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Let’s Get Real About Avengers: Endgame

For a full spoiler-free film review, I highly recommend Julianne’s article over here. The following is my spoiler-free review as well as a wider reflection on what Endgame and the MCU have meant for the film industry, for better and worse.


A brief history of Avengers: Endgame reactions:

First came the critical reviews which threw around words like “masterpiece” and “miracle” like they were going out of business. Then came the fan reviews which mostly boiled down to almost obscene excitement.

Now, however, it’s finally my turn to weigh in on Avengers: Endgame, and like Frances McDormand accepting any award in 2018, “I’ve got some things to say.” Get ready for a big ole dose of “real” because I’m about to crash this little circle jerk.

Avengers: Endgame

(Takes a deep breath mostly as an excuse for a dramatic pause)

…is…

(Looks around the room – er, at a computer screen, but imagines a room full of people)

….amazing!

What, you expected something contrarian? I can’t do it. I can’t speak ill of this movie. Intellectually, I know it’s not perfect. Emotionally, I just don’t care.

Avengers: Endgame is a cinematic experience unlike anything we’ve ever seen before or most likely will ever see again. It is a movie which blows up the idea of movies as we’ve known them. We have seen long-running film franchises end (Harry Potter, Twilight), trilogies wrap things up (Back to the Future), cinematic universes expand outward into prequels (Lord of the Rings) or long-delayed sequels (Blade Runner) or both (Star Wars).

Endgame, however, is an entirely different beast. It is the end – not even “end,” really, more a key transitionary point – of a grand experiment to serialize cinematic storytelling. In the long run, that might not even be a good thing. As Universal’s DOA Dark Universe and Warner Bros.’ now-aborted version of its DC Cinematic Universe show, the rest of the industry is really, really bad at this kind of thing.

I don’t entirely blame them, though. The film industry is meant to be good at making films. It’s right there in the name “film industry.” Marvel Studios, however, is phenomenally adept at long-form storytelling. They don’t make movies; they make glorified episodes of the best damn TV show in the world. That has been true for years, and with Endgame, they have delivered the series finale to top all series finales. This is an invaluable asset in the age of peak TV where the competition on the small screen continues to redefine what kind of storytelling we prefer.

As a film, it’s easy to think of Endgame as a mess. “If a film with this exact structure and pacing (and 181-minute run time) was made with original characters, critics would eviscerate it as self-indulgent, sloppy, and incoherent,” Tasha Robinson argued in her Verge review. She’s not wrong. You can add to that any number of surprising moments and plot turns which are sure to launch a thousand critical think pieces – here’s one now – because that’s what we do in this age of all-consuming geek culture.

As a series finale, however, Endgame feels like it was scientifically engineered to elicit joy, laughter, spontaneous applause, and tears in equal measure. Character arcs are paid off mostly to satisfaction. Goodbyes are shared. A sense of accomplishment, closure, and dramatic gravitas pervades over everything. Potential next steps are hinted at. The applause lines work. The jokes land. The action serves as a giant middle finger to anyone who ever made one of these memes:

Fine, internet, you want your stinking, character-stuffed splash page fight scene? Endgame has more of them than you can even count. Except thanks to the film’s extended runtime, there’s also a gloriously generous supply of scenes in which characters simply talk to one another – and not always just to spout out exposition! Instead, we actually sit with all of them for a bit, get a sense of where they are emotionally and what they hope to get out of their next big fight.

How this cultural moment might actually be bad for business

This particular character-heavy element might surprise the literal millions who will see or already have seen Endgame this weekend, but it’s not going to deter anyone nor should it. No, Endgame is going to break all the records everywhere. By the time it has finished at the box office, Endgame will hold so many new records we won’t even be able to tell the real from the joke anymore. For example, three months from now if you tell me BoxOfficeMojo crowned Endgame as the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time I won’t know how that makes any sense whatsoever but I might just believe you.

It’s not as if the MCU doesn’t have any romance.

That, too, is probably not a good thing. As IndieWire’s cold-splash-to-the-face article argued earlier this morning, even in wild success Endgame will most likely only make a 2% difference in the alarming year-to-year drop at the total 2019 box office. We’re currently 16% off the pace. If Endgame exceeds even the wildest expectations, we’ll probably still be 14% behind the place.

