“So you’re all astronauts, on some kind of… Avengers Endgame?”*

I’m not going to sugarcoat this. This article contains really big spoilers for Avengers: Endgame. If you haven’t seen the film yet, I could not be less inclined to recommend you read this article, because I’ll be discussing most or all of its major twists and turns. If you’ve already seen the film, or you’re the kind of maverick who doesn’t care about knowing things in advance, scroll down past this delightful picture of Avengers Black Widow and Hawkeye enjoying a quiet drink.

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Yes, it’s an obvious joke, but at least I didn’t post the Uma Thurman version.

In front of my Game of Thrones piece last week, I stated that the article absolutely wasn’t a review… And then essentially reviewed it anyway. This, on the other hand, can’t be a review; whilst I have a lot of concrete thoughts about individual parts of Avengers: Endgame, I don’t yet know how I feel about it as a whole. It’s a sprawling epic, a three-hour ordeal, and I felt emotionally drained by the time the credits rolled – only for the Star Trek VI-style curtain call to wring out a few more tears as I reflected on the last eleven years of my life.

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That’s @WalterKoenig, folks. Man was ahead of his time.

There’s also both a lot of things about Avengers: Endgame that I loved, and a lot of things that I didn’t. With Avengers: Infinity War (look, can we just take it for granted that if I say ‘Infinity War’ or ‘Endgame’ I mean the Avengers ones?), I enjoyed everything on a superficial level but found the experience pretty hollow on rewatching. I feel confident in saying that Endgame is a more satisfying film than Infinity War, and not just because it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. But other than that? It’s a really mixed bag for me. Time will tell as to whether I’m going to be stripped of my geek credentials for even thinking that.

So let’s start with some of the positives about Avengers: Endgame, because I’d argue there are many. The phrase ‘the Marvel Universe will never be the same again!’ has become something of a cliche within comic book solicitations; often this equates to a character death which is reversed in a few years, or whenever said character next has a film coming out. Endgame does, of course, walk back many of the events of Infinity War; not only is the snap undone, but by the end of the film there’s alternate versions of both of Infinity War‘s major casualties running around with a chance of popping up in future movies.

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Well this is awkward. Sorry, Heimdall.

Arguably, though, Endgame does effect the biggest change to the MCU since, well, ever. By the end of the film, Iron Man is dead (and Pepper Potts has the Rescue armour), Captain America has grown old and passed on the shield to Sam Wilson, Black Widow is gone, there’s a settlement of Asgardians on Earth, the Hulk has merged with Bruce Banner… Oh, and half the population is five years older than the other half and is probably experiencing some pretty serious PTSD. Also, Thor has two hammers now, but we’ll get to him when I start discussing the worst parts of the film. Spoiler: He’s one of them.

Nothing that happens in this film is completely irreversible, as I pointed out several times while trying to console my distraught mother after she came out of her screening on Thursday night – I used the phrase ‘It’s comics’ multiple times. There are a hundred ways they could bring Robert Downey Jr back, from fake-outs and time travel to artificial intelligence and life model decoys. But real-world factors the comics don’t have to contend with – such as ageing actors, contracts and salaries – mean that the changes are much more likely to stick.

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I didn’t forget that Vision died in Infinity War; I just didn’t care.

One of the many reasons why Joss Whedon’s The Avengers (or, if you’re a UK viewer, Marvel’s The Avengers Assemble to Fight Loki in New York) occupies a special place in my heart is that the climactic battle sequence was unlike anything we’d seen before in live action. It truly was a comic-book battle writ large, with that beautiful continuous shot following each of the Avengers through the action.

There have been many imitators in the years since, but nothing that has captured – and possibly topped – that thrill until now. Granted, Endgame‘s all-out brawl does to some extent ride the wave of emotion caused by the sudden reappearance of everyone who might get a film in Phase 4 and beyond, but even the most hardened of cynics would surely be excited by what follows. Giant Man, the Guardians, Captain Marvel, the Wakandans, the sorcerors… The Avengers. Finally assembled and kicking arse. That must have been quite the day on set.

