I have a confession to make. I’ve never seen Avengers: Endgame.
I know! I know, stop looking at me with that horrified, betrayed glare– I’m just as disappointed as you. How could I, lover of comics, lover of movies, miss Endgame, behemoth of its genre? I don’t have a good excuse: I put it off when it was in the theaters, and I put it off when it graced home screens. But even as I fried other fish, I knew I was only postponing it– this movie was, well, inevitable.
I wonder, will it live up to the hype? I’ve heard plenty about it (I am a member of that controversial camp, those who don’t mind a spoiler). I know that at some point The Hulk would benevolently hand something to a relative pipsqueak, that someone would coin the term “time heist,” and that three key players would be leaving the franchise. But it wasn’t just events I had heard: my acquaintances’ reviews have run the gamut from Endgame being a masterpiece, the best of its ilk, to the bloated cast making the MCU’s usually charming crew come across as flat or hemmed in, to the attempts at diversity or inclusion coming across as tokenism, rather than genuine change. My eyes aren’t exactly fresh and clean as new-fallen snow, but I have attempted to keep them balanced, as all things should be.
Endgame picks up where Infinity War left off; our heroes, in novel combinations and configurations, have been utterly defeated by Thanos, who has used the Infinity Stones to kill half of all life in the universe. While they want to bring those lost back, it becomes apparent that they cannot do that, as Thanos has destroyed the stones, the only tool powerful enough to counteract the genocide. All they can succeed in doing, for now, is avenging. Thor kills Thanos. The rest try to carry on living.
Ant-man returns from the Quantum Realm, five years after Thanos’s calamitous snap. Time works differently in the Quantum Realm and might therefore be exploited to save those lost to Thanos’s arrogance. With this fresh glimmer of hope, what’s left of the Avengers take to implementing the Time Heist: acquiring the stones before Thanos gets his dirty little periwinkle mitts on them, using them to revive those lost in the present, and then returning them whence they were taken in the past.
My first impression is one of elation. Tony Stark teaching Nebula tabletop football is simply a delight, and one that is followed by the immediate gut punch of mortal peril (the slow, despairing kind, too). I’m immediately bought by this jolt of pathos, until of course Stark opens his mouth to talk about something besides his wife and his survival. When he chews Steve Rogers out for stopping him from putting a “suit of armor around the world,” I am harshly reminded of the ego-mania that Stark brings to the table. Every character is allowed a flaw, of course, but it seems to me the MCU agrees with him just a touch too often for this flaw to actually feel like a problem. For instance, later in the film, Stark punches a few digits into a simulation and single-handedly makes time travel feasible. With a hit rate like that, no wonder he’s an egomaniac. He’s clearly touched by an angel (or at least a screenwriter).
The tinfoil football wasn’t the only charming character moment, by far. Even though I knew it was coming, Smart Hulk’s benevolent bequest to the pipsqueak was in fact a privilege to see. I also quite enjoyed the peek behind the scenes that was the awkward, slow arrest of Loki, taking place when we the audience would’ve been busy watching the credits for the original Avengers. This scene culminates in a Cap v. Cap fight that I adored. Something about Chris Evans (as Cap)’s delivery of both the stalwart, “I can do this all day,” and the whiny, “Yeah, I know,” had me dying.
While the warm or striking character moments were front-loaded, the tail-end wasn’t devoid of such touches. I was particularly taken with Stark’s enthusiasm in Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s return to the realm of the living. The very-much-on-purpose hug was a stark contrast with the unintended hug Peter receives from Stark in Spider-Man: Homecoming. That’s a powerful bookend to their relationship.
In light of these and the many other glowing instances of banter, bereavement, and brilliance, it’s clear to me that the character moments that Marvel has finessed haven’t been neglected, they’ve simply taken a back seat to scale. As the frame has expanded to include a larger cast, we in turn see only smaller representations of the individuals within that frame. However, what we can see of each character is familiar, and written with the same joy apparent in the previous, smaller-cast MCU films. That seems a fair trade, if Endgame is a good example of what that trade can bring us.
Although, there are perhaps exceptions. Thor and Rocket Raccoon seem to get the short end of the stick, here. Rocket receives little attention, save what bullying attention he receives from Stark, Captain Marvel, and then the royal guards of Asgard, in that order. Thor receives more attention, but only to become the punching bag of the film. Between fat jokes and making light of his failing mental health, Thor is seemingly a piteous character, even abdicating the throne at the end, as though we haven’t spent three Thor movies building him into an heir worthy of Mjolnir and Asgard. With this move and the effort taken to return Thor his eye and hammer, both of which he lost as part of his journey to worthiness, Endgame entirely dismissed Thor’s character development up to that point. Whether that character development was the right path for Thor or not, I’ll leave up to you, but I for one was disappointed to see it all so flippantly disregarded.
Speaking of flippant disregard: it’s with great sadness that I admit I do flippantly disregard the prevailing opinion among my gay peers. I thought the Russo brothers‘ decision to include a nameless gay character in one scene was… well, it was fine. Was it Stonewall II? No, and the quest for gay rights and respect lies exactly where we left off before the Russo brothers threw their hats into the ring. But I wasn’t offended.
I was, however, offended by the condescending shot of every empowered woman who happened to be on set the day they shot the final fight with Thanos. It seems to me that what the women of the MCU need isn’t a group photo celebrating how many of them there are— they need not to be considered as a group, but as individuals. That I was able to offer a synopsis of the plot above without even mentioning a woman says more about the MCU than this single shot could hope to counter. Compare it to that iconic shot in the original Avengers. That shot is worth something because finally, our heroes are united under one goal, and we know how far they’ve come as a group and as individuals to make that unison happen. That shot resonates with the audience because there’s both a future goal and a past history vested in that shot. This line-up of women, on the other hand, carries as much weight as a group shot of a dodge ball team your gym teacher chose for you in elementary school. There’s no bonds, no history, only a goal. But if the goal is the only commonality, why these characters? Because they’re all women. Men don’t seem to get this about women: womanhood isn’t really something we have in common with each other. It’s just kind of space, that we all occupy. This shot fails because they think the audience will see this shot and think, “Ooh! Women!”
And I do think that. Just not for the reason the Russo brothers want me to.
For all I’ve found to complain about, I assure you, it’s only because I was looking. Avengers: Endgame is a solid movie. It has a gripping story, compelling action scenes, and three hours worth of great moments: funny moments, quirky moments, suspenseful and wretched moments, the whole way through. If you too have been putting it off, I assure you, it’s worth a shot. You’ll have fun, it’s inevitable.
Have you watched Avengers: Endgame? What did you think of it? Leave a comment below or let us know on our Twitter feed!