Moreover, Disney is leveraging Endgame’s hype to take a bigger-than-usual cut of the ticket sales from theaters. (The trade-off being the theaters can maybe make up the difference in concessions.) Anything due out in the next couple of weeks is sure to struggle to suck some of the cultural oxygen away from Endgame. Couple that with Disney mercilessly canceling one Fox film after another in favor of four-quadrant franchise efforts and you have the continued gentrification of mainstream Hollywood filmmaking.

With nearly $19 billion in worldwide ticket sales over the last decade, no single entity is more responsible for this change than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Their success is what motivated Bob Iger to convert Disney into an all-franchise, no-filler machine, and thanks to the Justice Department’s almost criminal negligence on not opposing the Fox merger Iger now owns pretty much half of Hollywood.

However, at this point, that damn genie is out of the bottle, and regardless of whether or not this particular genie’s blue skin looks convincing enough – ala the Will Smith genie in Aladdin – we’re stuck with it.

Decades ago when TV came around and sucked audiences away from movies, the movie studios went bigger, bolder, and more gimmicky. It didn’t always go well. History, however, loves to repeat. So, in this past decade when faced with the unprecedented rise of Netflix and emergence of China on the global economic stage, the film studios again went bigger and more gimmicky and it again didn’t always go well. In the process, audiences have been retrained as to what they’re willing to pay to see in a theater and what they aren’t, and as any Millennial might tell you “experiences” are the in thing now.

The last ride of the monoculture

Endgame is one such experience. We’ll have a similar one later this year with Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker, a film whose title I keep thinking I’ll get used to but never do. Outside of Game of Thrones, this is the last true arena of the monoculture – the thing we all have to talk about at the same exact time.

Leaving my local AMC last night at 2 AM, I wandered the halls and noticed that literally, every single one of the theater’s 14 screens was showing Endgame. I felt like Tony Stark receiving a vision of a grim future in Age of Ultron. Not too long from now, it won’t have to be 2 AM on an opening night preview event for us to see that our local multiplex is only showing one single film or single kind of film. Heck, that kind of thing is happening now on any given night, just not always to this cartoonish extreme.

It would be easier to be mad or worried about this if Endgame wasn’t so good. The completely unprecedented nature of Endgame is exactly why everyone feels compelled to rush out and see this movie. We have to talk about it. We have to say our goodbyes to long-cherished characters and dream up future adventures for those still around. More than anything, we have to geek about this because that is what we do. That is what we have always done. Thanks to Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are literally millions of us around the world doing it now.

Endgame, luckily, is supremely worthy of all our geeky observations, reactions, criticisms, cosplaying, and memorializing. It is the partial end of a period in which pop culture changed as we knew it, and it’s still changing. Endgame, for example, sneaks in a surprisingly groundbreaking moment for MCU diversity.

However, with Disney and the MCU having conquered the movie theater and now transitioning to conquering streaming we have lost something in the process. The studios release fewer and fewer movies. Colossal, culturally significant films of our past would never be able to get made today. The Marvel mimicry is everywhere. The Fast and Furious franchise, for example, is basically an unofficial comic book movie franchise now. And even though TV has picked up the creative and production slack out of necessity it has done so with such extreme volume we are forever drowning in choices.

The old ways are gone. But, as Captain America says so eloquently in Endgame, “You’ve got to move on. You’ve got to.”

I won’t soon move on from this movie, though. In fact, I’m probably going to see it again tonight.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Cultural events like Endgame can feel hollow in the aftermath, as you realize maybe you had just been suckered by Hollywood hype. However, no amount of marketing can ever truly manufacture 11 years of serialized storytelling across 21 big budget comic book movies. Endgame is an authentic event which just begs to be experienced over and over again. As a film, it’s undeniably flawed; as an event, it has no parallel. You’d better really know your MCU, though. Endgame has little patience for casual viewers who haven’t been paying attention for the past decade.

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21 comments

  1. Guess I am not outlier…I am only half-happy. I really liked the first two acts (though I would have liked it if they had spend the first one a little bit more on Carol interacting with the other Avengers), but I have a number of issues with the third. Above all what they did to Steve and Black Widow. I can’t believe that the same people who made Steve so great in the first place could drop the ball so badly regarding him.

    Plus, what I always loved the most about the MCU was the continuity, and they kind of broke it. I can only hope that they have a plan how to stich it together in a way that makes sense down the line.

    Otherwise I am not too worried…I think Marvel will go smaller for a while, for a new built up, leaving everyone else some room to breath.

    1. I think if Endgame works for you it does so on a larger, emotional level; if it doesn’t, as with any time travel story there are significant logicbhurdles to get past.

