Avengers: Endgame

Outside the cut, no spoilers: I very much liked it. The film did the thing I really needed it to, which was to treat the fallout from Infinity War as a real and meaningful thing, rather than a brief speedbump in the story. At the same time, it wasn’t unrelentingly grim; the script did a good job of working in both gallows humor and situational bits of the sort where the characters are funny without meaning to be, which is something I very much like. The solution to the problem is naturally made from comic book cheese, but of a fairly good kind, and it allowed for an interestingly varied set of scenes on the way to the climax. The middle part of the movie worked in a lot of callbacks to earlier films and characters therefrom, without feeling like they’d been crowbarred in. And as a conclusion to the original three-phase plan for the MCU, I think its payoff works.

And now, spoilers.

Yeah, so that “fallout” thing. I think nearly 45 minutes go by before the characters start moving in the direction of a solution, and it’s an hour and a half before they head out to get the stones; the snap doesn’t get undone until very near the end. I could have used a little more showing the societal effects, but I also recognize that’s not the kind of thing movies are well-suited to exploring, especially not when they’re already three hours long and have a lot to get done. You do, however, get to see the varied responses of a number of the individual survivors, and I loved that the film took the time to show that they didn’t all react the same way. The five-year time skip was a really good idea on that front, making it possible to get past the initial unspeakable shock and grief to what comes after that.

I liked what they did with Thanos. Finding and killing him was a complete let-down, and it was meant to be; revenge accomplished nothing, and left them even more hollow than before. It also put him offstage for a good chunk of the movie, focusing the story on the problem rather than the enemy. But you still need obstacles, of course, so using Nebula as the inadvertent crack through which Thanos could re-enter the story for the climax was fairly elegant.

And I really liked the narrative device of having them go back to retrieve the stones from earlier points in the timeline. I’m not someone with strong feelings about time travel stories and how they should work; for me what mattered is that it set us up for a bunch of different flavors of challenge, from Bruce having to persuade the Ancient One to give him the Time Stone to Cap having to fight himself to oops Loki just walked off with the Tesseract to Thor having an emotional moment with his mother while Rocket conducts an offstage heist to the whole thing with Natasha and Clint. Any time you need to go collect six plot coupons, it really risks becoming tedious, but the variety kept that fresh — and, as I said above, allowed for a lot of great callbacks (the elevator!!!) without it feeling horribly artificial.

I’ve seen polarized reactions about the confrontation over the Soul Stone. Me? I liked it, even though Black Widow dies. It worked for me because it wasn’t a single moment and done; it escalated from “why do I get the feeling we’re talking about different people?” to knocking each other down to using their various gadgets to Nat jumping off the cliff after Clint, and because if he’d been the one to die then it would have felt like he won the argument/took the decision away from her. I recognize that, if viewed from a different angle, his story would have more obviously been the one I am so extremely tired of (Man’s Loved Ones Killed; Man Goes On Bloody Rampage of Revenge), and Nat basically gives him a pass on that, but . . . I believe that’s a pass she really would give. And I’m looking forward to the Black Widow movie, which is supposed to start filming later this year.

The way the other original Avengers got written out also felt good to me. For all that Tony Stark is often a selfish bastard, he does have a track record of making the noble sacrifice or at least taking the huge risk for others; it’s just that he survived all the previous rounds of it. And since Iron Man was the film that started the MCU, having him be the one who dies to end the fight seemed fitting. I was expecting Cap to die (because it’s the kind of thing the character would do, and also I know Chris Evans is done with the role), so having him go the opposite direction and have a life with Peggy was a nice reversal. (Wanted more Peggy. But I recognize that I can’t have everything in a three-hour movie.) Bruce gets his balance with the Hulk; Thor, who really would make a crappy king, leaves it to someone more qualified; Clint gets his family back, and the TV series Marvel is planning will be about Kate Bishop as the new Hawkeye, which pleases me.

Which clears the way for the new guard, and I don’t think it’s an accident how much the ending (in both the climax and the denouement) showcases the new guard being female, POC, or both. Valkyrie is the new Queen of Asgard; Sam is the new Captain America; the first heroes you see return after Bruce uses the stones are the Wakandans; I shamelessly loved the moment where the script assembled all the women together in the battle. Marvel is by no means at perfect balance with diversity, but I am glad to see the MCU let go of the original set rather than milking their tales to infinity and beyond, and shift its focus to the newer faces.

Maybe the best praise I can give the film is that it renewed my appreciation for what has gone before. The MCU is a truly epic undertaking, one I fundamentally would not have believed was possible when Iron Man came out eleven years ago. As someone who admires good series structure, I have to applaud what they’ve pulled off here — all the different strands braiding together over a period of more than a decade. Nobody’s done anything quite like it, and I’m not sure anybody will again.

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