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I am choosing to believe that Marvel assembled all of its stars on location together for the final battle, and anyone who attempts to disabuse me of this notion will be blocked.

One element of the climax that I’m sure will get plenty of angry reaction videos from those sorts of YouTubers is the one where the women of Marvel band together to provide an escort for the Infinity Stones. On a surface level, it was exciting to see those heroes working together in the name of girl power (and, y’know, saving the universe). It was a bit jarring in style from the rest of the action around it, which largely saw heroes getting their individual spotlights, but it was a fun and well-meaning moment.

It’s just a pity that it’s not one the film earned at any point.

Marvel Studios really doesn’t have a brilliant track record with its female heroes, and in press interviews for Endgame Scarlett Johansson has talked about the fact the Avengers films were a bit of a testosterone-fest to work on until the likes of Brie Larson joined the gang. It’s a shame, then, that Marvel appears to operate a one-in, one-out policy; Captain Marvel’s here, so farewell Natasha Romanoff.

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Clearly the omission of Black Widow from so much Avengers merchandise was just a massive Endgame spoiler, rather than sexism.

Black Widow is one of a few characters mistreated to an insulting degree by this film. Her death – a hollow retread of Gamora’s own demise from Infinity War, because nobody at Marvel could be bothered to think of another way to obtain the Soul Stone – served only to cap off Hawkeye’s own hilariously pointless arc (Lose family, become a murderer, get forgiven by Black Widow, get family back, all is well). Still, at least she got to spend the first hour of the film sitting around looking sad.

Black Widow’s death might be forgivable – she’s still got her own film coming out next year, after all – if it weren’t for the way the other female big hitters are(n’t) used. Much was made of Captain Marvel, with her brilliant solo film doing big business at the box office, but for the majority of Endgame she’s nowhere to be seen, with a hand-wavey line about having to do things elsewhere. Similarly Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, who made such an impression in Thor: Ragnarok, is completely sidelined until she’s needed for the crowd scenes at the end. The reason? She’s got a fishing village to run.

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Coming soon to Disney Plus, Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth star in ValaThory. Which might be bad, but it’s still a better title than WandaVision.

The only Woman of Marvel who gets a significant arc and survives to the end of the film is Karen Gillan’s Nebula, a character who presumably isn’t considered feminine enough by movie execs to be off-putting to audiences. The bionic blue baldie is a surprising choice as one of the few characters to benefit from rich character material in the Endgame script, but somehow it works. It helps that we’re reintroduced to the 2014 version of Nebula for comparison, and Gillan does a surprisingly good job of playing the subtle differences between the two.

Less surprising is that both Iron Man and Captain America get the lion’s share of the character work in Endgame as each of their arcs comes to a (presumed) close. That one of them would make a noble sacrifice isn’t exactly unexpected, but before we got to that point we also got to see the best possible version of Tony Stark – at peace and settled down in the woods with his wife and child. Stark’s new family situation may have been one of several functional beats written into the script to ensure that the Avengers couldn’t just travel back five years and go for the head, but it also raised the emotional stakes and gave the troubled genius at least a taste of a happy ever after before the inevitable sacrifice.

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All of which will come as precious little comfort to Ally McBeal.

Giving Iron Man the noble sacrifice leaves writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely free to send Captain America down a different path. Steve Rogers’ story has always been one of loss; he lost Bucky, he lost Peggy, he lost the Avengers and then he lost half of the population. Although he gets most of these things back by the time Thanos is defeated in Endgame, there’s still a fundamental loneliness to the character that resonates throughout the franchise. In finally giving Steve the one thing he’s clung onto throughout the series – a life with Peggy – Endgame finishes on one of the most satisfying character beats possible.