      For example, I have seen the film twice now and I still dont completely understand how the logic of Steve Rogers’ ending jibes with the more non-traditional time travel rules the rest of the film claims to abide by. In the moment, however, seeing Steve and Peggy finally getting that dance together AND a “then they lived happily ever after” sendoff hits me just right emotionally.

      As for Black Widow, I am still struggling with that. Cant believe they did 2 straight movies where a woman has to die to get the soul stone.

      As for the continuity, that’s where the logic is all kinds of crazy. They actively refute the Back to the Future notion of changing the past. Instead, they claim they are simply creating various parallel realities where their actions caused different outcomes gor those timelines but not their own
      Putting the stones back in place at the very end is supposed to repair those realities. Their ongoing continuity, however, is not meant to have changed. Everything we saw in the prior movies still happened.

      It is very, very confusing, especially as far as Steve us concerned.

      1. Steve is the main problem. Him being there only makes sense if he did some dimension hopping at one point. But I also don’t think that Steve would have been happy going back. I feel it was time for him to finally realize that he had a new life in a new time with new friends.

        Honestly, once you think about it their plan is pretty stupid. 1. Why don’t they wait for Carol to come back? It’s not like they are in some sort of hurry. 2. Why don’t they fetch some Pym particle from the get go or use the time stone once they have it? 3. Why are they trying to get the tesseract from 2012 instead of Thor just going to the vault and removing it in 2013 along with the aether? But above all 4. Why are they sending the least powerful members of their team to the one location they know absolutely NOTHING about?

      2. On that last question, you can add the following: They seem to know from Nebula that Thanos and Gamora went there but only Thanos returned. Why aren’t they more concerned about that? Why aren’t they asking, “Hold on. What DID actually happen with those two on that weird planet?”

        Small joke: What if Red Skull was just lying? What if he’s grown bitter being trapped on that damn mountain? What if he knows the soul stone doesn’t actually require a sacrifice. It’s just down at the bottom of the water pit. He can fetch it for you, but, no, he thinks it’s funny to force people to “sacrifice” their loved one. That Red Skell. Such a cut-up.

      3. As for Steve, I think they try to plant the seed for that with the “we need to get a life” conversation with Natalie as well as his glimpse at Tony’s domesticated life. Add to that the moment where he’s so close to Peggy in the past he could almost reach out and touch her as well as the subsequent death of one of his closest friends and you get him deciding to pursue his bliss even if it means breaking some of the time travel rules. Like I said earlier, it’s all about getting to Steve and Peggy dancing and sharing that kiss.

        That’s what they want us to focus on, and in the moment of watching the film it worked for me because that is always the ending I wanted for him. However, it does present multiple logic issues and, as you said, his arc has been one about growth. It probably is odd for the man who says “you’ve got to move on” to then move on by moving back to the past, but I wanted Cap to live. I wanted him to have a happy ending. He got one – a problematic one, but one I was happy to watch.

      4. Problem is that I don’t see it as a happy ending. So, possibility number one, he goes back (hopefully before Peggy meets Sousa) and tries to NOT change the timeline. In this case he would have to sit for a decade on his hands while Bucky is tortured by Hydra and the organisation Peggy builds is corrupted. Can you imagine him actually doing that?

        Or he uses his knowledge to change things left and right. But that would ALSO mean that the whole time he leaves his other self in the ice which will eventually wake up and discover that his alternative version has basically shaped the world in which he is now living and THIS Steve would then be utterly alone (since I assume that Bucky would be freed from Hydra’s clutches).

        It’s not a happy ending. It is an absolute nightmare of an ending! I rather would have had him retiring in this reality or simply getting lost in the time stream, so that everyone could imagine for themselves what happened to him.

  2. How about Peter Parker being 5 years younger than anyone not dusted in his class? That 5 year time jump and eventual snap was the biggest head scratcher for me. Of course, I just ignored the other time travel inconsistencies (2014 Thanos being dusted, etc.).

    Initially, I thought maybe Marvel was cooking up something behind the 5 year time jump. Maybe, this period is when the X-Men would appear, or maybe there’s some alternate future happening between Thanos’ snap and *SPOILER* the 2nd snap.

    Or worse, it’s just a cop out for Tony to have his own family.

    1. My guess: We have yet to hear the last about that 5-year jump. There’s a lot of story to be told there as well as after. Endgame’s aim is for emotional catharsis and extended goodbyes. Logic and real-world ramifications are often victims of that.

