Just because a film is good, does not mean it is without major flaws. Equally, discussion of a great film can include criticisms. Avengers: Endgame is such a film, with the added disadvantage of being a Pop Culture Milestone. It serves as an ending to the MCU and must resolve many character arcs, but without seeming too final, as the MCU will continue afterward. It succeeds at the majority of these aspects, but the times it fails failures almost overcome the successes.
The story picks up 3 months after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, with the remaining Avengers unsure of Thanos’ location. With the return of Captain Marvel, along with the previously desolate Tony Stark and Nebula, there is finally a chance to find him. Thanos has retired to a planet he calls The Garden, where the Avengers take him off guard, cutting the Infinity Gauntlet and the hand it is still fitted to from his body. However it is too late, as he has already used the Stones to destroy the Stones, but this doesn’t stop Thor from decapitating him. This beheading is bittersweet vindication as it is what Thanos deserves, but it won’t bring anyone back to life. This is before the screen cuts to black and the words “5 years later” make their way onto the screen at a painstakingly slow pace. It almost seems to be allowing time for the audience to process what they have just witnessed and that the universe indeed has to live with the effects of The Snap for 5 years.
From here, we catch up with each of the remaining Avengers. Nat is still keeping an eye on the world, including Clint Barton who has taken to murdering gang members out of rage, whilst Steve Rogers is running a therapy group for survivors of The Snap. It is a small group that includes a cameo from Thanos creator Jim Starling and director Anthony Russo who is portraying a gay man. To call him the MCU’s first canonically gay character would technically be correct, albeit overly gracious. To have a nameless gay character who is only present for a moment, can be cut without affecting the plot, and is used as a director’s cameo, is not a win- it’s insulting. It is disappointing. Although, at this point in the franchise’s history, it is not surprising.
Ant-Man returns from the Quantum Realm and reunites with his now-grown daughter Cassie. Despite being away for 5 years, he experienced it as 5 hours, leading him to the theory that the Quantum Realm could be used as a time machine- a brilliant idea that requires a large brain. Thus, the crew head to Tony Stark’s cabin in the woods, where he resides with Pepper and their 5-year-old daughter Morgan. He still holds a grudge against Steve for the events of Captain America: Civil War because he is petty and resistant to change, so the crew seeks the help of Bruce Banner who has merged his mind with Hulk’s body to create what the credits lovingly refer to as Smart Hulk. Having this major character development occur off-screen after being wasted in Infinity War is a real kick in the teeth. The situation is only moderately acceptable due to Banner’s optimistic awkwardness.
Smart Hulk and Rocket Raccoon then travel to the small village of New Asgard in [Norway?] to recruit Thor who is living with Korg and Meik. He has grown ever more depressed and piled on weight which is Endgame’s first major stumble. Thor’s depression and, later, self-acceptance should be one of the strongest emotional arcs in the film, but it is used time and time again as the butt of jokes. It’s morally disgusting and made worse by Thor not being hugely obese. His weight is that of a not-eve-middle-aged man who drinks too much, and he’s nowhere near as rotund as his friend Volstagg. It also conflates weight gain with depression which is borderline dangerous. Depression can lead to weight gain (and/or loss), as well as alcohol abuse, but they are not synonymous. Equally, somebody can have issues with weight gain/loss and/or alcohol abuse without being depressed. Endgame never makes that distinction, as it’s too busy using them all as punchlines. If you are having any of these issues, please speak to a medical professional.
