SPOILER ALERT: By press time, most of you loyal CineMasoCast readers will have seen Avengers: Endgame. For those of you who couldn’t quite make it to the theater that soon, this standard-issue Spoiler Alert is for you. It’s okay. You can bookmark this article, save it to the desktop, or do whatever else works for you. This review will be here whenever you can make it.
I get where the whole “spoiler sensitivity” thing comes from. I took a break from social media (other than instant messaging) for a couple of days until I saw this movie. Of course I wouldn’t have gone so far as to beat someone up over it, and that’s never the way to handle things for anyone else, but we get where the anger comes from. It’s simple, really: Don’t spoil the movie for others, regardless of how excited you are. Get pissed off at those who do, walk away, everyone actually behaves like grownups. Are we good? If only that weren’t too much to ask.
Now that we start from a basis of mutual respect, on with the main review of Avengers: Endgame.
Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. There were things that worked and things that should’ve gone a little differently. If you were one of those fans who could only say it was perfectly awesome, let’s just chalk it up to how you and I remember Budapest. Is it the Best Movie Ever? Does it completely suck? Well, the answer is “it’s complicated.” You know, just like this movie itself.
Tell you what, let’s start with what sucked and then go with what rocked. I assure you, loyal readers, your patience will be rewarded.
That Time Travel Thing
Time travel is arguably the shadiest trope in all of fiction. It can be awesome by its very nature (see: the vast body of related movies name-dropped in Endgame; a personal favorite of mine is Timecop). Often, it also turns the plot into a hot mess [insert relevant Dr. Who episode title here]. Avengers: Endgame pulled off that rare feat of achieving both outcomes.
When I say that the outcome was both awesome and a “hot mess,” let’s look at the latter descriptor first. At least some of the hot mess could have been avoided very easily, by setting the main plot, say, six months later rather than five years. Maybe that solution would have downplayed the “moving on” subplot a bit, but then the plot wouldn’t have been forced to artificially keep Peter Parker as a high school student in 2023.
The rest of the continuity implications of MCU time travel are best saved for other articles. The storytelling implications appear later in this article under “what rocked.” Again, your patience (or at least your scrolling skills) will be rewarded.
I think here it’s just me. I found Infinity War to be a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish. Two and a half hours went by, and it only felt like half an hour. Endgame lagged after Thanos 2018 was killed, until the time heist picked things up. It made for a short piece of movie that dragged on longer.
Captain Marvel’s Role
Captain Marvel was very underutilized. She was given two awesome moments, one in the beginning, the other in the end. She was on hand to help the Avengers kill Thanos 2018, but they ignored her when it was time to pull the temporal heist. From a characterization standpoint, that doesn’t quite add up. She appears to avenge the deaths of trillions of people across the universe, but won’t help prevent their deaths in the first place? Even, I don’t know, preventing the death of her BFF Nick Fury? Because, what, she has to go back to patrolling all of outer space? They kept in touch with her for five years, but all of a sudden they didn’t bother to ask her? Give her the chance to say she’s too busy?
There might be valid storytelling reasons to hold off on using the most powerful character in the MCU thus far, but to hand wave them that quickly is what we in the biz call “lazy writing.”
For those of you who remember Budapest and this movie very differently, please leave (respectful) comments. In the meantime, let’s reward all the patience and mad scrolling skills, shall we?
Captain America’s Elevator Fight: The Encore
This is hands-down my favorite moment of the entire movie. Sometimes you have a single moment in a movie that by itself is worth every penny you spent on ticket prices, gas, and concessions.
The Encore Captain America Elevator Fight is that moment.
It’s that moment when my jaw dropped and I silently laughed with delight in the theater, because, the comics. We will never forget that moment of fan outrage when Captain America said “Hail HYDRA” in a comic book. Fans screamed “Not My Cap,” and the plot of that comic proved them right, but the outrage still stood.
Here, the shock of Steve Rogers saying those words became a ginormous masterstroke that turned HYDRA’s own tactics against it. There will be think pieces that argue that this moment basically invalidates what happened in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but it’s worth incurring all the sweet continuity risk.
Well played, Marvel. Well fucking played!
