Mo’ Reviews: ‘Avengers: Endgame’

Synopsis:

The grave course of events set in motion by Thanos that wiped out half the universe and fractured the Avengers ranks compels the remaining Avengers to take one final stand in Marvel Studios’ grand conclusion to twenty-two films, “Avengers: Endgame.”

Marvel Studios/Rotten Tomatoes

Monique’s Review:

–NON-SPOILER PORTION OF REVIEW–

Avengers: Endgame, the second half of the Infinity Saga finale, delivers on the vast promises set up by Avengers: Infinity War.

The film comes in at a whopping 182 minutes, which breaks down to three hours and two minutes. But to me, the drama and action certainly didn’t feel long. Instead, the runtime allows the film to delve back into the annals of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, tying together loose ends, presenting new timelines, and incorporating comic book Easter eggs along the way. It even manages to pepper in some superstar cameos in as well.

Incredibly, the film completes a feat no one believed Marvel would be able to pull off 10 years ago–create a long-running arc of stories that spanned a catalog of films, and end it in a profoundly satisfying way. Overall, Marvel Studios, studio head Kevin Feige and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely should be proud.

I didn’t start out with the MCU as a Marvel fan. However, as I’ve watched this set of films, I’ve become much more appreciative of the Marvel brand and how they’ve managed to puncture the pop culture in a way we haven’t seen before. Not only did the studio manage to make superhero films bonafide blockbusters, it also turned them into Oscar-worthy contenders. I might not have been a big Marvel head, but I am a comic book lover, so seeing Marvel expand the realm and audience for comic book films is extremely fun. It allows for exciting action stories to be told, of course, but it also gives us an inventive way to analyze ourselves and our culture through who we choose as our heroes and villains and why.

In Endgame, the answer as to why the Avengers are Earth’s mightiest heroes is definitive, as is why Thanos is the universe’s scourge. Most characters, friend and foe, receive endings that are not just understandable, but thought-provoking and satisfying. Indeed, this film is a fitting end to the collection of heroes we’ve come to know. Even better is that this film also provides the beginnings of yet another chapter full of “superhero daring-do.” Whereas the Infinity Saga bids adieu to several legacy heroes, the next saga introduces us to a new crop of superheroes who can excel even higher at representing us all.

Nebula and War Machine look offscreen as they stand aboard Nebula's spaceship.
Marvel Studios/Disney

–SPOILER PORTION OF REVIEW–

I liked Avengers: Endgame. But I’m going to start with my nitpicks first.

Avengers: Endgame brings the entire saga back to where it started, with Tony Stark saying the fateful words, “I am Iron Man.” His death at the end of the film is the perfect end for a character who started out as a complete douche.

To see him evolve from that devilish rake into a more mature rake with compassion and empathy has been entertaining, fun, exciting, and relatable. To me, Iron Man might be the most relatable out of all the Avengers because he’s the one who usually acts the most flawed. Despite all of his foibles, Tony’s driving force is to make sure the world is protected from the bad guys, even if that includes himself and his tech. As nonsensical as it is for Stark tech to be able to house the Infinity Stones when Thanos had to create a special gauntlet for it (as Jeremy Jahns points out), it was poetic to see Tony’s Iron Man glove, part of the suit that grew out of Tony’s personal penance for weaponry, save the day.

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Naturally, seeing Tony’s funeral tugs at the heartstrings. Also, it makes story sense as to why the film would take time out to show us those mourning him. But what about Black Widow, who also sacrificed herself to save the universe? It would have been nice to see the film acknowledge her death for longer than it did. Thankfully, Markus and McFeely have provided The New York Times some commentary on the decision to kill Black Widow.

The New York Times
The New York Times

I’ll say this about the exchange the screenwriters had with their VFX producer–it proves that women will respond to seeing Black Widow sacrifice herself in different ways. As we should; we’re too often painted as being of monolithic thought, even by other women. To be honest, I believe the scene played out well enough that it’s apparent that Black Widow was in control of her own decision to sacrifice herself. At every turn, Hawkeye tried to take her place because he wanted to atone for his actions (actions we will get to in a minute). If we’re just talking about Endgame, then I have no problem with Black Widow’s decision.

