They did it. They actually pulled it off.
After Infinity War I was in shock and quite a bit of disappointment, to be honest—I’ve loved these movies, as have we all, and the conclusion of that one was a rude shock for reasons I’ve already listed; while I enjoyed a lot of the moments in that film, as a whole it was rather disjointed, kept most of the main team apart for the majority of the narrative, and lacked a true ending.
But damn, did Endgame really stick this landing.
We got a first act that truly reckoned with the fallout from Infinity War, and sat with that grief and loss, which rectified my main complaint about the abruptness of that movie’s ending. We got an interesting, tightly plotted, funny, and thrilling second act which tackled the problem of if and how to bring back the missing half of the world, in a way that also managed to organically incorporate callbacks to many of our favorite moments from the previous movies in this universe. We got action in the third act that was far and away better than the battle scene in Infinity War, action that truly lived up to the epic nature of what was at stake, and gave us cheer-worthy moments for all of the characters we really wanted to see. And then we got a bittersweet goodbye to carry us all into a future where the characters we love will live on in our imaginations.
Endgame is an excellent ending to a saga none of us thought Marvel could pull off, and an extraordinary feat of filmmaking by the directors and writers. I have only minor quibbles over the way some of the arcs played out; for the most part, the Russo brothers tied up every thread that mattered in a satisfying way that felt true to the characters that we’ve gotten to know over the last decade, through twenty-one movies. Major kudos for a conclusion that was both emotionally fulfilling (I cried so many of the good tears) and made sense from a narrative perspective.
In terms of social impact, these movies have been a communal cinematic experience that the globe will most likely not see again, and that also makes this ending feel momentous. We watched these movies together; fell in love with these heroes at the same time; saw the writing grow more complex and socially aware with the passage of time; and as our world has seemed to fall apart around us, I think they’ve offered many of us hope and the ideals of true heroism come to life.
The Avengers have offered us a meta-narrative for our time, and that’s powerful stuff. It’s probably why #ThankYouAvengers is trending on Twitter and making many of us feel a bit misty-eyed. I think we need stories that give us hope and one visualization of what it looks like to fight for justice. We need some idealism in our lives, so that we can get back out there to the muck and hate and corruption that so many of us work against, which on most days feels like an uphill battle. I’m not mad that Endgame will undoubtedly be the number one movie of 2019.
Well deserved. You had a good run, Avengers. I’ll miss you.
MAJOR PLOT AND ENDING SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT
Okay, so quibbles.
Bucky was shafted. Why did only Steve get to go back and relive the past (and how did that even work given the way it would split time)? I get that we all feel for the life he lost and the sacrifices he made, but I thought the whole point was that the past can’t be changed—all they can do is fix the present and hope for a better future. Steve’s do-over felt a bit self-indulgent on the part of the film. (I don’t know if “fanservice” is the correct term, because there was plenty of what some might call fanservice that felt well-deserved, and worked within the narrative and the Marvel aesthetic.)
[Edit: After reading this piece, I feel more at peace with this ending for Steve, because I can see better how it could actually work, without messing up the timeline and in a way that actually gives earlier scenes more meaning. Thanks, Laura Sirikul!)
But more importantly, why was Falcon the first and only one to go talk to him, for the first time in what to Steve was a lifetime? Didn’t he and Bucky deserve more than an offscreen goodbye and an “I’ll miss you,” given the amount of movie mileage that has been devoted to their undying loyalty to each other, Steve’s willingness to sacrifice everything to protect Bucky in Civil War, and the fact that for the last few movies poor Buck’s been either frozen, brainwashed, or fighting for the Avengers despite his massive fifty-year PTSD? I’d have appreciated him and Steve greeting each other first, and then maybe Cap offering the shield to Sam (which on its own was a lovely moment, but felt weird in context).
My other issue is that Thor gave up his monarchy to Valkyrie—awesome decision which I fully support—only to go off with Peter Quill and his gang to become…thieves? Firstly, Peter Quill is trash. I loved seeing him brought low by Gamora, though I wish everyone had dragged him for ruining things the last time around. Secondly, I would much rather have seen a Ragnarok-like space adventure re-team with Bruce, with Thor finding himself and Bruce becoming a little less of a jolly green yoga bro.
Which brings me to my third quibble: I missed being able to see Mark Ruffalo’s face emote in this movie. It was a weird choice to have him suddenly resolve his issues while we weren’t looking and turn him into this calm CG giant. I agree with Valkyrie—I liked him better both the other ways. (That glimpse we got of Hulk in 2012, growling about taking the stairs: gold.)
Apart from those issues, however, I was happy with everyone else’s resolutions, even if some of them made me ugly cry. Of course Natasha would win in a real fight between her and Clint, and of course she would sacrifice herself; it was hard to watch but very true to who she was (even if he didn’t deserve that sacrifice given what he had become). And I love that it was Tony, in the end, who snapped Thanos and his army to dust, even though it killed him. We knew he was probably going to die, and I’m glad he got to reunite with Peter (that hug! My heart!) and say goodbye to Pepper at the end. The dude did need to rest, and he went off with as spectacular a bang as was fitting for his outsized personality.
My absolute favorite thing about this movie was the way that the time-travel took the Avengers to places and people in their own pasts that were like unhealed wounds for them, and gave them (and us) both closure and a heavy dose of pathos. Tony going back and meeting Howard in 1970, and Steve seeing Peggy; Thor meeting his mom on the day she died, and that being the impetus he needed to awaken from his paralyzed funk; Clint and Natasha going on one last mission, and her finally erasing all of the red in her ledger.
And there were dozens of moments that hit exactly the right notes. Tony telling his dad it was going to be okay, and hugging him. Steve’s entire fight with his Battle of New York self, and that comment about America’s ass that slayed us all.
Cap saying “Avengers, assemble,” for the very last time. Tony telling his kid, and everyone, that he loves them 3000.
Yeah. Me too.