Taking a cursory glance at today’s cinematic landscape it would appear that Marvel, or more accurately Disney, rule the world. Since 2008’s Iron Man the Marvel Cinematic Universe has built itself up into a box-office behemoth with huge cultural influence. I have never quite got the superhero hype, however. A long-time lover of ‘proper’ cinema and arthouse flicks, in recent years I have fought against this tendency to be a ‘film snob’. My Marvel Diary is a challenge to myself to watch all 23 MCU films, perhaps proving my prejudices correct, or perhaps turning me into a lifelong fan of all things superhero.
Release Date: 25th April 2019
MCU Phase: Three
Director: Joe & Anthony Russo
Writer: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Karen Gillan, Paul Rudd, Josh Brolin, Bradley Cooper
Yeah, it’s good. Thank god for that. Avengers: Endgame is one of those films that promises to be so good that leading up to it you can’t see any outcome other than disappointment. Then when it turns out that it really is good, it seems entirely obvious. The stronger and stronger entries into the MCU, the Infinity War cliffhanger, the A-list cast of dreams; Endgame had all the tools to produce the stirring final curtain on the Infinity Saga we all wanted. I am very glad that they didn’t waste those tools. Great credit must be given to Joe and Anthony Russo and writers Markus and McFeely; the skillset needed to make this film might be different from that of an indie auteur, but it is an impressive feat nonetheless.
I almost don’t know what to say about Endgame other than that they got it right. Pretty much every element was well-calibrated and properly thought through. Always the MCU’s great strength, character is given the necessary amount of time here. There is barely any action throughout the first half of the film. It really takes its time showing us the devastating effect of the snap before moving on to reversing it. Leaving a five year gap before the time-travel plot is set in motion was a fantastic, even essential, storytelling decision to make. We all knew that the snap would be reversed, of course we did. But, crucially, it did change things irrevocably. If it wasn’t for those five years, Tony never would have had a child, and his whole place in this film would have been lessened.
The Tony-as-dad choice was also a great one, for my money. It furthers the thread of him and Pepper trying and failing to escape superhero business and adds a crucial extra layer of tension, threat and, ultimately, tragedy to his story. The character decisions are good in general, I think. There’s so many characters in this film that giving them all fresh emotional baggage wouldn’t have worked. Scott Lang and Carol Danvers are still relatively new blood, so they largely just serve the plot. It is our original Avengers that get the proper treatment, and each one is taken in a new direction but that makes total sense from previous films.
I have said multiple times that the best MCU films build on existing character work and give us something fresh with it. Here we see Thor suffering under the weight of being a king, Natasha Romanoff needing some semblance of S.H.I.E.L.D. to survive, Hawkeye as a family man, Cap failing to live a life outside of being a hero, and Tony’s addiction to trying to clear his conscience. All things we had before, but all advanced. It leaves us with six characters we know intimately now (maybe less so Hawkeye), and root for all the way through. This is why, when combined with new heroes that were instantly lovable like Peter Parker, Shuri, or Wong coming back from the dead, the ‘portals’ scene is so fucking good. It’s such a simple idea and I know that it almost feels like manipulation, a final payoff from 22 films worth of loyalty, but boy does it feel good. This scene wouldn’t work if it weren’t well-choreographed, and if all the individual heroes weren’t well-drawn individuals. Both those things are spot-on, with Captain America leading them all together. This, not being a brawny weapon, but the courageous leader always at the head of the charge, is what Steve Rogers was destined for. It’s little touches like this, having Cap saying ‘Avengers Assemble’ rather than Tony or Thor, which show how well both the writers and we know these characters now. It all builds to make a rousing action showdown that is, like Thanos, inevitable.
The only thing to top this moment for me was, of course, the goodbyes. The Black Widow one is nicely done, adding a real sense of peril without a villain in sight. I genuinely wasn’t sure if it would be her or Hawkeye to go, but in the end I think the writers made the right choice. This was her big redemption moment, atoning for the sins she has never absolved her self of guilt from. It would have really been a kick in the teeth for Hawkeye never to see his family again after killing all those people over it too. The sense of foreboding leading up to the scene is great, where we know what awaits our heroes but they don’t. It is a shame they didn’t get the upcoming Black Widow solo film in before this, because her death would have seemed so much more moving and final then.
The big one, Tony Stark, at the film’s climax, is judged just right. Somebody really important had to die for Endgame to properly feel like a conclusion, and that person really had to be Tony. He has always been the lynchpin of the MCU. Downey Jr. in that role was the reason this all took off in the first place, and set a tonal template for the whole thing. He is also the most multi-faceted and interesting character in the MCU, which I maintain originates in Iron Man 3, which is why it is one of the best MCU films. His arc, from arrogant-genius-dickhead, to arrogant-genius-hero, then finally guilty, broken man who finally becomes the true hero we needed, is the heart of the MCU. So he had to die, and I’m not sure anyone else going would have made me cry. This did, though. Tony was so essential to the other characters that his loss is really felt, just as he was essential to the franchise.
Tony Stark didn’t power the MCU alone, though. Alongside him, challenging him and evolving the pair of them, was Steve Rogers. I like how they ended his story too. One major death felt like enough. Too many other losses and the crucial weight of Tony’s would have been lost. Yet keeping too many heroes going would also have been a mistake. This had to feel like a proper ending. So finishing the stories of the two biggest players had to happen. It has always been Steve and Tony really powering the Avengers dynamic; that’s why Civil War was so great. Many new heroes have come in over time, but really the Infinity Saga has always been the story of these two men. In a nice move, the film ends on a defiantly happy note. It is a testament to Chris Evans and the film as a whole that Cap’s decision to live out the life he never had feels entirely natural. We know his time in our world is up, and it’s a good way to say goodbye.
It’s not perfect, of course. There’s a few character beats that don’t feel quite right, like the still one-note Falcon getting the Captain America shield at the end, and no time spent on the Natasha-Bruce relationship. Plot-wise, having backed itself into a corner, getting out of it and concluding everything neatly and perfectly was pretty much impossible for the MCU. The timey-wimey stuff, as in all cinematic attempts at it, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If you start to think about it for very long, it actually starts to get quite frustrating that the conclusion to such a monumental story is so flimsy, but my solution is just not to think about it. The film isn’t meant to be a complex sci-fi tale, nor does it really matter if it doesn’t make that much sense. You know what else doesn’t make sense? Talking raccoons, frozen soldiers, or magic bloody hammers. What makes the MCU enjoyable, unlike some other franchises, has never been the story it tells or the various plot points, but the people in it. Endgame understands that, and hits the spot because of it.
None. It’s over. Except it’s not because we still have Spider-Man: Far From Home. It seems like a slightly odd placing of that film to me, but I’m still looking forward to it.
Where it Ranks
It’s not perfect, and it does rely on the good work of its predecessors for a lot of its thrills. But in being brave enough to take its time (what a quick three hours by the way) and delivering on all the promise of emotion, action and that constant Marvel humour, Endgame feels like the peak of the whole endeavour. There’s only really one place for it then.
- Avengers: Endgame
- Captain America: Civil War
- Thor: Ragnarok
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- The Avengers
- Black Panther
- Iron Man 3
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Iron Man
- Captain Marvel
- Doctor Strange
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Ant-Man and the Wasp
- Iron Man 2
- Thor: The Dark World
- The Incredible Hulk