Poor Ryan… I know that it’s, like, his job and all, but being part of the first crop of critics to review Avengers: Endgame could not have been fun. Forget nerds, even casual moviegoers are never this hypersensitive about spoilers. Ryan had to stretch “You refuse to let me tell you why I like it” into 500 words or someone might actually kill him in the street. So this is your final spoiler warning! Get the hell out of here and go read Ryan’s review if you haven’t seen Endgame. If you did see Endgame, and you’re looking for someone to process it with you, then welcome!
Endgame kicks off days after Thanos (Josh Brolin) used his magic space rocks (ahem) to wipe out 50% of life in the universe. Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) rescues Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), made to look emaciated with the most unfortunate CGI effect in the movie, from deep space and takes him to Avengers headquarters so the surviving team members can live up to their name. I love how down and dirty it feels when they track Thanos to his cottage and just straight-up murder him. It’s a great little eerie scene in isolation, but this prologue feels more and more unnecessary as it creeps along. I was worried Endgame would pee all over itself, but we get slapped in the face with an epic five-year time jump and the movie actually starts.
Even though the post-apocalyptic Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t quite as fleshed out as I would hope, I love where just about everyone ends up. Iron Man settles down. Captain America (Chris Evans) runs support groups. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) heads a security council with former Avengers. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) goes all Big Lebowski in a story arc that’s maybe a little too sad at times. Meanwhile, Cardigan Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) immediately becomes my all-time favorite superhero. I’m super bummed out that Endgame mentions what Captain Marvel is up to only briefly. We’re told over and over again about the intergalactic consequences of what Thanos did, but we never actually see it. Spending some time with Captain Marvel while she helps other planets rebuild could have been a perfect way to show us. Instead, we find out what Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has been up to. Yay?
I’ll get back to Hawkeye in a second… Ant Man, played by Paul Rudd, who tries here to play a bit more traditional superhero with mixed results, and Iron Man discover time travel. Thus, Endgame confirms what every nerd on the internet predicted for months: the Avengers travel back in time to our favorite MCU moments and also Thor: The Dark World. They do this to steal the magic space rocks and undo Thanos’ genocide.
So, let’s talk about Hawkeye because, unfortunately, he’s in the movie. Marvel movies never figured out how to use this guy. Rather than ditch him, they doubled-down and gave Hawkeye an increasingly prominent role in their biggest franchise. In Endgame, Hawkeye teams up with Black Widow to retrieve the only magic space rock that just so happens to make you kill a loved one before you can actually use it. In Marvel’s biggest headscratcher ever, Black Widow lets Hawkeye kill her to get the rock. Somehow, it’s not the other way around?
This is the biggest disappointment of Endgame. Black Widow, who predates Thor and Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, dies in a lame subplot about Hawkeye, of all people. There’s not a person on Earth who can present a serious case that this ending makes any sort of sense for her character. Growing up as a vicious assassin, Black Widow was essentially dead on the inside when we first met her. Her whole arc over the past decade was her slow realization that she actually deserves a life. To just dispose of Black Widow like this means that her life was nothing but a poop salad that ended with more poop. The fact that it was in service of the absolute lamest, most unwanted Avenger just makes it that much worse. No, I don’t buy the angle that she finally redeems herself by sacrificing her life to undo all the bad happenings. Black Widow redeemed herself a long time ago. The whole point of her story was forgiving herself. If anything, the redemption narrative is still a better fit for Hawkeye’s arc in Endgame anyway.
Despite Hawkeye shenanigans, the Avengers collect the magic rocks, and Cardigan Hulk undoes the genocide at the very moment when a past version Thanos travels into the future to attack Avengers headquarters. Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his wizard pals teleport every superhero in the MCU to the rubble, and holy balls, we get the best superhero throwdown anyone’s ever seen. In one of my all-time favorite shots, Captain America leads the superhero army while wielding Thor’s hammer, finally delivering his iconic comic book line: “Avengers assemble.” My favorite part isn’t even the line itself, but the moment right before it. The Avengers theme music ramps up more intensely than it ever has before, the camera sweeps across the front line of superheroes and goes into a tight close-up of Captain America, then we get that beautiful moment where everything goes quiet right before he says the word “assemble.” It’s everything I ever wanted and more.
The battle ends with the Endgame spoiler to end all Endgame spoilers: Iron Man dies using the magic rocks to defeat Thanos. Just about everyone on the planet figured that he wouldn’t make it out of this movie, but it still hurts. It’s a proper sendoff, no doubt, even if seeing his body chewed up like that feels a little more brutal than expected. I really worried killing off Iron Man in this movie would feel more obligatory than anything, but no. Iron Man gets a solid conclusion. I complained that Infinity War didn’t give me much hope Endgame would truly change the MCU, especially not after Thor 4 was announced and “no more Captain America movies” seems unrealistic. I was wrong. Sure, Thor’s alive, but the version of him we knew feels dead. The title of Captain America will live on but with a totally revamped tone.
Iron Man’s death is meant to be the big tearjerker, but Endgame waited until its way out the door to get me. Captain America travels back in time once again to put back all the magic rocks, but decides to stick around in the 1940s and live the normal life with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) that was stolen from him. Ending on a beautiful little shot of Cap and Peggy dancing is exactly why the MCU is so good: because they take care of the big superhero moments and the tiny human moments. You feel as emotional for Captain America’s happy ending as you do for Iron Man’s death. I really wish Black Widow’s ending looked similar, but alas. There will be an Avengers 4 somewhere down the road, and it’ll feature a lot of Avengers we’ve already met, but it probably won’t feel like this Avengers. That’s the best promise Endgame can make.
Grade = A
Bonus round (stray observations)
- I really hope Falcon (Anthony Mackie) doesn’t take a super soldier serum in his role as the new Captain America. Standing up to villains when he doesn’t have any superpowers would feel that much more Captain America-y. Totally love the idea of a more vulnerable Cap.
- I got a kick out of the really awkward close-up of Iron Man seeing Captain Marvel for the first time. They seriously hold on his face for 45 seconds while he slowly wakes up, and it’s like every square centimeter of his cheeks twitches in opposite directions.
- Fans of HBO’s series The Leftovers and the MCU spent the past year joking that Hawkeye’s arc in Endgame would rip-off a character from that show. That’s exactly what happens, exactly how they joked it would happen.
- The Avengers fight CGI armies in all three Avengers It gets a pass this time, but the other two Avengers retroactively lose their passes. No more CGI armies, MCU. You’re done.
- Captain Marvel flying through spaceships is so satisfying.
- I’m disappointed Thanos is never referred to by his comic book nickname “Mad Titan.”
- Another reason to be annoyed by the Hawkeye/Black Widow thing: The scene at the end between Hawkeye and Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) talking about the people they lost would have worked better with Black Widow.
- Past Cap fighting Future Cap is destined to become a meme next election year.