I’m actually impressed at how much of a narrative mess this film is. Maybe I’m not the target audience for it. Maybe you have to really, really love the Marvel movies in order for this film to feel even a little bit satisfying on a narrative level. Or, maybe it’s just bad writing. This film is filled with so many out of character moments, lazy writing, and flagrant disregard for the twenty-some films that came before it. It’s convoluted, way too long, and ultimately disappointing, even if there are a few good moments. This review is going live on Saturday because it’s impossible to talk about this film without spoiling elements of it, so I wanted to give people a chance to see it first. With that said: WARNING: THERE WILL BE MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRETY OF THE FILM AHEAD. – because I’ve got some major problems with all of the movie.
Avengers: Endgame (written by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely; directed by: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)
The grave course of events set in motion by Thanos that wiped out half the universe and fractured the Avengers ranks compels the remaining Avengers to take one final stand in Marvel Studios’ grand conclusion to twenty-two films, “Avengers: Endgame.”
I don’t even know where to begin with this movie. Perhaps, it’s easiest to begin at the beginning. The first twenty minutes, or so, are actually pretty good. It picks up something like 20 days after the end of Infinity War. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are trapped in a spaceship with low-fuel (as seen in one of the trailers). Soon, Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) arrives, bringing them back to Earth where they all reunite with the remaining Avengers – Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha (Scarlet Johanson), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Captain America (Chris Evans), and War Machine (Don Cheadle). The group makes a plan to go kill Thanos (Josh Brolin) – which they accomplish. Unfortunately, this doesn’t bring back those lost in the Snap, so the Avengers are forced to deal with life in a post-Snap world. All of this happens within the first half-hour of the film. It would be a pretty ballsy decision if the rest of the film didn’t let down this premise immensely.
From there, we jump five years into the future. The world is still trying to rebuild. Captain Marvel is kept offworld due to the fact that the rest of the universe is also trying to rebuild, so don’t expect to see her again until the last thirty minutes of the movie (where she’s frequently lost in a giant battle full of indistinguishable amounts of CGI). All of the Avengers are trying to move on and live a life in the aftermath of the Snap. Tony and Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) have a daughter; Captain America either attends or leads a support group for the family members of people erased in the Snap; Natasha heads up Earth defense in coordination with Okoye (Danai Gurira), War Hammer, and Captain Marvel (among others); Thor has gotten depressed and fat (but it’s only ever played for jokes and is really offensive, never actually exploring his depression in any meaningful way); Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has managed to merge his personality with the Hulk’s, creating Professor Hulk (a genuinely unsettling visual that never gets better); and Clint (Jeremy Renner) is off being a super-violent vigilante. I would totally have been interested in a second act that dealt more with the fallout of the Snap. I mean, the film mentions how governments are barely running, but wouldn’t it be nice to see that? Instead, we get very little of that, and what we do get is downright insulting. I love Thor but seeing him reduced to little more than a fat, drunk stereotype in this movie is insulting. The filmmakers had the opportunity to really explore how a hero like Thor might react to losing the day. Sure, he killed Thanos, but he couldn’t actually save anyone. And that would obviously make him super depressed – it would make any of the Avengers depressed – but we don’t get to actually see that. If we see how this impacted them at all, it’s nothing more than a cheap joke at the characters’ expense.
Nah, the film is done exploring the ramifications of life after the Snap after about ten minutes when Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) reappears, finally exiting the Quantum Realm, and rushing to the Avengers complex to convince them all to go on this ridiculous plan where they’d go back in time and steal all of the Infinity Stones before Thanos could get them. The plan is to jump back in time to specific moments where multiple Infinity Stones were in the same location so that they can gather them all using the limited amount of particles they have – or whatever, I dunno, it was technobabble. This leads to a whole lot of time travel which never makes any real sense. I think the film’s time travel results in alternate timelines whenever things are changed, but there’s a lot of confusion about that – even amongst the characters who should know. And a lot of hand-wringing about how changing things in the past is bad, except there are never any actual consequences from using time travel. Nothing really seems to change no matter what they’ve done in the past. So, their excuses for not using Time Travel to save characters who still end up dying or to kill Thanos as a child ring false because we never see any of the actual threats caused by time travel. The movie references Back to the Future two times, but features none of the tension that Back to the Future has as there is never any understanding of what could go wrong from the time traveling – and nothing does go wrong – aside from a small screw up that allows Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to escape directly after the events of The Avengers, but the movie doesn’t actually deal with that. It’s not interested in making its time travel make any kind of sense whatsoever. Just roll with it, I guess.
