Over the course of the last 11 years, Marvel has redefined what is possible for comic book film adaptations. Starting with Iron Man in 2008, Marvel took a B-tier hero and used him to launch an empire that nobody saw coming. Wisely sticking the interconnected bits to post-credits scenes, Marvel had a fallback plan in case its multi-year strategy didn’t pan out. Of course, the plan worked, but every possible scenario was accounted for.
Now, we’ve reached Avengers: Endgame and the world is shaking. Against all odds, Marvel managed to create 22 films that were all well-received, grossed a ton of money, and respected the continuity of each other to arrive at a massive cross-over event. Completely unprecedented in the realm of not only film but television too, Endgame represents the best possible way that anyone could conceivably tie together so many years of storytelling.
Why, then, don’t I think the film is that great?
There are a lot of things to unpack from that statement, but it goes beyond simply being burned out on superhero movies. Even if I despised the thought of another comic book film, Marvel has earned the right to self-congratulate with a gigantic film like this. For fans of the brand, they want to be reassured that their investment hasn’t been for naught. They want to see their favorite moments recognized, get passing mentions to the comic books that spawned this empire, and even have proper send-offs for characters/actors that won’t be with us anymore. Endgame is almost the perfect example of a “Critic Proof” film in that it will be legendary to the right people.
For me, though, that doesn’t excuse the plot contrivances taken during certain segments. It doesn’t explain how the action choreography is still a mess of confusing jump cuts. It doesn’t forgive how the first two hours provide practically nothing in terms of momentum. Much like how I felt about Infinity War, Endgame feels like the half of a bigger whole instead of a complete film.
Let’s wind back and talk about the parts I actually did enjoy. This is obviously going to contain spoilers, so if you haven’t seen Endgame yet, then please leave and come back after. I will not be held responsible for ruining the biggest cinematic event of the decade.
Okay, let’s begin.
Starting with the intro, it’s incredible how well the marketing for Endgame concealed the actual plot of the film. My expectation was that Thanos was still running rampant (or at least farming rampant) with the Infinity Stones and that the remaining Avengers would fight a perilous battle over the course of three hours to thwart him. Instead, the team locates and kills him within 10 minutes and the movie jumps five years into the future. Talk about a shock to the system.
From there, Ant-Man returns and the movie sort of becomes a heist film. Everyone agrees to use the Pym particles to travel through time and recollect the Infinity Stones to reverse what Thanos has done. There’s jokes, bits about how important everyone is to each other, and an unspoken agreement to not mess with history too much. It’s basically Back to the Future, just with some jabs about how the science of that film is kind of stupid.
Thing is, this accounts for nearly 65% of the film. I understand not wanting to over-stuff the proceedings with constant action and I appreciate focusing on the characters, but there really is no momentum in recollecting the Infinity Stones. Sure, we have to explain how certain characters end up meeting and formulating their plan, but I wouldn’t have noticed if an hour was cut off of this film. A lot of time is dedicated to setting the stage instead of actually showing us that stage. When we do eventually get there, it doesn’t feel like all that build-up was necessary.
Because nothing can go right in the realm of a movie, some very convenient plot devices stop certain Avengers from collecting their time stones. Thor has his whole shtick with being fat and afraid, Tony happens to run into past Hulk and drop the tesseract, and for some reason Nebula now belongs to a neural network that Thanos can hack into. Talk about out of left field with that last one.
I might be thinking more logically about all of this (a film shouldn’t operate solely on real-world logic or else there would never be conflict), but it’s awfully convenient that these problems are happening at exactly the same time for everyone. In typical Marvel fashion, though, these issues get resolved rather quickly and feel flat because of it. Thor runs off and leaves Rocket alone, but then encounters his mother who gives him a quick pep talk. He’s now ready to take on the world, dad bod and all. Tony and Cap quickly figure out another point in time where they can collect the tesseract and more Pym particles, which then goes incredibly well for them while providing fan service at the same time. Nebula may have brought another Thanos to Earth, but she and Gamora reconcile and kill the other Nebula after a minute long conversation.
It simply reminds me of how Iron Man 3 rushed its fairly interesting plot to spur a climax with the villain. Instead of having Tony actually face his fears and overcome his existential crisis, a kid tells him he’s Iron Man and Tony goes, “You’re right.” Problem solved! I mean, if going to 1970 meant everyone could have gotten a ton more Pym particles, then what was the whole point of the “We’ve only got one shot at this” speech? Sure, no one thought of it yet (and they were trying to get as many Infinity Stones in the same place as possible), but it’s pretty stupid to give yourself only a single shot when you could have taken a safer route.
Nebula, though, just confuses the hell out of me. I’ll fully admit that I haven’t watched either of the Guardians of the Galaxy films, which means I could have missed the detail, but the revelation of her being on a neural network comes out of thin air. War Machine and her head to Morag during a period where Gamora, Thanos, and Nebula were first locating the Infinity Stones and somehow, current Nebula’s thoughts play through past Nebula’s mind. Thanos then consults with his Squidward-looking confidant and apparently they can just hack into both Nebula’s at will. That’s some grade-A BS if I’ve ever heard it before.
I’d be more willing to accept that nonsense if the action scenes were good, but Endgame fails at that. The Russo Brothers may know how to stage a fight with some incredible build-up, but they certainly cannot film one. Captain America fights a younger version of himself and the camera jitters around with so many close-ups and shaky effects that it’s hard to even understand what is happening. They fall through some glass, land on the ground, and just when young Cap is about to win, old Cap tells him Bucky is still alive. Woo, that was a close one; expect it didn’t look like anyone actually fought.
The gigantic final battle scene is also full of CGI and hard to distinguish bodies. Black Panther gets lost in the shuffle, Spider-Man connects his webs to seemingly nothing, and Captain Marvel comes in to literally end the conflict with her existence. There’s even a girl power moment that is undermined by how Captain Marvel doesn’t actually need any help at all. It’s just gratuitous self-aggrandizing nonsense that doesn’t give anyone a chance to shine.
I get why this all happened, but as a film on its own without any of the historical context, it feels completely overstuffed. There is at least a story with a small cast for the majority of the duration, but the bits where everyone is there is like a visual presentation of the old saying, “Too many cooks in the kitchen.” It’s hard to focus on any one element because 40,000 are happening at the same time.
Referring to Flixist’s own review on the matter, I really don’t know what else Marvel could have done. For the moment, Endgame is the template for how to handle a massive superhero team-up flick. From a small seed, a mighty trunk may grow, as they say, and I’m sure when Marvel gets a second crack at this, the film will be even better. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t have my criticisms and I will contend that Endgame isn’t all that great.
Separate it from the hype and build-up, and the movie feels a bit empty. Even when watched back-to-back with Infinity War, the two films don’t compliment each other well. One has a strong focus on Thanos while the other barely features him. One is a more focused, constantly moving action film while the other is a slow burn. Still, how else could Marvel have wrapped up this era of the MCU? Who else has even attempted this type of cinematic crossover before? Until that does happen, Infinity War and Endgame are the best we’ve got.