Anthony and Joe Russo (directors), Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Trent Opaloch (Cinematography)
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin (cast)
April 26, 2019
(A few plot points are be discussed in this review, but things I consider “spoilers” are discussed below the review under a warning)
The last* Marvel movie ever to be made, Avengers: Endgame is finally here in its bombastic, overstuffed, inconsistent, emotional, character-centric glory. It’s the finale, the 22nd installment in an endeavor that kicked off in 2008 with Iron Man, and one that attempts to complete the arc of at least a handful of the various characters.
Endgame, like many crossover events I have read, is neither wholly a triumph or a full-on disappointment. Similarly to Infinity War, the action is split up into various quests and chunks. It feels a little clunky, stuttering at the beginning as the team gets back together after a five year time skip from the end of Infinity War. But it also allows us to see some unconventional team-ups of our main Avengers, and smaller teams means smaller interactions get room to breathe.
That’s really where this film shines — the Russos create small, intimate moments of character connections that felt like rewards for sticking with the franchise for so long. I think this will be especially true for fans who were hooked on the Iron Man-Captain America dynamic (shippers and non-shippers alike). Chris Evans is the standout for me in Endgame, bringing a deft lightness to his portrayal of Steve Rogers that still recognized the heaviness of the narrative. This Steve is the culmination of all the Steves we’ve known, a Cap that’s grown and feels looser than he has before — his through-line from other Russo films is quite satisfying in several respects.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) feels well-thought out as well, a man forced to reprioritize his whole life in the wake of unimaginable threats and changes around him. The world post Snapture is grim and empty, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t human connections to be found. Thor fares worse, and his arc is the one I found most frustrating and the least careful; he’s written with the least thematic bent, to his detriment (I suppose his luck couldn’t hold out more than two well-characterized films). His story here is a good example of how these films struggle with giving appropriate time and development to each lead, and I think a cautionary tale for future team-up films that require merging tonally-divergent characters — while his Ragnorok characterization is certainly more comedic than most of the other MCU leads, it didn’t need him to be a one-note joke for a good run of Endgame.
After Thanos, the Avengers are all in different places of acceptance — Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has taken up a new, vengeful mantle, Tony has taken to a cabin, Steve tries to carry on Sam’s legacy of healing and helping. But failure nags at our heroes; it’s unfamiliar and haunting, so when an opportunity to change something arises, many are quick to jump on it. While the individual motivations for each hero in the previous films have been jumbled or, let’s face it, dumb (sorry Civil War, still like the banter), most everyone here feels consistent with the rest of the MCU. Whether or not internal consistency can overcome ten years of disparate storytelling to produce a payoff relies, in part, on how invested the viewer is and in whom; many of my favorite characters spent the film languishing in limbo, so Endgame was a mixed bag of extremely enjoyable scenes and some dull ones I’ll be fastforwarding through if I rewatch. The visuals of Endgame also don’t quite match up to the most recent Phase III films, and the scale at which its operating doesn’t feel as large as it should. The MCU is a real victim of stakes-creep — we’ve seen the Avengers save the world so many times that this apocalypse doesn’t feel too much different than the others. It’s just another end of the world, but now a handful of our heroes are depressed, too.
In that sense, the chunky editing is works, keeping the film from feeling like it’s three hours long and ensuring there’s not much drag in the actual story and plot. But it doesn’t do much to keep Endgame from feeling slightly incoherent, and if the Thanos from Infinity War seemed nonsensical in his aims and goals, well, this Thanos isn’t much better. Story-wise, I was surprised by some turns and delighted by others, but the need to jam as much as possible into this film means it certainly isn’t a stand-out like Black Panther, Thor: Ragnorok, or even Captain America: Winter Soldier. As mentioned, it doesn’t have a unique visual style, and it isn’t attempting to divert tonally from the Avengers films before it. Thematically, it flounders. But Endgame isn’t just trying to tell one thematic story; instead, it has to juggle the entire cast as it attempts to find the ever-elusive closure. It mostly manages in that regard. Characters find each other in interesting ways, emotional resonance feels earned and not just because I’ve been on this journey for so long. And it’s fun, even if one of it’s main gags was the worst part of the film for me (see my spoiler section at the end!).
Overall, Endgame delivers the familiar goods in a fun, exciting, but expected package. There’s the quests, the team-ups, and the over-sized third act showdown that seems like the result of incredibly thorough contractual obligations at Disney. I think every person following these films will find a part to love. And the fanservice, I must say, is good, and my theater was bursting with energetic applause. It’s not perfect, and its an improvement over Infinity War hinges on the characters, not its ability to tie a neat bow on so many competing plotlines.