The movie really stops making any lick of sense after the first hour and a half, or so. The Avengers are able to get all of the stones – though suffering the loss of Natasha, who literally kills herself so Clint can get the Soul Stone; a death that is so dumb and insulting that it somehow tops how Gamora was fridged in Infinity War – but Thanos (from the past) ends up finding out about it (through a past version of Nebula, whose neural network accidentally hooks up with the present-day Nebula’s neural network – yes, it’s as dumb as it sounds) and captures the present day Nebula, switching her out with the past version. They all arrive back in the 5-years-after-the-Snap present where Tony and Bruce make a new Infinity Gauntlet and Hulk is able to snap his fingers, reversing the Snap (though we don’t really learn he’s succeeded until a bit later). Then, past-Nebula directs Thanos to attack the Avengers Complex, setting up the final battle at the end of the film – but that battle really didn’t need to happen. The Avengers already defeated Thanos once in the film, literally killing him. It’s really lazy writing to finagle such a ridiculous excuse to get them to fight him again. Especially since they successfully reverse the Snap before the fight even begins, thereby robbing the battle of any real tension. There are no stakes – all the victims of the Snap have been saved already, so it’s obvious they’ll defeat Thanos.
So, the final fight is basically Thanos and a CGI army versus literally every single Avenger, all of whom get lost in a CGI army of Wakandan, flying Asgardians, superpowers, and other such indistinguishable visual noise. It’s just CGI nonsense fighting CGI nonsense and none of it matters. This is a perfect example of one of those moments when less is more. If you had to have the Avengers fighting Thanos a second time in this film – which I don’t think needed to happen aside from appeasing the Marvel formula – how much more impactful would watching the original six Avengers defeat Thanos at the height of his power have been than watching a whole lot of CGI nonsense fight each other. Unfortunately, that’s what we got: a huge CGI battle, ending with Tony sacrificing himself in order to Snap Thanos (and his army) out of existence – using the Infinity Gauntlet exposes the user to a lot of gamma radiation, which Tony dies from. The film ends with all the heroes mourning Tony’s death. Steve goes to return all the Infinity Stones to their rightful places but doesn’t return immediately as he’s supposed to. Instead, he shows up as an old man who’s spent an entire lifetime with Peggy Carter in the past – a move which seems so out of character for Steve Rogers at this point that it’s downright insulting; the whole point of multiple films’ worth of arcs for him was that he had to move on from her. But nope. He literally just stopped being Captain America to get married. And the film ends on that note. That deeply, deeply, disappointing note.
Avengers: Endgame is just a big mess. It’s filled with lazy writing, completely inconsistent characterization, flagrant disregard for the journeys a number of these characters have gone through (just look at how the film treats Thor!), and an ending that is really unsatisfying for two major characters. I’m sure there are plenty of people who will deeply enjoy this film. But for me, it just didn’t work at all. I hated what was done to a number of the characters I really dug. I thought the plot was nonsensical, at best, and filled with logic-breaking holes. The movie was way too long; there is absolutely no reason this movie needed to be three hours long – I’m all for movies running as long as they need to run, but this movie had so much extra fluff in it that it could have easily been trimmed down to a two-and-a-half-hour runtime without losing anything of any real importance. It’s filled with the worst kind of fan service – characters doing things the writers think the audience wants to see, but without understanding why the audience might want to see it (ie: Cap wielding Mjolnir).
It feels like the Russos didn’t know how to end this story; they wrote themselves into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to get themselves out. So, they used time travel really inefficiently. If you’re gonna use time travel, you really have to establish what the rules are. This movie never does that and it absolutely falls apart. It never gives a compelling argument as to why they don’t just time travel back to kill Thanos or to save Natasha. Additionally, so many different character arcs are so mishandled and it’s so frustrating. This is likely the final time we will see a lot of the original Avengers and this should have been their moment to get real, meaningful closure. What we got was a lot of fan service that felt completely out of character and dramatically unearned. Frankly, these characters deserved better. As I said, I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy this movie. But I did not. It starts out pretty strong but quickly devolves into a deeply messy film.
2 out of 5 wands (I toyed with a 2.5, but the strong first act doesn’t make up for the weak second two acts.)