Film Review: Avengers: Endgame
The Avengers' first big multi-movie story arc concludes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's epic finale film in which the universe tries to recover from Thanos' destruction and the remaining superheroes try to figure out if they can still save the world(s).
I have to start off this review being very clear about one point: this movie, the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's 22-movie tale called The Infinity Saga, is fan service from beginning to end. It pulls out surprises from past movies; it offers visual, auditory, and dialogue nods to fan favourite moments from the series; and it even goes outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe to feature cameos by two stars of Community
, one of the TV shows that the directors, the Russo Brothers, are most known for working on.
(Nevermind all the other cameos that also occur, including director Joe Russo playing the first openly gay character in the series, which is a totally understated moment in the movie yet still very significant (and, unfortunately, ridiculously overhyped in the marketing); Russo's kids in various roles; Thanos, Drax The Destroyer, and Gamora creator or co-creator Jim Starlin; Howard The Duck; and, of course, our last glimpse of the real Stan Lee.)
The story, meanwhile, was concocted in such a way that it could touch on all sorts of elements in service of the fan service, and even within this there are fan service moments within all the fan service (for those who have seen the movie, I'm thinking of specific micro moments in, for example, the film's biggest battle). It is, unapologetically, layers of this and it is not a surprise - this is, after all, the culmination of a 22-chapter story - but it does go to a new level that is now going to be the bar for the future (for a number of franchises) and, honestly, the thought of all of this exhausts me.
However, what is quite fascinating is the route the story takes to do all of this. There were moments I was not expecting. It is unpredictable in very odd ways so even if you're not particularly emotionally invested in these characters, but have seen the movies and generally know who is who and what's going on, from a filmmaking perspective, from a crafting perspective, it is very interesting. This goes as far as that up until the movie finally ends you are never quite sure of how it's going to end due to how certain characters' storylines are wrapped up for The Infinity Saga.
Of course, for hyper fans, the movie goes further and hits all sorts of emotional notes, which is why there were so many comments on social media about people being in tears and why people have gone back to watch the movie two, three, four times.
It is a fitting end to what is essentially a film version of a full season of a TV series and, consequently, an unprecedented experiment in storytelling.
Is it a perfect movie? Absolutely not. It's a not-spoiler spoiler to state that the plot touches on time manipulation - after all, a number of precedents were set before this movie, including Dr Strange having knowledge of millions of permutations of timelines (was the timeline we saw at the end of Avengers: Infinity War
even the real one, for example?); Thanos building a device that we have already seen him use to rewind time; and the Ant-Man
movies playing with the elasticity of time in the quantum realm. Time was always going to be part of the plot of this movie.
The how, however, is where it becomes very intriguing and the story repeatedly shifts in very unexpected directions.
Honestly, as much as various characters tried to explain all of it it made no sense to me but most movies that include time travel or time manipulation don't make sense when you really start interrogating them. I just accepted what it was and went along for the ride. (Subsequently I've watched and read fan theories that try to explain it and nothing really sits well with me and instead just invites more conflicting thoughts and questions.)
There is also a very crucial scene in the movie that I didn't like at all but in talking to two friends about it I heard two more perspectives - one similar to mine and another the complete opposite but equally valid. The opposite opinion did not change my mind about how I felt about it - it remains a plot choice that I really hate (I will talk about this openly in the comments, in which I invite your feedback and spoilers are allowed) as I feel it does a real disservice to a character - but it was useful to hear a different interpretation of it.
There were other problems, too, including a big battle scene (this is a superhero movie, after all, so mentioning that there's a big battle is hardly a spoiler) that features two pandering moments one after other, the first in which a group of Wakandan warriors assemble for battle and the second in which every available female superhero assembles for battle. Some fans have reacted very positively to these scenes but to me they felt manipulative and very much tokenism when you consider what happens in the rest of the movie with these characters. (Nothing much, in most cases.)
The battle also devolves into what is essentially - I kid you not - a giant game of American football and it was ridiculous.
The story, meanwhile, and to its credit, doesn't just move on from Avengers: Infinity War
. Instead it actually looks at loss, and later how to balance the greater good with sacrifices necessary to achieve that, but doesn't really have the time to delve deeply to explore the necessary emotional cores of these topics so we're often left with scenes that offer tokenism more than philosophical depth but I realise I may be asking for too much out of an action movie. The fact that the film-makers even tried is important and it certainly hit enough emotional beats for some moviegoers.
On a more positive note, besides the unexpected routes that the story sometimes takes, the film finally also gives some time and attention to characters that have been neglected for far too long because Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) have tended to take centre stage.
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) gets the best character-story arc of any of the movies she's appeared in, which offers her agency and a few important tasks, and one of only two decent arcs for female characters (the other going to Nebula (Karen Gillan)) but, as with every Marvel movie except Captain Marvel
, the women are still largely pushed aside and, instead, priority is given to expanding (again) and wrapping up the storylines of the main male characters who have dominated The Infinity Saga.
As for the usually marginalised male Avengers, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is given some attention and even Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) who, admittedly, has had two solo movies, is integrated into the main cast with a storyline that finally makes him feel more like an Avenger and not just another random superhero.
Ultimately Avengers: Endgame:
is well executed (and, in some places, very clever), with threads from other movies in the series smartly woven into this finale and a three hour run time doesn't seem drawn out at all, and it's a fitting end for those (on and off screen) who have invested 11 years in the Avengers' cinematic escapades.
Avengers: Endgame was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on comics created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Jim Starlin, was directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, and stars a very long list of people who I won't mention due to plot spoilers.
The press screening was courtesy of Disney.
, Speculative Fiction