Hello, and welcome to the discourse. After 48 hours, 22 films, and 11 years, there are a lot of things to talk about after watching Avengers: Endgame, and that’s because there’s a lot that happened outside of Endgame that are worth talking about. Like, if you didn’t leave that theatre with a litany of thoughts percolating in your brain, then I hope you enjoyed watching your first MCU film.
SPOILER WARNING. Seriously, we’re going to get deep into everything in every single corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The television shows, the web series, the short films, all of it. If you haven’t seen all of it but care about spoilers, then turn back now. Go bake a cake, do a crossword puzzle, or read our spoiler-free review of Endgame. Probably all three if you want to have just a terrifically chill day.
There’s a line that Thanos (Josh Brolin) says in Endgame that becomes his mantra for the movie. But in all reality, it should be a tagline for the MCU as whole. “I am inevitable.” And that’s what this impossible endeavor is: an inevitability.
Not in the sense that someone at some point would have made such a large, epic cinematic universe that prints money at will for the largest corporation on the planet, but that as it kept chugging along and Disney put a guiding hand on the steering wheel, this all could have ended only in one way, and that is the safe way. If you were at all surprised by the outcome of Endgame, then I truly envy you.
Chris Evans, as much as he is Steve Rogers, has been done with the role for a while, though he thankfully appears as committed to the role as day one. How do you write Captain America out of the universe? Well, you can’t kill him. That’d be crazy. He needs to close his story off with satisfaction, and as a man out of time, that means giving him all that time back.
(And wow is that problematic. They left it fairly vague as he refused to answer Sam’s (Anthony Mackie) question about his time spent, well, in his time, but he went back in time to spend at least some portion of his life visiting a woman that he already knows led a full and fulfilling life with husband that isn’t him and children that aren’t his. I mean, it might be him since her husband is never specified and Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) doesn’t really fit the bill, so who knows. But also we already know that time travel in the MCU causes split realities, not causal cascades, so how did Steve just, like, exist back into his original timeline?!)
Robert Downey Jr., the father of the MCU, has had a tumultuous journey. After starring in a surprise hit that is still one of the best superhero films ever made, his solo franchise turned into a rocky endurance run to the finish line even though his character’s arc has been consistent, fascinating, and heartbreaking. One of the smartest people on the planet undone by the terrifying, galactic-scale implications of his own acts of heroism is damned good drama, but more importantly, those acts are divorced from his understanding of his own visage.
He is, to the rest of us, a hero. But consider how he snapped off at Steve in 2012’s The Avengers: “we are not soldiers.” For eleven years, he has struggled with what he is. “I am Iron Man,” but what does that mean? Who is Iron Man? He proves he can be the guy to lay down on the wire—let the other guy crawl over you—but will he be? A man made of miracles, what happens when he runs out?
We knew all along, though. We knew Tony Stark is a hero. But the important thing is that now he knows. He’s seen the irreparable damage the stones did to Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Thanos. Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) doesn’t come back. People don’t come back. And in a single moment, he knew from Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) that there was only one way for them to win Endgame, and he’s not coming back. But that’s okay; he’s a hero.
Speaking of Natasha, Johansson’s conclusion is a much shorter trip, but just as obvious. One, we know you only get the Soul Stone via a soul sacrifice. Two, Natasha has red in her ledger. Three, Johansson’s contract is also up. Yeah, she’s dying. As soon as it was clear that she was going to Vormir with Clint (Jeremy Renner), it was also clear that she was not making that return trip.
Her arc would have been a lot more impactful and much more satisfying if we had any inclination to care about her other than her being an Avenger. Joss Whedon tried and fail in Age of Ultron with his hamfisted handling of her backstory. Her romantic entanglement with Bruce Banner was tossed to the wayside despite being dug up once more for Thor: Ragnarok. And suddenly we’re supposed to care again about how she owes Hawkeye a life debt? What a bland, disappointing mess of a journey.
An interesting thing, though, is that in individual moments, divorced of specificity but within large, swinging context, Endgame manages to let everyone earn some sort of payoff. And with the lack of specificity, they allow you to fill in the blanks as you wish. Whatever you think it means, it can mean that without anyone having to say outright whether anyone is right or wrong.
Take, for instance, Cap picking up Mjölnir. We know from Age of Ultron that he could at least maybe be worthy. So this could just be his sheer will power all pointing toward defeating Thanos pushing him over the edge. But, if you subscribe to the theory that he became worthy by shedding the one scrap of darkness in his heart after Civil War by telling Tony the truth about Bucky (Sebastian Stan) killing Tony’s parents, then that perhaps is what made him worthy. So if inclined, that moment is even more meaningful if you choose to indulge.
It’s the sort of thing where if you buy into the idea that Tony keeps getting smashed on the left side of his body to the point of seemingly and bizarrely excluding his right half, when he grabs his left arm in Spider-Man: Homecoming while yelling at Peter (Tom Holland), it’s because all those beatings are starting to take a toll on his body. And until someone involved says otherwise, it means whatever you want it to mean. It a little fandom conspiracy theory that’s completely non-falsifiable!
But there are also incredibly specific things that reward so deeply that it hurts. The lack of surprise makes it hard for the emotions rise to a point of tears, but Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) telling Tony’s daughter Morgan (Lexi Rabe) that her dad also liked cheeseburgers, I damn near cried. In a moment of comfort amidst trauma, Tony wanted a cheeseburger. And now, in a moment of comfort amidst losing her father, she wants a cheeseburger. And fuck if my cold, icy heart didn’t melt.
