Towards the end of Infinity War, the part one predecessor to Endgame, Doctor Strange looks into the future. Seeing the many paths that could unfold, he tells Tony Stark that he has seen the one that will end in success. From then on, things go horribly awry, yet nevertheless, there is still an endgame, a final chance for our heroes to succeed. Infinity War ends with half the population getting wiped out, and as bleak as things seem at the start of Endgame, there are still many events left to unfold. Just like Strange’s reminder to stark, Endgame features many moments that feel shortsighted or poorly thought out. Nevertheless, we have to trust the Russo brothers, who directed the film with a screenplay by Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus, to guide the story through to its end. And for the most part, they find that only way to tell it right.
Usually, it’s easy to go through most of a film before having to put up a spoilers tag, sometimes you can even review all of it, but Endgame has had so much hype and so many secrets kept hidden that right from the straight, we need a spoilers tag. So there you go. And even without all the hype and the fact that so many want to go in knowing as little as possible, Endgame really does have some huge twists right from the get-go. So let’s get to it, shall we?
There’s an interesting screenwriting technique, or technique for any kind of storytelling really, in which writers decide to write themselves into a corner in order to then see how they can get themselves out of it. The idea is that if a writer creates something nobody expects, people will, of course, be surprised, and if they can then get things back on track, well, even more, surprises. Endgame has this in spades, and it’s a real testament to the scrip by McFeely and Markus that as they dig themselves into holes they’re able to pull themselves out of them practically every time. Towards the beginning of the film, the Avengers hunt Thanos down and kill him. Just like that. Movie over. Or rather, it would be, if Thanos hadn’t immediately destroyed the infinity stones after using them the first time.
Cut to five years later, and the Avengers are understandably depressed. Society has had to come to terms with Thanos snapping his fingers to wipe out half of all life, and nobody has really moved on. The very first scene of the movie depicts Hawkeye with his family right when “the snap” happens, and this quiet scene of loss sets the tone for much of this section of the film. The Avengers bicker and argue and wallow in their losses, with each having a different way of trying to cope. While we see much of this, Scott Lang, aka Antman, escapes from the quantum realm with only five hours had passed during these five years. He theorizes that the quantum realm can allow time travel, and upon informing the core members of the Avengers, they set out to get the gang back together and go back in time to retrieve the infinity stones and undo Thanos’s destruction.
At three hours long, Endgame essentially has three parts. The first focuses on how everyone struggles to cope followings their loss. The second involves the Avengers visiting various points in time to find the stones. And the third act wraps everything up in a giant battle followed by our heroes coming to terms with their victories and sacrifices. Each part has its strengths and weaknesses, so let’s break them down.
The first section sets up the stakes and motivations for all our heroes. Some have lost more than others, while some have moved on more than others. Tony Stark, Iron Man, lost his mentee, Peter Parker, but now has a daughter of his own. Natasha Romanoff, Black Widow, has lost many of her friends and wallows at Avengers headquarters while trying to keep the remaining band together, so to speak. Thor has one of the oddest reactions of them all, as he has locked himself in a cabin in Norway where he plays Fortnite and has clearly put on a few. This first act of the film reintroduces us to all the remaining heroes but is also the bulkiest and slowest. About an hour in, the film still has yet to set up the core conceit. If one wonders what could have gotten cut in order for the film to have a shorter run time, definitely a few of the scenes here.
The second act essentially plays out like Back to the Future, or like any of the many time travel movies referenced in the film right when the characters realize they can go back in time. While it’s nice to see that Endgame knows it’s doing nothing new here, self-awareness does not equal originality. Our heroes go back to scenes from previous Marvel films, try to avoid their past selves, and cop the infinity stones right from where they’ve previously appeared, vowing to put them back later in order to keep the timeline in place. Despite the use of an old trope, it’s still fun and nostalgia-inducing to see these characters revisit scenes we’ve seen before and watching how far they’ve come.
The third act brings our heroes back to the present day, along with a Thanos from the past who realizes the Avengers’ plans. The Avengers succeed in re-snapping half the population back into existence, but Thanos succeeds in bringing his entire army to the present with him. With the Avengers outnumbered, we’re treated to a spectacular scene of all those heroes and warriors who were lost, coming through portals made by Doctor Strange in order to take part in the final showdown. Just as he foresaw. And boy, is this battle a doozy. Each hero only gets a moment or two to shine, but shine they do. Towards the end of Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers remarked that if she every saw one of Thanos’s ships again she’d tear it apart, and boy does she stay true to her word. Some of these characters have been sorely missed, and the audience applauded when Peter Parker swung back into action. After the battle, our heroes emerge victorious, but at various costs for each. The film then goes from character to character, showing what they’ve decided to do now or how this whole war changed them. Most of these scenes apply the appropriate amount of closure, but not all. For example, Endgame ends on a weirdly coy note about Gamora’s ultimate fate, but perhaps this will get addressed in Guardians of the Galaxy 3.
Endgame features a ton of characters and a ton of actors, and sometimes I just had to marvel at the sheer amount of talents that appeared onscreen at a given time. Everyone plays at the top of their game, and you can really tell that even those who appear for just a scene or two relish their roles, however brief. Pom Klementieff as Mantis and Dave Bautista as Drax only have a handful of lines between the two of them, but they have strong onscreen presences despite only appearing for a few fleeting moments. For the more medium-size roles, Karen Gillan shines as Nebula, especially since she has the added difficulty of playing two different iterations of her character. And as for the main stars, Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans really convey a whole lot of heart, in addition to a wide range of emotions and character arcs throughout the film. It may partially be because Endgame serves as a swan song for both of them, but they really make the most of their last appearances as their Iron Man and Captain America, respectively.
Endgame wraps up a chapter in the MCU with quite satisfying endings for those characters who will no longer appear in future entries. Much of the thrill of the film, in general, revolves around pulling the double duty of working in the many, many, characters of the MCU while navigating the tricky plot elements thrown into the loop. Infinity War mostly dealt with former and none of the latter, so Endgame really works overtime to make everything come together. Sometimes it starts to creak and shake under the weight of it all, but for the most part, it chugs along, full steam ahead.
Avengers: Endgame serves as a fitting finale for the latest arc of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While it has its flaws, moving slowly through some parts and retreading old ground (literally) in others, it succeeds in balancing several narratives and tying up many loose ends. Several wrenches get thrown into the plot throughout, and the film relishes in finding ways out of the most dire of predicaments. Likewise, the many characters, and there are many, all get a chance to shine, with moments proving why each is a fan favorite for someone.