ review.