It’s the house-style crossover you pick up because your favorite characters are featured — and like most company-wide crossovers, its sum never becomes greater than its greatest parts. Snapping away the tertiary heroes and sidekicks does show the stark differences between some of the formulaic stories of the earlier MCU and its later entries, along with highlighting the incredible whiteness and maleness of the core Avengers. While Endgame was always going to focus on the core original Avengers, it’s jarring as a viewer to be back in the status quo. But this film also showcases some of the best parts of the MCU, the personal sides, using superheroes to showcase moments of deep personal revelation, almost. And it leaves the MCU, and us, in the right place to look forward to a wider breadth of stories in Phase IV.
*Okay well probably not.
(and now I’m going to throw my biggest criticisms here, under a spoiler warning, because I had to write about them but couldn’t without getting into further detail)
YOU’VE REACHED SPOILERS!!
There are a couple specific criticisms I wanted to make that required a little more in-depth discussion of plot choices, so here they are. My two main complaints were these: Hawkeye’s sudden prevalence, and how Thor’s weight gain was handled. I think both these aspects did a disservice to the film in specific ways that are still nagging at me, while other irritants feel ignorable or even understandable when looking at the overarching story of particular characters.
Look, more Hawkeye wasn’t necessarily the worst choice, but if you’ve got a guy in your franchise whose main thing is shooting arrows with a bow, there’s no real reason for you to suddenly make him the wielder of a samurai sword. The pivot to Ronin wasted precious characterization time on just establishing Clint Barton as a person you should care about. Having him battle the Yakuza in what felt like a weird videogame set-up scene felt extremely out of place with everything else. Hawkeye’s transformation into pseudo-Ronin also brought the one thing from the MCU television shows I didn’t want to see — Marvel’s insistence on Orientalist, othered villains. He already had enough going on with his family and dropping a pretty intense storyline that, in any other film, would require a lot of moral reflection, felt distracting.
The Fat Suit
Not to put too fine a point on it but fuck this. I pride myself very much on managing to write spoiler-free reviews for big franchise films but there’s honestly no way for me to evaluate this film without at least mentioning this. Thor, post-skip, is a depressed, drunken mess. He’s clearly not dealing with the compounded trauma of: losing his father, his homeland, his brother, his best friend, and half of his surviving people all in the span of, what, a couple weeks at the most? He lives in New Asgard with what remains of his people, hiding up in his home playing video games and generally not coping.
He’s disheveled, long hair greasy, but when we first see him in this state the biggest shock is meant to be the fact that Thor is fat. Whoa! It feels especially mean-spirited considering the on-going joke in Infinity Wars about how handsome and strong he is (think of Drax comparing the Thor and Peter Quill). I hate the implications this whole thing has about fat people beyond Thor — that you lose your sparkling hotness by gaining weight, that fatness is caused by trauma, that fatness is inherently funny. Thor’s new gut is used as a visual punchline several times, and his teammates, instead of being deeply concerned about his clearly deteriorating mental health, make snarky comments about it.
Thor himself seems remarkably unconcerned about his newly fat body, clearly more troubled by having panic attacks and wanting desperately to get his shit together (he never mentions wanting to lose weight, either). But the audience laughing uproariously at fat jokes was tough to sit through, and kept going — it’s not a one-off gag. It doesn’t seem to get in the way of his superheroics, which is nice in a way (a fat Thor can be just as strong and heroic as he was when he had washboard abs) but also underscores how unnecessary putting him in a fat suit (or fat…CGI?) was to convey Thor’s PTSD. It’s also a shockingly insensitive reaction to PTSD compared to, say, Iron Man 3.
I wish I could say I eventually was able to ignore it, but the jibes kept coming, the quick camera cut to hit gut, and the cruelty of using fatness as a visual indicator of trauma and then making a running gag out of it was pretty detrimental to my overall enjoyment of the film. If this were a starred review, I’d knock a whole star off my score just because of this. I think there’s certainly room for dark humor to be mined from depression (and Iron Man 3, again, is a much more competent example of this from within the same franchise!) but the joke can’t just be Wow, this character’s depressed now. They should have saved the fat suit budget for more Big Lebowski jokes — Thor’s emotional moment with his mother did not need to be undercut with a salad joke.