“Did you know the MCU would end up here?” a friend asked as we walked (or stumbled) out of Avengers: Endgame, mind blown, our hearts full and souls in tatters. The question is essentially a humble brag for Marvel Studios. Every year it seems like the MCU outdoes itself, and every year my friends and I think back to Iron Man – the one that started this whole thing, the little movie that could. “Not in the slightest,” we’d all agree, and our shared sentiments only affirm just how much this universe has grown beyond our wildest comic book dreams.
Most of us expected an Iron Man trilogy. No way, we thought, they’d pull off an Avengers movie. Fantastic 4, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Spider-Man 3 in the run-up prior left us wondering if this was it, that perhaps the splendor of superheroes wasn’t special anymore. Then Iron Man blasted through the stumbling block at lightspeed to remind us that of course this was special. How Marvel Studios revamps the comic book formula is why we show up for these movies year after year, and that investment pays off resoundingly with Avengers: Endgame.
How nice it is to sit in a theater for 3-hours. How nostalgic it is to not know a damn thing about the plot in a spoiler-frenzied internet culture. Like its predecessor, Endgame is an ode to its ensemble of superheroes and a throwback to blockbusters like Lord of the Rings – movies that not only go for broke in terms of mythology and scale, but invite you to stay. How can we not? We’ve shown up for the MCU so many times now that our asses have practically molded the seats.
Whereas Infinity War mainlined a breakneck pace, Endgame takes a refreshingly measured approach as characters grapple with mortality, regret, and defeat. Needless to say, if you didn’t like Infinity War’s cliffhanger ending, Endgame probably won’t convert you because the film deals with that loss seriously. For the first 40-minutes we find our heroes as they try and fail to move on or find a purpose. Their friends are all gone. Frankly, so are they.
Watching each of them play the “I’m fine” card opens up a well of emotion. How can you possibly see the “good in things” in a situation like this? We might know Spider-Man: Far From Home is around the corner, while movies like Black Panther 2 and Guardians 3 are staring us dead in the eye on Marvel’s film slate. But these characters aren’t let off the hook from their suffering, so why not pull up a chair in their misery?
I certainly never thought the Avengers would end up here. Cap leading a group therapy sesh, Thor drowning himself in beer and pizza and video games (my Thurday nights, basically), Natasha an absolute mess while eating a PB&J (my Monday mornings); I will never not be impressed at how Marvel manages to make these super-powered people feel irrevocably human. Personal failures in comic book narratives often fuel characters’ resolve; here, their failure leaves them drowning in limbo. We see the toll of their avenging for once, how it has given someone like Natasha a family, and how without that rhythm or purpose they’re just…lost. It’s so much easier to help others than it is to be raw and vulnerable.
Steve, sadly enough, has gone through this loss twice. He woke up from the ice an entire century ahead, having lost friends, having missed a lifetime with Peggy. He more than anyone knows what it’s like to assimilate into a familiar yet totally unrecognizable world. With a new time jump, the surviving Avengers are trapped in the playback moment when it all came crashing down. It’s strikingly relatable to see your heroes like this, whether it’s giving in to gluttony, vengeance, or refusing to move on. I don’t know what it’s like to be a billionaire genius, a paragon of virtue, or a god of thunder, but I know what it’s like to suffocate in guilt and despair, to fear getting on your feet because trying again means getting hurt again.
The only Avenger who finds a way to move on is Tony. The same Tony who was stricken with PTSD following the Battle of New York, and the same Tony who flinched at the thought of having a kid. Tony and Pepper achieve their happy ending. But the man who nearly killed himself in caves and labs trying to find solutions to protect the Earth isn’t quite finished. After all, it’s the destiny he instilled upon the whole team: “If we can’t protect the Earth, you can be damn well sure we’ll avenge it.”
Evening the score, though, means undoing The Snap entirely. The film’s time travel plot is a lot like a further regressive state for the Avengers. Earth’s mightiest heroes are now the most stubborn. They can’t deal with their failure, can’t stand the living monument of it so they travel back to the past and risk fracturing time, space, and reality to bring everybody back. Their stubbornness once nearly brought down the Helicarrier; this time around, being stubborn unites them together in a way they’ve never been before.
Endgame reaffirms the Avengers’ formation. To some, that might seem to toss the conflict of Civil War entirely. But their compromise to trust despite misgivings is what formed the Avengers in the first place. Because when the world wasn’t on their side, or now when the world has ended, they have each other. That’s what makes them more than a band of super-friends. Twenty-plus movies, we know exactly why this universe full of Lokis and Ultrons and Mad Titans needs their sacrifice. Endgame shows us why they need each other.