      There has long been a theory that the events of Infinity War/Endgame would somehow directly lead to the creation of the X-Men, perhaps an event so extreme it kickstarts a new period in human evolution or is somehow an uintended after effect of the “space magic” wielded by Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet. That may yet come to pass, but I think to expect Marvel to nod toward that possible future in the body of Endgame was always a tad unrealistic. With literally the biggest movie in the history of movies, tacking on some kind of X-Men cameo or easter egg would have been too much. It’s the same reason why there’s no real traditional post-credits scene. They want this to truly feel like a kind of ending. Hinting at the future is contained to only the characters we already know. But, in the long term, you very well end up being right. The X-Men could find their way in to the future from the various snaptures.

      1. I might be wrong about this. Peter didn’t say something about how long it felt when they were dusted. The five hour-five year equation was in Quantum Realm. I picked this up on Reddit, where fans are confused about Peter not aging in Endgame and in Far From Home trailers. Their main concern actually is, is FFH really set after Endgame? Anyways.

        “…real-world ramifications are often victims of that.”

        That’s my minor beef about the first act: real world ramifications. It wasn’t enough for me that they only showed Cap in a support group or Nat trying to move on.

      2. Re: ramifications. I had a similar reaction to The Dark Knight Rises version of an American city run by terrorists and abandoned by the US government. With Endgame, as I alluded to in my comment the actual ramifications and psychological damage of a five-year period in which half the known universe has been wiped from existence is so unbelievably monumental that there’s no real way for a big budget blockbuster superhero movie to do it justice. I appreciated their effort with the self-help group, Widow’s workaholism, and Tony’s domestic life to at least sit a spell with the characters and let that wash over them and us. However, I get what you’re saying – given the scenario they laid out, there is more they could have done with it.

        They could – and maybe someday they will – make an entire TV series simply about that period. Damon Lindelof already kind of did that and it’s called The Leftovers, except in that scenario it’s a total mystery. Like a secular Left Behind, one day half the planet’s population disappears and the rest of the series is about trying to figure out what happened and how to move on, if you ever can. The MCU version – where you know a giant purple dude from space just snapped his fingers – would be different, obviously.

        As for Spider-Man, what he tells Iron Man is that he simply rematerialized on that planet and had no idea 5 years had passed until Doctor Strange told him. So, he wasn’t just hanging out in the Soul Stone like everyone had theorized. There was no aging process involved. Everyone was brought back as they were the moment they were snapped away. The problem going forward, obviously, is that if this is true then when you look at that Far From Home trailer again it means Peter, Ned, MJ, and all the other side characters in his class were apparently all killed in the snappening and then brought back by Hulk. Otherwise, there’s no explanation for why they’re all still the same age as each other and in the same class in Homecoming.

        I predict, in the long run, the 5-year-gap will come up again in ways we won’t see coming but that also they’ll never do as much with it as we want.

        I’m not up to date on my Agents of Shield, though. I know that show has at least two more seasons guaranteed and the newest one is due to start soon. Maybe that’s where they’ll really dwell on the street level ramifications of the snapture and 5 year period afterward. I doubt the upcoming – and final – season of Jessica Jones will.

  3. I like Cap’s ending, except the part where he hands over the shield to Falcon. And I don’t mind any time travel inconsistencies he would create. I like that ending, him dancing with Peggy with the PERFECT song playing in the background. I just find it cheap that just like that Falcon, a black superhero, is Cap America now.

    The opening song’s perfect as well. Though the movie wasn’t able to sustain that feeling of loss in the first act. Also, Endgame doesn’t feel like the other 3 Russo movies, it’s more like a James Gunn movie (i.e., songs, jokes) or Thor: The Dark World, which has the same writing duo.

    1. To be fair to the Cap ending, there is comic book canon for it. Both Winter Soldier and Falcon have replaced Steve as Captain America at various times. Recently, for example, when the Marvel comic books went with an extreme diversity initiative we got a black female Iron Man, female Thor, Asian Hulk, and black Captain America, to name a few. In that run, it was the Falcon who was the new Cap. So, with Chris Evans telegraphing his exit for months we were likely always heading for a scenario in which either Falcon or Winter Soldier replaced him. Him choosing Falcon, I’m assuming, is likely a reflection on Winter Soldier simply being too psychologically damaged to take up the mantle even though between the two he’s the only one who actually has all of the same powers as Steve.

