You realize how goddamn ridiculous this is, right? Just take a moment to think about it: We as a civilization are being asked to cram the multiplexes 24/7, paying premium ticket prices and three precious hours for a movie we know literally nothing about, and we can’t share a single iota of information about it with anyone who hasn’t seen it. No other franchise could get away with this. I don’t even think Star Wars or James Bond could get away with a three-hour movie. Even when Lord of the Rings put us through so many three-hour films, at least we knew they would follow the books.
Try to imagine literally anything else that hundreds of millions of people would line up to put so much of their time and money into sitting through, totally blind and without any remote semblance of an informed opinion. Then again, it’s Marvel — who needs an informed opinion at this point? After eleven years and over 20 movies, you’re either on board or you’re not and there’s nothing anyone could say or do to convince anyone to switch sides.
Furthermore, while this level of loyalty would be completely absurd for any other movie, the Marvel films haven’t really been “any other movie” for quite some time. Marvel films — most especially the Avengers films — have become a strange fusion between cinema and television, in which every film is like its own season. So, thinking about Avengers: Endgame as a new television season — in which everyone who’s seen the previous season cliffhanger will be running to see what happens next, and only a bastard would spoil anything for those who aren’t caught up — this kind of fervor makes a lot more sense.
What’s more, basic film discussion etiquette dictates that the third act of any movie should be off-limits for any spoiler-free talk. The characters involved, the plot, the premise, the central conflict, the genre… everything essential that the audience would need to know going in can easily be covered within the first act, and maybe parts of the second. There’s no need to discuss the third act, and that’s where Marvel is at now. This entire three-hour movie is the climax and denouement of the Infinity Saga.
This is not at all a typical movie, any more than this whole Infinity Saga is a typical franchise. Hell, it’s more than a franchise — it’s a superfranchise (a franchise comprised of smaller franchises, and yes, I’m still trying to make this a thing instead of the “shared universe” phrase) the size, scale, and success of which has never been seen in film history. So much has already been said and done about this, and it’s already been so deeply ingrained in pop culture, what the hell are you still reading this review for?
You’re not going to read anything new here. I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t already know or anything you don’t want to know. I’m not going to change your mind one way or the other about seeing this movie. Hell, I could post my review now with nothing but “It’s great, go see it”, and call it a day. I wouldn’t even have to see the movie to write the review, I could post it right now and you wouldn’t even notice or care.
The critical praise and hype for this one is so huge and all-encompassing that I can only confirm everything and contribute nothing. You want the most epic battle in all of cinematic history? It’s here. You want cameos and callbacks from every corner of the MCU, going all the way back to Iron Man? You got it. You want knee-slappers, heartbreakers, tearjerkers, and fist-pumping fuck-yeah moments? Done, done, done, and done. Innovative plot twists, fantastic performances, mind-blowing effects, a satisfying payoff for so many years of obsessively following these movies in a way that sets up the next saga… It’s all here.
I know it seems impossible to include all of this in one movie. I know it sounds like the movie is overhyped to high heaven. But the screen time is long, the budget is “yes”, and everyone involved in this production has had a lot of practice at this. Believe the hype and go see the movie now.
…I notice you’re still here.
…I don’t know what else I can tell you, go see it.
…Really? You really want me to go on reviewing this in my typical style?
…Even if it means going into teensy tiny little plot details in the most vague and broad terms I can manage, as I usually do?
…You’re not going to complain to me about spoilers? Seriously? Because if you’re still reading at this point, I don’t want to hear it.
…Okay, I guess we’re doing this. Let’s get to the nitpicks.
The big one for me is Thanos. Specifically, it irked me that never once did he learn the error of his ways. A rather crucial and iconic part of his character in the comics is that Thanos’ nihilistic philosophy is self-defeating, Thanos himself is unworthy to possess any power, and because he knows all of this deep down, anything he does is guaranteed to fail in the long run. Alas, it appears the nihilism that was always Thanos’ central defining trait in the comics will never be explored in the movies. What’s far worse is that after all the time and effort Infinity War put into giving Thanos layers and nuance, this movie chucks all of that into a dumpster roughly half an hour in. After that, he’s no more interesting or well-defined than he was when we first met the character.
In fact, I thought the whole movie was thematically underwhelming, especially when compared to the previous film. Infinity War was all about the dilemma between the needs of the many and the needs of the few, while this one is more about finding the strength to get back up and keep on fighting after getting knocked back down. Both are typical superhero themes, here blown up to the most psychotically cosmic scale imaginable. The difference is that the first one drove the plot forward, forcing the characters between two decisive actions; while the second one prompts a lot of navel-gazing and soul-searching before the characters actively decide to get the plot going.