This is where Stark rejoins the team, having solved Time Travel by inverting a mobius strip and other such fake technical jargon. This is Endgame‘s other biggest issue… the time travel mechanics. Of course, the simple solution is alternate timelines but the Russo Brothers have stated in interviews that it is not. If this is the case, then there is no reasonable explanation for how any of it works, which the Russo brothers are aware of. They know that their time travel doesn’t make sense and they don’t care, which led me to 2 years of torment figuring out how this all fits together if not with alternate timelines. The answer is simple. The Russo brothers are liars. Presented next is the solution:
Since 2008, the MCU has taken place one solid timeline, which I’ll call Alpha. When the Avengers travel into the past, they do so simultaneously, and in taking the Infinity Stones, create one solid alternate timeline which I’ll dub Beta. This means that despite leaving from the Alpha timeline, they return on the Beta timeline. This is the timeline that they save, although unknowingly. When Cap jumps back to the moment they took the stones, he returns stability to the Alpha timeline. Upon jumping to 1945, he once again jumps onto the Beta timeline, where he lives out the rest of his life, leading to Old Cap on a bench (again) in the Beta timeline. The 2014 version of Thanos, who jumps through the time portal and emerges in the Beta Timeline is already from the Beta timeline. This does not mean that there are 2 sets of Avengers in the Beta universe as it’s safe to assume that the Beta Universe Avengers also jumped into a separate universe, creating an infinite cascade of Avengers replacing Avengers. This ultimately means that the MCU now takes place on the Beta timeline, not that it matters given what happens to the timeline in later projects, which makes the entire situation even more infuriating.
Meanwhile, in the plot, The Avengers are pulling off their time heist. Tony Stark, Steve Rogers Scott Lang, and Smart Hulk are in 2012 New York retrieving the Time, Mind, and Space Stones. Nebula and James Rhodes head to the planet Morag in 2014 to collect the Power Stone whilst Nat and Clint go to the planet Vormir that same year to get the Soul Stone. It is, in essence, Marvel’s Greatest Hits: A Walk Down Memory Lane, and Endgame has earned the right to do that. It’s mostly entertaining fluff, but the most interesting moments are in the brief character progressions.
After a blunder in 2012, which leads to that variation of Loki escaping by using the Space Stone, Steve and Tony jump to Steve Rogers’s old home, Camp Lehigh , in the 1940s. Here, Tony interacts with a younger version of his abusive, neglectful father on the eve of Tony’s birth. It’s a cute moment for anyone who likes these characters and can put aside what a terrible father Howard Stark was. It also includes a cameo from his butler Jarvis, portrayed by James D’arcy who played the role in TV Series Agent Carter. It’s not a confirmation that the show is canon but a lovely little easter egg.
Meanwhile, on Vormir, Clint and Nat are informed that one of them must be sacrificed in order to gain the Soul Stone. In an alternate version of this scene, they would have been attacked by Thanos’ Chitauri minions but that would have ruined this very pure character moment. The fate of the entire universe rests on their shoulders and their friendship. In the end, it’s Nat who bites the bullet, which is how it should be. Her underdeveloped character was no longer required, having completed her arc, and it means that Clint can return to being one of the MCU’s best dads. Some have wondered why Nebula didn’t inform them that a sacrifice would be required since it was information she was aware of and that’s presumably because that kind of information is best saved for the last moment. Had she informed the group earlier, nobody would have been willing to let anyone else take that leap.
With all of The Avengers back in 2023, minus Nat, the Infinity Stones are mounted onto a Stark Tech glove and Hulk snaps all of the dusted people back into existence, without erasing the events of the past 5 years. It’s a tense scene, filled to the brim with Hope, and it’s only fitting that Clint is the first to receive a call from his previously dusted wife. Finally, the nightmare is over. Then the audio cuts out and the camera pans to Thanos’ ship in the sky, which has followed them back through the time portal from 2014, beginning its missile barrage. From here on out, it is unabashed fanservice, as any prior issues with the film take a back seat and the ultimate battle finally begins.
As the first people to recover from the assault, Steve, Tony, and Thor take on Thanos, knowing that if they fail, not only will the universe once again be plunged into chaos but Thanos won’t allow humanity to survive. Despite being wasted for the majority of Endgame’s runtime, Thor is in his element with new Asgardian armour and plaits in his beard, to make his current appearance more regal. After a grueling, solid 10 minute brawl, it seems as if hope is once again lost. Stark has been tossed to the side and Thanos has Thor pinned against a rock. The mighty hammer Mjölnir rises from the ground, rushing past them into the hands of Steve Rogers in a payoff so grand, it’s sure to elicit screams from any Marvel fan. After a brief showdown, Thanos obliterates Steve’s shield but, despite deep wounds and almost non-existent energy, Steve still stands. It’s a beautiful moment that really demonstrates the heart of the character. Only in death does his mission to protect humanity end and it looks as if that end may be upon him. The frame looms large with the full might of Thanos’ army, who are sure to overwhelm Steve, and it seems as if this is to be Captain America’s last stand.