      I’d agree that Endgame doesn’t feel exactly like a Russos movie, but I wouldn’t compare it to Gunn or Dark World. I’d simply say it doesn’t totally feel like Infinity War, Civil War, or Winter Soldier because there has literally never been another comic book movie like this before. The opening third is basically them doing a superhero version of HBO’s The Leftovers, an amazing TV show about a post-rapture world which might also be the most depressing three seasons of television I have ever watched. Then the second act is superhero Back to the Future 2, the third act is a splash page battle unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and the final 8-minute epilogue is their version of Return of the King’s endless goodbyes. So, it’s an unprecedented kind of mash-up of subgenres and ideas.

      However, I can still see a lot of the Russos in there. No MCU directors, not even Gunn, are as good at handling ensembles and mixing the jokes with the character moments and big action setpieces like them.

      1. Yeah, I know there’s that sort of thing in the comics to shake up the status quo. Maybe it’s just me not being too invested to either of these two Cap America side characters. It didn’t bother me with Thor handing it over to Valkyrie who’s only in one movie before Endgame. I don’t think it added anything to the movie. Falcon taking up the mantle for some emergency reasons in, maybe, a Phase 4 movie might be pleasantly surprising. Idk, it just didn’t feel earned, for me.

        I brought up the James Gunn comparison mainly for the music cues, the opening and the ending songs were just perfect. And the Russos never did something similar before (altho, yes, the ending song was in The Winter Soldier). And, of course, the tons of jokes.

        “good at handling ensembles and mixing the jokes with the character moments and big action setpieces”

        I’d say I’d agree the Russos are better at handling ensembles, larger number of characters but their advantage over Gunn and Whedon is mostly in quantity than quality (this might well be just my preference). Whedon basically was the first to do the splash page battle in The Avengers. As one critic puts it, the Russo’s style is to “service everyone”, give them one line, one scene. I still find Whedon’s mix of jokes and character moments in The Avengers, wittier. Endgame also has the advantage of being able to callback to past movies. I was never a big fan of The Winter Soldier, or the elevator fight, but I like the callback to that scene in Endgame, and my favorite punchline is “Hail Hydra.”

        The Dark World comparison, well, I find Endgame being “loose” during the time heist really refreshing considering it’s by the Russos, as opposed to the constant climax in the other three movies.

      2. Re: James Gunn. He so closely identified the Guardians with 70s rock and pop that the Russos have had to honor that in both Infinity War and Endgame. So, some of the musical cues are just them honoring Gunn’s style. Not so much the final song with Cap, though, obviously.

        Russos vs. Whedon. It might come down to preference. I adored Whedon’s Avengers at the time, and his witty writing has no peer. However, I feel like the Russos service the entire ensemble better than Whedon and are far more adept at handling wide scale action than him. So much of what made Whedon’s first Avengers unique and special has been repeated time and time again in Civil War and other Avengers movies and I’d argue improved upon, but Whedon’s wit is hard to truly replace.

      3. Agree on that final song. Regardless, I love that song. And it made me appreciate Cap’s ending even more, which is also the ending I was hoping for.

        Re: Whedon vs. Russo

        First off, “I can do this all day.” 😉

        After IW and Endgame, it’s maybe too much to ask for the fight scenes to be any better. And I like them very much, both IW and EG, though there are things that I still wish were there.

        In terms of action scenes, the Russos with Avengers 3 and 4, did something Whedon struggled to do in AoU, they’re good with balancing more characters. But that’s not necessarily improving upon what Whedon did in The Avengers. The Russo’s lack that “Oh” moment or a perfectly orchestrated falling and rising action. But whatever they lack, they make up for with balance, give every character his/her moment, punchline. Though the punchlines aren’t as memorable as, say, Hulk’s I’m always angry. Whedon goes for epic, carefully planned scenes, iconic moments. The Russos idea of epic is balancing the enormity of it all. It’s less messy, but it’s also less iconic.

        And lastly, Whedon’s wit, his action scenes, have also that wit. Remember, that interaction between Cap and Iron Man when they try to fix the Hellicarrier and Tony tries to explain something to Cap in the middle of the fight?

  4. It was an amazing film. Near perfect. Clearly aimed at the fans and in no way an easy film to watch if you haven’t followed the MCU to date. The power Marvel has to get that many stars and supporting character is amazing. So different from infinity ar also. Just felt like a giant easter egg. Kids were blown away too. Gonna make a lot of money. It was showing every half hour from 8.30am today and each one was full so the hype has worked and the word of mouth will do the rest

  5. Hmm, interesting perspective. I never really considered the cultural ramifications. In my review, I just lambasted Endgame for being nothing more then fan-service. Which is why most people like it, lol.

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