Time travel is the crux to undo the Snapture and it provides a victory lap through the MCU, but it’s also a chance for these characters to find closure, to heal. They journey in charming Scooby Doo fashion (breaking up into teams) and Back to the Future-style as they slyly try to avoid familiar faces or past selves— though it’s their past selves (and past failures) that offer the most perspective. Thor reconvenes with his mother on the day of her death; Steve gets a glimpse of Peggy who carried on despite losing him; Tony has a chance meeting with a father he never got to know; while Clint and Natasha reconcile the debt that brought them together. Imagine that, their salvation lies in regression, in opening scars at their most fragile to rediscover their purpose.
Three hours affords plenty of time for everybody on the roster to shine. RDJ weaves the last threads of Tony Stark’s expansive 9-movie tapestry, completing his character’s selfless heroism in his final moments using but a stare and a few stolen breaths. Chris Evans, too, is as remarkably subdued as ever, and Mark Ruffalo is madly captivating (and painfully funny) in his voicework and delivery.
The minimal or nonexistent players of Infinity War get LOTS MORE to do here. Jeremy Renner sells an emotionally pivotal and irreversible moment; Paul Rudd, who’s often reduced to few quips in these movies, is given ample room for a tender performance; and Karen Gillan’s Nebula emerges as the tortured beating heart of Endgame. If Gamora started the journey of an emotionally abusive father-daughter dynamic, then Nebula’s arc is the catharsis of 2 sisters who stand in solidarity against a shared tormentor. (Who knew the daughters of Thanos would get the most character development in these Avengers movies?)
Instead of action beats to break up all the talk of never-ending stakes and alternate futures, we get to see these superstar performers perform – something Infinity War didn’t have the time to do. Endgame has all the time it needs and the cast loads the film’s second act with high-powered charm and wit. (Watching the Avengers brainstorm is a cinematic treat alone.) It’s a welcome change of pace that mitigates the dread permeating the film’s first act. Endgame is surprisingly light on pulverizing action compared to Infinity War, but the pullback isn’t so much a tradeoff as it is a tact to make us, the audience, EARN the film’s mega-finale.
Anyone who spent their childhood crafting the biggest battle on their living room floors with dozens of action figures strewn about (uniting IPs like Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers and the Justice League — forming our own ambitious crossovers and not knowing it), then Endgame’s finale will have you in buckets of pure joy. Endgame also makes us earn the “Avengers, assemble!” line, and it is all I’ve ever wanted out of these movies. I couldn’t handle the spectacle the first or second or third time, just as the screen can hardly contain the massive splash-page of superheroes fighting in one epic shot (think the first Avengers tracking shot dialed to infinity).
There’s so many holy shit! moments that I have to narrow it down to my favorites *cracks knuckles*: Ant-Man throwing a haymaker at a chitauri leviathan, Tony and Pepper repulsor-beaming back to back, Black Panther bobbing and weaving like Emmitt Smith in his prime, Wanda unleashing the Scarlet Witch on a deserving Thanos, Captain Marvel’s uproarious entrance, followed by a unified shot of all the superpowered women on the lineup. (I get the complaints about this moment, but my god the way that shot is done gives me goosebumps.) At one point, Spider-Man is cradling the Infinity Gauntlet and hitching a ride by web-slinging Mjolnir. That sentence alone is so utterly bananas that if you relayed it to me 5 years ago, I’d have Hulk-smashed you like a ragdoll.
This Infinity Gauntlet saga has surpassed all that I could have possibly hoped for AND THEN SOME. I find myself not at all demanding more and just basking in what we’ve been lucky to witness. A comic book universe painstakingly realized, and a cast of characters that 20 years ago seemed unlikely to ever grace the screen all in one movie. As Thanos says, this whole thing was inevitable, and it makes the signing off of certain characters no less bittersweet.
When Tony says, “I love you 3000,” he’s also saying it to the fans. This would never have been possible had we not shown up screaming or were generally insufferable about these movies. In my own stubborn way, I never saw this ending (because we’re so spoiled with media and content that we always demand more), yet I feel nothing but profound gratitude towards all those involved for having made this so epically worthwhile.
Nearly a month since release, I can say without flinching, Endgame is the perfect Marvel movie. The blockbuster to end all blockbusters, and a soon to be classic that will gallop into the halls of cherished cinematic memory if it hasn’t already. I owe so much of my own cherished crowd-theater experiences to the MCU. Watching these characters bid farewell to each other, I didn’t quite realize just how attached I had become or how unprepared I was to say goodbye.
I hate goodbyes, but at least with movies it doesn’t have to be. We can always revisit these stories again whenever we feel like it. (Now we can add Endgame to our 48-hour Marvel marathons.) Call me stubborn. Call this regressing, but I will travel back to the theater all summer to re-watch Endgame again and again until my own reality is torn and my eyes have completely dried up.
Because I love this thing 3000.