And then portals begin appearing. Through them appear all of the returned Avengers and whatever armies they could find. Finally, Cap announces for the Avengers to assemble, shivers run down my spine, and the battle begins again.
It’s honestly an unfair fight considering the Avengers have Wanda Maximoff, who single handedly comes close to killing Thanos until he orders the battleground to be flooded with missiles. You know, like a coward. Thus enters Captain Marvel, who is here to serve as the film’s Deus Ex Machina and to lead a shot of all the MCU’s female characters in what is one of the cringiest moments of all time. Marvel is clearly desperate to show how diverse they are, so as to not lose the female portion of their demographic, but one moment does not make up for 10 years of neglect, nor does it solidify any promises about a female-centric future. The Guardians of the Galaxy don’t even refer to Mantis by name.
Inevitably, the battle comes to an end when Tony uses the Infinity Stones to dust Thanos and his entire army, sacrificing himself in the process. It’s an apt ending for the character who once only thought of himself. His arc, which saw him learning to play well with others, comes to a natural conclusion. It also makes sense to end his story and the Infinity Saga at the same time, considering they started out that way. The Russo brothers have stated in interviews that they only killed off Tony Stark because they hate his character and, whilst hating the character is a valid opinion to hold, it is not a good enough reason to kill him. They lucked out on it being the ending the character seemed destined for. As for Steve Rogers, he returns the Stones and hops to 1945, to live out a life with Peggy Carter. It’s not a perfect end for the character but it’s not awful either. If he wanted to live a normal life, he could have found a nice girl and moved to the countryside, like Clint, but his heart has always belonged to Peggy. Until now he had thought a life with Peggy was impossible, but finally, the opportunity to have it is here so it makes sense that he would.
This may be the final film in the Infinity Saga but it is not the end of the MCU. There are small moments of set-up, like the female line-up, but the biggest indication of things to come is the passing of the shield. Having returned to , and aged like a fine wine, Steve Rogers hands over his shield to Sam Wilson. There are those who would have liked Bucky to get it, but that shield has always represented America, so it should go to Sam. It would be a nice little nod to the comics to have it in Bucky’s hands but it is much more important that a group of often marginalised people see themselves represented on screen.
The biggest issue that Avengers: Endgame has is its production. Yes, production went smoothly before it was embroiled in a level of secrecy that would make the FBI blush. It’s not the secrets withheld from the audience that’s the issue, even if they went to ridiculous lengths to make it happen, but the secrets kept from the actors. Acting is a job that requires a large amount of skill and is at its best when every aspect of the performance is believable, which takes time to prepare for. So why the Russo brothers didn’t tell the cast that they were shooting Tony’s funeral until the moment before they began shooting the scene is beyond me. This isn’t the only scene where this happened but it is, by far, the most egregious. It robs the actors of any real preparation time and is disrespectful in the way it assumes that any of these actors would leak the information. The absurdity of “Leak Culture” is a conversation worth having. Why such great lengths are gone through to prevent leaks, how people ride the infamy by leaking fake information, and how much of these leaks are actually allowed by the studio, are all worth a separate article. It is a blight on Hollywood and in fandoms, that only gets worse by the year but is being exacerbated by the MCU specifically.
So is Avengers: Endgame the finale this story deserves? Not entirely. Its plot is middling and some character actions are questionable, but it still gives some of the MCU’s finest moments. The first 15 minutes and the final act are where this film shines and it is those moments that will be remembered in the years to come. No, Endgame isn’t perfect, but it does deserve to be remembered.
As does the man who created it all.
Thank you Stan.