Avengers: Eh-ndgame is an appropriately big, dumb, and emotional send-off to the biggest portfolio of corporate assets ever assembled.
Spoilers aplenty start below!
Having all but thrown myself from the Marvel train years ago, I come into these last two Avengers films from an inherently disadvantageous place. A big draw for the MCU is how all the films connect, and that aspect is more or less lost on me because I haven't seen or don't care for more than half of them. I was surprised by how much I ended up enjoying Infinity War, which was a success because it didn't feel as heavily reliant on the events of past, and told a refreshingly simple story with a huge number of personalities in a cohesive way. I still don't know how they pulled that film off.
Endgame serves as both Infinity War Part 2 and Marvel Movie #22, which puts it in a bit of a tricky place for people who aren't caught up on every detail. Things that were stupid or lazy to me may make sense to someone who's seen all the other films. There are still plenty of those little Marvel things that drive me crazy, but if these things haven't bothered you before, they certainly won't bother you now. Marvel fans will shit their pants over this movie, and so will a lot of people who see it. So did I, at points. Most of the action is creative and well-done, and the characters are still very charming and fun to hang out with. I was surprised and kinda bummed they didn't bring all the “dead” ones back sooner. It was obvious they were going to, and it would have been nice to spend a little time with them instead of just portaling them in to mug for the camera right before the final fight. They're missing some heavy hitters this time around, and their absence was definitely felt.
The most notable new addition to the cast is Captain Marvel, who makes a cameo so bizarre that it had me furrowing my brow more than usual. When the film begins, Tony Stark and Nebula are floating through the void of space, with no hope in sight and oxygen running low. Do they find a way out of this mess in a dramatically-satisfying, character-driven way? Nope, an ultra-powerful glowing she-goddess, who neither of them have ever met, appears out of nowhere to carry their ship back to Earth 1000 light years away. After hanging around for a few more scenes, she just fucks off for the rest of the film, only to reappear during the final battle to turn the tide for our heroes. These films are no stranger to literally teleporting characters into a scene to save the day, but it felt extra weird here because nobody in the movie actually knows who Captain Marvel is, and her Stark rescue effectively sets the wheels in motion for the entire film. I was looking forward to seeing what they would do with her, as I assumed she would have some kind of bigger role here, but was surprised that they reduced her to a literal Deux Ex Machina. I've never seen a cameo quite like it, and it’s the kind of complete nonsense that could only be tolerated in a series like this.
The film moves into high gear pretty much right away, with the surviving Avengers running off to find Thanos, get back the Infinity Stones, and undo the snap. By the time they arrive, he'd already traded in his armor for a t-shirt and destroyed the stones, so Thor just chops his motherfucking head right off and then BAM: Cut to five years later. I didn’t have many expectations going into this, but I genuinely didn’t expect them to accomplish all of that in the first 15 minutes. I figured they would build to that final bungalow confrontation over the course of three hours, but nope. Off with his head, straight to the post-snap dystopia five years later. This first quiet act is where Endgame really shines. We get lots of quality time with the Avengers who have been with us since the beginning, setting up their final bows nicely. Thor becoming a fat drunk recluse was probably my favorite thread here, minus the bad fat suit makeup.
The second act is where things started to come off the rails for me. Ant Man, another character who wasn’t in the last Avengers film, shows up and helps the gang advance the plot by unlocking the mysteries of time travel. The plan? Go back to the past and get the stones before Thanos. “A Time Heist!” hypes Paul Rudd several times. From there, we're treated to three time-hopping mini-adventures that take place adjacent to moments we've already seen in this series, sorta like Back to the Future II. It's a cool idea on paper, but with the exception of Cap's team's return to New York during the end of the first Avengers, the other two stories landed with a thud for me. Fat Thor's adventure takes him back to the least-successful film in the MCU (which I didn’t see), while Hawkeye and Black Widow's was virtually a recreation of the soul stone scene in Infinity War. I’ll bet mega fans will appreciate this section more than I did, but after a great expectation-defying first act, it was disappointing to see the creativity take a dip in the second with this literal retread of the past.
Things improve a bit in the explosive third act. After inexplicably installing the Infinity Stones onto a regular-ass Iron Man glove rather than the formerly very important Infinity Gauntlet, it becomes a race to see who can out-snap who, culminating with satisfying and emotional conclusions for our main heroes. The final battle is appropriately enormous in scale, with all of the formerly dead brand assets teleporting in to fuck up a faceless CG horde just in the nick of time. Iron Man's final snaprifice worked wonders on an emotional level, despite occurring minutes after literally billions of people come back to life and prove how meaningless death is. I did find it kind of unbelievable that they didn’t show how he actually wrestled the Plot Gauntlet away from Thanos. They show him rush Thanos, and then cut to some quick close-ups, and then he has all the stones. The actual getting of the stones is hidden in a cut and presented like a sleight of hand trick. And I mean, it's fine, I guess. The emotions of that moment really don't give you a chance to scrutinize what seems to me like a pretty glaring visual omission.
It's just, I dunno, am I the only one who thinks all this Marvel Shorthand™ cheapens the moment? Iron Man is able to make the ultimate sacrifice because he did something that none of the hilariously overpowered action figures could do: Get the stones from Thanos, which really has been the goal since day one of this mega-franchise. He somehow pulls it off, but we're never actually shown how. We just accept it because he's Iron Man and he's awesome. And right when you do begin to question it, the camera pushes in real close as Robert Downey Jr. holds his bejeweled hand up and brings 11 years of his career to a close with one final "I am Iron Man." And you feel it. And you forget why it even pissed you off for just a few moments.
Is Endgame satisfying as a film? Mostly-ish. I was hoping for something as good as Infinity War, and this definitely isn’t that. Is it satisfying as the closing chapter to one of the most ambitious cinematic experiments ever conducted? I’d say so. Look, you know if you're going to like this movie already. Marvel uses every trick in its playbook to wring feelings out of people, and to their credit, they even got a jaded fuck like me to get a bit misty. I’d probably rank it firmly in the middle among the MCU films I’ve seen. Not bad, pretty good at points, solidly stupid and entertaining throughout. I guess the biggest takeaway I can say about Endgame is that, no matter where you fall on the Marvel spectrum, it will most likely turn out exactly how you expect, for better or worse. In every way, it is the culmination of the years they spent making these characters loved by all, and they earn all the tears they jerk.