Iron Man’s Death Scene
People were dreading scenes like this. The MCU had long ago established that character death can and does happen. Sometimes it’s reversible (Coulson and everyone killed by The Snap), sometimes not (Yondu, Heimdall, The Warriors Three, Black Widow, and Iron Man). It was almost a foregone conclusion that at least one of the Big Three Avengers was going to go out fighting. Some fans might have walked away disappointed if that didn’t happen.
There’s also the matter of what happened with Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr., the actors. Both of them have said for years that they were getting old and burned out with their jobs. Comic book characters are often kept in a permanent Act 2 stasis so that their comics can keep getting published with new stories decades later. Evans and Downey are flesh and blood actors with limited shelf life.
Sure, Marvel could have always recasted the roles of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark (see: James Rhodes and Bruce Banner), but that would have been harder to pull off here. RDJ basically played himself for multiple movies, and he fit the role of Tony Stark like a high-tech armored glove. In the process, he redeemed both himself and a character that the comics had tarnished. Chris Evans had been nobody’s original first choice for Captain America, especially after his turn as Johnny Storm for two movies, but he made it work so well that the double casting memes died down quickly.
In the end, Tony Stark got the perfect heroic sendoff: He turned The Snap back on the bad guys. I for one look forward to Internet debates over who could have stepped in, done the same thing and survived (Hulk? Captain Marvel?). But I’m glad it was Tony for another reason: Civil War. Tony and Steve put aside their differences over Bucky (who killed Tony’s parents) mostly because Bucky had been among the Snapped. What happens to their relationship now that Bucky is back? Tony’s heroic death rendered that question a moot point, which is actually for the best.
Character Development, Miscellaneous
Hawkeye, Thor, and Hulk all had amazing character development. Hawkeye as Ronin became Frank Castle without guns. Thor became Volstagg with a hammer and axe. Banner regained the Hulk for good. Black Widow finally wiped all the red from her ledger. I’m pretty sure I missed an example (or maybe a bunch) but the point is, this is a movie where character worked awesome with plot.
That Time Travel Thing
Yes, time travel is the one thing that both sucked and rocked in Avengers: Endgame. It rocked because it gave Steve Rogers the absolutely perfect sendoff. It reunited him with his best girl. He is no longer The Man Out Of Time. This was related to the circumstances under which Sam got the shield in the comics, only here it was done even better. Well played, Marvel. Well played.
This goes to why any writer still uses time travel to begin with. It serves as an escape hatch when a writer has painted the story into a corner, and it opens up storytelling possibilities that would not have been possible otherwise. Here, the corner was painted in the sense that the Avengers quickly killed Thanos 2018 and thereby avenged the Snap, but that left all his victims dead. No more Spider-Man. No more Black Panther. No more Doctor Strange. As previously established, character death wasn’t the problem. It was more like, how else does it work in a superhero movie when the villain is quickly killed but his plan still succeeded?
The new storytelling possibilities will mostly play out on Disney’s streaming service. We have at least four TV shows to look forward to, as well as the upcoming movies. Endgame made MCU continuity fluid enough that it’s easier to bring the Fantastic Four and the X-Men to the mix. Other than maybe the new Captain America show, there’s no breakout storytelling opportunity created here, but we can give Marvel a chance to make it work. Other than the Netflix shows where Scott Buck was showrunner, the MCU has a pretty solid track record that can handle all the tweaks to come.
Speaking of TV shows, I have to give a shout-out to Season 5 of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD for introducing time travel to the MCU and handling it with much greater intensity and focus. Granted, they had the TV advantage of breaking a time loop by altering one event to prevent a specific dark future, but it showed what can be done with time travel in Marvel’s hands.
All in all, Avengers: Endgame gave sweet closure to the MCU as we had known it. It took risks worth taking, whether they worked in execution or not. Characters grew, changed, returned to greatness, and went out on high notes. While others will naturally get headaches over what previous movies were cheapened or invalidated, and all the loss of dramatic stakes that go with that, Avengers: Endgame is a fitting way to give thanks to what the MCU gave fans, beyond anything ever previously dreamed possible. It makes me for one focus not on looking back to the past, but forward to what comes next.
(Once again, your mileage may vary, especially in Budapest. Thank you for the attention and comments.)