Then there was the faux A-Force bit when Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) takes her turn at footballing the Iron Infinity Gauntlet to the van. Picking it up from a battered Peter (could anyone think of anything else in that moment other than Holland talking about how he filmed his scenes often without knowing who he was talking to), she is immediately backed up by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) on her Pegasus, Okoye (Danai Gurira), and just about every other female hero in the MCU. Cynics will call it feminist lip service, and it might be, but the possibility of an A-Force project in the future is so damn enticing. (Also everyone in that shot looks awesome and there needs to be more.)
And, of course, the elevator scene. On the surface, it seems like a callback to one of the all-time greatest scenes of the MCU in The Winter Soldier where HYDRA first shows its full ass and tries to apprehend Cap, but in reality, it’s a nod to one of the most controversial turns in comic book history. In Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, it was revealed that Steve was HYDRA all along until Cosmic Cube fuckery changed the timeline and [insert comic book shit]. It was not, to put it lightly, received well.
The problem is that this movie feels like these two kinds of moments and only these two kinds of moments. The story it tries to tell is mostly inconsequential. All of the The Leftovers-type drama in the first act is dull, flat, and pointless. And the Ocean’s Twelve-style heist to get the Infinity Stones serves only as a foundation for the aforementioned moments.
And, honestly, it’s kind of genius. Everyone had largely guessed that the Quantum Realm would allow the Avengers to hop back in time to save the Vanished, but they didn’t take that step further and conclude that it would allow them to bring back every single character in the MCU at will and without consequence. Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, Frank Grillo as Brock Rumlow, Natalie freaking Portman as Jane freaking Foster. It is pure, unadulterated fan service and—truly—fuck yeah.
We get a sort of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead sort of viewing of seminal moments of the MCU. The aftermath of Loki’s surrender in The Avengers, the true absurdity of Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) dance intro to the first Guardians of the Galaxy, a pre-Strange Ancient One doing dirt in a Chitauri-infested New York.
It’s the sort of torrential stage show that overwhelms you to the point that you just don’t have time to remember all the people and threads they left by the wayside. Where, for instance, is Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp)? A vital component to two of the most important and consequential films of the MCU and now she’s nowhere to be seen. And what in the world have Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) been doing this entire time? Two of the most important figures of the formerly largest secret organization in the world just aren’t involved at this point?
And nothing to say of where all the television folk are. You know who really could have helped out in Wakanda and in the ruins of the Avengers compound? Perhaps Quake (Chloe Bennet), one of the most powerful Inhumans in existence. Or Luke Cage (Mike Colter), an impossibly strong and mostly invulnerable hero of the streets. Granted, the MCU has historically kept the two realms separate, but if there was a time to smash it all together, it would have been Endgame.
Drop some names, have the Cloak & Dagger kids walk by at some point, anything. Literally anything. Hell, Charlie Cox and Adrianne Palicki are contractually obligated to be in a film if asked. How cool would that have been for Matt Murdock to bump into future Tony while he’s trying to pilfer the Tesseract? Now we’ll never know.
In that vein, I suppose there is a third type of moment: the obligatory setup. We know that with the new Disney+ streaming service, Marvel has some series coming down the pike with some extant characters. In this case, now we know how Loki (Tom Hiddleston) ends up on his own once more, free to cause all the trouble he wants. We see Bucky and Sam settle into their new roles as stewards of the new world as an old Steve Rogers passes on his mantle, prepping them for their The Falcon and The Winter Soldier limited series.
And, more broadly, seeing Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) come back to kick some ass reminds us that WandaVision is a thing that’s happening, but it’s a 1950s-set show, so perhaps there’s more time traveling involved? And even more obliquely, seeing Clint train his daughter kind of reinforces the rumors that his standalone series will be about his training Kate Bishop to replace him as Hawkeye. (In the comics, Bishop is a founding member of the Young Avengers, so let your mind run with that as you so desire.)
Plus we leave the door open for Hemsworth to return as Thor because apparently he likes it now? Kind of weird feeling, but hey, now we like him, too, and not just because of his insanely ripped physique and the potential of seeing Portman work her magic again.
For all this grandeur (bordering on pomposity, if we’re being honest), it’s kind of wild how touchingly humble that the very last thing you take in from the movie isn’t a stinger. It’s not an image. It’s a sound. And it is the iconic sound of Tony, all the way back in 2008, hammering out his first Iron Man suit in that little cave. No script, no expectations, just a box of scraps, and yet he found a way to build the foundation to one of the most impressive feats in cinematic history.
Finally, here’s an unordered list of things that were just fucking fantastic.
- Jim Starlin cameo!
- Rocket’s (Bradley Cooper/Sean Gunn) comics-inspired costume
- Fat Thor
- James D’Arcy reprising his role as the human Edwin Jarvis!!!
- Cap’s scale-covered suit
- Professor Hulk!
- Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) original Ant-Man helmet
- Pepper Pott’s (Gwyneth Paltrow) Rescue armor
- They brought back Ty Simpkins to play Harley Keener!!!
And, most importantly, in a fist-pumping, yell-in-the-theatre moment, finally hearing the words we’ve all been waiting to hear.