That said, it’s certainly not a total loss. Right in the middle of the climax, there’s one jaw-dropping shot that perfectly and beautifully depicts the strength and courage of one hero standing alone against impossible odds. Far more importantly, it means that the Avengers have to spend the first half of the movie without an adversary they can defeat with punches and laser blasts. They are a team of superheroes without a single supervillain between them, unable and/or unwilling to accept they’ve well and truly lost with no chance of success.
We’ve never really seen that in a superhero movie before, certainly not to this degree. Thus we have so many deeply human and vulnerable scenes with our cast, which in turn leads to plenty of fuck-yeah redemptive moments. This also leads to new perspectives on these characters — no mean feat, considering how much time we’ve already spent with them.
That said, the results are hit-and-miss. Captain America and Iron Man probably get the best of it, respectively playing the hero who most refuses to move on and the hero most eager to move on. Thor breaks down into a gelatinous mass of self-pity, which nicely plays into Chris Hemsworth’s natural strength as a comedian, but all the fat jokes were more than a bit problematic. Hulk was all well and good, but his character here was built from a huge watershed moment that should have been portrayed onscreen. Scarlett Johansson’s performance is more of the same, but it was great to see Hawkeye take charge and make a huge impression outside the other heroes’ shadows.
The supporting cast all make huge impressions, which is certainly a benefit to a cast half as big as the previous outing. It was so great to see Rhodey finally get the time and space to come into his own, without coming off as Iron Man’s underappreciated sidekick. I was also thrilled to see Karen Gillan turn in such incredible work, and Paul Rudd brought some fantastic comic relief. Then of course we have Rocket, whose snarky brand of humor brought some much-needed tough love and straight talk to the characters who most needed it.
Alas, the biggest disappointment had to be Captain Marvel. For all the effort that went into hyping her up for this movie, she actually doesn’t do very much. I mean, I know Brie Larson shot this movie before her own, so she didn’t really know all that much about her character. But then, Tom Holland also shot a huge crossover before his own movie, and he got way more screen time in Civil War to figure that out!
Then of course we have the time travel element. On the one hand, this opens up the scope of the movie in a huge way, directly leading to some of the best callbacks, cameos, and payoffs in the whole picture. It was genuinely exciting to see the return of so many characters who’d been long since written out of the MCU. Even if one of them (I’ll let you guess who) only appeared through a combination of archival footage, body doubles, and creative editing.
That said, while I was sincerely thrilled to see one particular Marvel TV show get so much love, it was disappointing to see every other TV show get neglected. The Netflix shows and everything to do with the Inhumans are all but officially non-canon at this point; a pitiful waste of all the time, money, talent, effort, and fan goodwill put into those shows.
Getting back to the time travel, there’s no getting around how inherently messy it is. While the filmmakers put in a noble try at hand-waving everything away, a few niggling plot threads continue to linger. Like, for example, the tiny little issue that the Avengers have a freaking time machine and there’s nothing to keep them from using it ever again for any reason! It’s deeply frustrating how so many plot holes and paradoxes could have been fixed with just a few simple tweaks. But instead, I’m pretty sure the entire Guardians of the Galaxy franchise has been thoroughly fucked beyond all hope of repair at this point.
On a similar subject, there’s the matter of who lives, who dies, who gets brought back, etc. My favorite example concerns two characters who get into this huge debate over which of them should be the one to sacrifice their life in some heroic fashion. While the scene itself is utterly marvelous and gripping from start to finish, it ends with the wrong one dying. Sorry, but it’s true — there’s every reason why it should’ve gone the other way.
That said, there are quite a few deaths in this movie we’re explicitly told are for keeps. They’re perma-dead this time. For realsies. No takebacks. Even though we know for a certainty that some of them have movies or TV shows in active development. And also, again, we’re dealing with time travel here — no matter how many times the characters continue to swear there’s no chance at all of taking it back, we can plainly see for ourselves that’s bullshit.
Last but not least, this movie is dogged by the unavoidable fact that… well, it’s a Marvel crossover. So much of what makes this movie so impossibly good is in how it builds on and pays off so many years of established history. So if you’re not completely up to date on all of this history, if you haven’t seen every Marvel film and sat through every end-credits stinger, then why the hell would you even buy a ticket for this one? You should already know it’s not for you.
What all of this adds up to is that Avengers: Endgame — for better and for worse — is the ultimate Marvel crossover. Never in the recorded past or foreseeable future will anyone ever find a film of such impossibly huge scale, so perfectly and specifically crafted to thrill and amaze franchise fans. So if you’re not a franchise fan, and if you’re not willing to forgive a few glaring plot holes about time travel, this movie was never built for you.
Even so, you should absolutely give it a chance. If only because nobody — not even Marvel themselves, in all probability — could possibly deliver spectacle on this scale again. This is a cinematic experience unlike any other in history, and that should be enough reason to go see this ASAP.