…At least, it would have done, were it not for the truly confusing time travel mechanics the film employs. Chris Farnell over at Den of Geek published an article explaining everything, but all I gained by reading that was a bigger headache. I thought I had a vague handle on how time travel worked in Endgame, but Old Man Rogers turning up on a bench in the ‘prime’ timeline threw a massive spanner into my brain. Assuming they bring back the version of Loki who disappeared during the New York battle, I’m just going to have to try not to think about it too much.

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“And they had the nerve to say our time travel was bullshit!”

The time travel mechanic is really just an excuse for Endgame to revisit some of the MCU’s greatest hits (And, for some reason, Thor: The Dark World). It’s hugely rewarding for long-time viewers to revisit characters like Jasper Sitwell and Howard Stark, and the film is utterly packed with easter eggs – perhaps my favourite being the Hydra-shaped nod to Nick Spencer’s controversial (read: utterly ludicrousSecret Empire storyline.

Previous MCU films have rewarded the faithful while still making an effort to be newcomer-friendly, but despite a mountain of exposition Endgame is likely to be fairly impenetrable to fresh eyes. But then, one could argue that if you decide to make your first Marvel film the fourth in the Avengers franchise alone – itself the second half of last year’s blockbuster – you probably have to bear some of the responsibility for being a bit lost.

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“Swear to god, if he asks me who that character is one more time…”

That’s not to say anyone being dragged along by a loved one to see Endgame will have a bad time. As well as the aforementioned action sequences, the film continues the merry Marvel tradition of having oodles of heart and an awful lot of jokes. Whereas rewatching Infinity War felt like a very hollow experience once I knew all of its punchlines and surprises, Endgame seems like a more emotionally satisfying film. Given its density, it’s also a film which should prove a lot more rewarding for the second-time viewer. (Full disclosure: I haven’t had chance to see it for a second time yet. There might be a follow-up article if I do and I hate it.)

Much has been made of the three-hour running time, because apparently the Lord of the Rings trilogy never happened. It’s hard to know whether all three hours of that time were justified, really. I’ve seen a number of people (including my friend and fellow blogger Emma) say that the first hour of the film was too slow and, while I understand where they’re coming from, particularly given the pace of what follows, I appreciated the time spent dealing with the consequences of Thanos’ snap, and would struggle with the idea of cutting much of it.

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That’s right, Cap; give me your salty, salty tears.

While in some ways the film probably was a bit too long, in others it wasn’t long enough; key plot points were either glossed over or skipped entirely. Carol Danvers shows up to rescue Iron Man without any explanation. Ant-Man’s freedom comes thanks to a lucky rat. And then there’s Bruce Banner.

Don’t get me wrong; I like the whole ‘Professor Hulk’ thing. It’s been done in the comics to great effect, and there’s a lot of potential if Mark Ruffalo comes back for more films, even if I wouldn’t say that potential was tapped much in Endgame. The merging of Bruce Banner and the Hulk is the payoff to a plot thread that’s been woven through Banner’s appearances since the beginning of the MCU. And it’s not a minor plotline; it featured heavily in Thor: Ragnarok and the Hulk’s refusal to come out and fight was a key part of the Avengers losing to Thanos in Infinity War.

Which is why it’s really hard to accept the fact that this resolution all takes place offscreen. A time jump, a couple of lines of dialogue and a storyline which goes right back to when the Hulk dated Liv Tyler is waved away. I’m not the world’s biggest Hulk fan or anything, but the guy’s a founding Avenger, and glossing over the climax of an eleven-year struggle just seems disrespectful to the character.

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No mean feat for a character who wanders round in purple boxers.

All of which finally brings us to Thor.

I honestly don’t know where to start with Thor.