But in the larger scheme of Marvel’s storytelling, her death follows a pattern of women acting as objects for the male characters–either they’re sacrificial or they’re long-suffering mother figures for man-child love interests. Or, in the case of Black Widow, they’re weirdly pimped out to every Avenger member. Women haven’t gotten a great rap in this franchise, with the best representations coming in later films like Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok and Captain Marvel. In other words, it’s taken 10 years for good writing for women characters.

As Markus and McFeely allude to, Endgame is written by two guys and from a guy’s point of view. Of course, that doesn’t mean that a man can’t successfully write a female character. But all except one Marvel film has been written by men. That kind of ratio can’t help but color how women are viewed and interpreted in the MCU.

Hawkeye pensive, has his hand on Black Widow's shoulder.
Marvel Studios/Disney

But let’s move on from this. Two other sticking points I had were with Hawkeye’s descent into becoming Ronin and the handling of Thor’s PTSD.

First, let’s examine Hawkeye traveling the world and killing criminals, largely POC criminals, because his family was dusted in the Snap. My immediate question is if Hawkeye always had a latent mass murderer inside him, since losing his family propelled him to go on a killing spree. Meanwhile, everyone else who lost family and friends tried to figure out how to go on the best they could by helping others. Is killing yakuza in Japan really the best way for Hawkeye to ease his pain?

As far as optics go, seeing a white dude kill yakuza is a boring, sad retread into old-school film tropes. How many times are we going to see Asian gangs like yakuza and the Chinese Triads in films? To go along with that, how many times are we going to see Hollywood employ competent, talented actors for stereotypical bit parts? You hire Hiroyuki Sanada for a Marvel film, and all you have him do is play a sword-swinging gangster?

Now onto Thor’s storyline. I thought his was the most gripping of everyone’s, since he’s clearly one of the few handling the situation like I think a lot of us would–by breaking down completely.

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Instead of being the jolly Thor we’ve come to know, he’s a shell of his former glory. He’s overweight, alcoholic, and depressed. As he should–he just saw half of his people get killed and he couldn’t protect them. But instead of getting meaningful counsel, the film mostly uses him as comic relief. War Machine even goes so far as to joke that Cheez-Whiz is running through Thor’s veins. Not only is this joke in poor taste, but it makes no sense for a war vet to make this joke, since he of all people should understand PTSD.

The jokes also could be considered offensive to some in the audience who have their own share of PTSD to deal with. I might have to include myself in this category–while I wouldn’t call it PTSD, I do suffer from depression, which also caused me to gain weight a few years ago. And, similar to Thor, my depression came from not feeling worthy. It would have been nice for the film to acknowledge in a more full-throated way Thor’s lack of self-confidence. Yes, his mother and Rocket Raccoon give him much-needed pep talks, but it would have been even better if the Avengers themselves took him aside and counseled him. They’re all dealing with PTSD–is it just because Thor got fat that his is excused and laughed at?

Thor stares down at his opponent as he channels lightning.
Marvel Studios/Disney

With all of these gripes, though, I still like the film. As I wrote in the non-spoilery part, the film successfully wraps up a 10-year saga in a satisfying way. But I feel like Thanos was made less of an inevitability than he was in Infinity War. Whereas Thanos in Infinity War had a plan and saw it through with disturbing accuracy, Endgame‘s Thanos falls back into the trap of Marvel’s bad villains, which is to just do horrible stuff just because they’re angry. That takes a lot of the complexity out of the character and just makes him another Obadiah Stane. I would argue he’d have to be written back into this trap so that the writers could successfully write a way for the Avengers to win. That’s a little bit of a problem.

But I feel like this is one of many problems a film like Endgame will run into. There are so many characters, so many plotpoints to keep up with that eventually, things will fall through the cracks. Such as Black Widow’s funeral, acknowledging what life was like for Aunt May or Queen Ramonda without their children, how the Avengers’ friends and family were fairing, etc. There’s literally too much story to compact it into just three hours.

But even with such a gargantuan story, Markus and McFeely managed to tie up nearly every plot point succinctly and and with verve. The usage of time travel was also inventive while providing Marvel a way to utilize the Multiverse in future films. Somehow, the film managed to end a saga and set up plenty of avenues for future films, such as setting up Valkyrie as the next leader of Asgard and the Falcon as the Next Captain America along with, of course, bringing back all of its dusted characters like Spider-Man, Black Panther and Shuri, and re-establishing Captain Marvel as the universe’s strongest superhero. Endgame was asked to do a lot, and on the whole, it delivered.