One of the more common complaints about the trajectory The Simpsons has taken over the last thirty years is the way Homer Simpson has gone from being a bit of a thoughtless idiot to someone who would genuinely struggle to function in the real world. Thor has undertaken a similar journey in under a third of the time. As the story goes, Chris Hemsworth got fed up of playing the Shakespearean hero following roles in comedy films like Vacation and Ghostbusters, so Thor: Ragnarok director Taiki Waititi (Who reprises his role as Korg in Endgame) let him run wild and chuck a load of gags in.

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#irony

And that’s great. I was never especially fond of the relatively serious first two Thor films, and as such I enjoyed the much lighter tone of Ragnarok. But there’s a balance to be achieved between the stoic god of thunder who featured in The Avengers and the complete and total buffoon Chris Hemsworth wants to play, who just isn’t Thor. Ragnarok at least paid lip service to this by having Thor realise that he was equipped to lead the Asgardians on his own terms and in his own way.

Then came the time for Thor to be reintegrated into the Avengers. Thor trod a fine line between irritant and lovable buffoon in Infinity War, where he waved willies around with Chris Pratt (please don’t have them together for long in Guardians 3) and called Rocket Rabbit, but also succeeded in his own quest to get Stormbreaker forged and return to Earth to try and save the day.

Which brings us inevitably to Endgame, where Thor is a cipher for jokes about being a fat, lazy drunken wreck and… Very little else. The idea that Thor’s failure in Infinity War has driven him to depression and coping mechanisms is a powerful one, and one I’m entirely down with. There’s even room for humour with that, as there is with most things. But in Endgame the joke is rarely more sophisticated than “Haha, Thor is fat and drunk.”

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Hemsworth’s Ghostbusters role seems nuanced by comparison.

I feel I should declare a personal stake in this. Those of you who haven’t seen me might not realise that I’m not some svelte young thing; I’m a 25+ stone goliath who sunk as far into his seat as possible when everyone around him in the cinema was laughing at the fact that Thor has a bit of a belly now. This piece over at the Mary Sue verbalises my issues with this far better than I ever could.

And it continues for the entire film. His mum tells him to eat some salad. He goes to put on the new Infinity Gauntlet and everyone reacts with horror. He gets some good fighting in during the final battle, but then he goes back to New Asgard admitting he’s not fit to be a leader and joining the Guardians for some uncomfortable joking-but-not-really sparring with Star Lord. Everything about Thor in this film was horrible (except for the bit where he threatened some gamer trolls; that was funny). While the other two ‘core Avengers’ received thoughtful and fitting sendoffs, Thor got this. Endgame is the natural culmination of Thor’s story in the same way that a fatal traffic accident is the natural culmination of sledding down a steep hill into a busy road.

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“Yeah, but what did you really think?”

I don’t want to end this piece on a negative note, but in one sense it’s fitting, because I left the cinema on a bit of a negative note. As I mentioned when I started writing this post four years ago, I was really emotional by the time the credits rolled. The touch with the actors’ signatures lent a finality to it all in the same way that Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country did nearly 30 years earlier. This suddenly felt like the end of a not-insignificant chapter of my life.

I understand the rationale behind not including any kind of post-credits tease or throw-forward on Endgame. I do. But in my heart… I needed something to look forward to. I needed something to get excited about for the future. I needed this film to throw me a lifeline on a base emotional level. I felt cast adrift like Tony Stark at the start of the movie, only there was no Captain Marvel flying in to save me.

Our next visit to the MCU will be in July, with Spider-Man: Far from Home. But with Kevin Feige declaring that the film is part of Marvel’s ‘Phase Three’, we’re going to have to wait and see whether that film gives us the hope for the future that we could all really do with right now…

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I can’t finish this post without at least mentioning Stan Lee, as my own post-credits scene. Avengers: Endgame contained his final cameo appearance, and I wish I could say it was one of his better ones. I was left wondering whether that was it, or whether ‘modern-day’ Stan would show up at some point. But his final line, “Make love, not war!”… Well, I suppose that’s not the worst note to end on.

*Apologies to Andrew of The Spoilist for essentially nicking his best running joke for my headline.

 

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