Avengers: Endgame — Has Marvel's Infinity Saga finale given its six original superheroes closure?
Avengers: Endgame marks the last chapter of the 11 years of the MCU. But how satisfying an end was it for our 6 original Avengers?
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame. Don't read further if you haven't seen the film.
It may have been a 1 in 14 million chance, but Marvel stuck the landing. Avengers: Endgame is not the best superhero movie ever made (there’s plenty of flaws, from uneven pace to whiplash from changes in tone) and it’s not the most finely crafted, but what Marvel has accomplished here is definitely the greatest superhero movie ever made, and even more than that, it might be the most ambitious accomplishment in cinematic history.
It’s hard to decide how to judge something like Avengers: Endgame. Like Thanos himself, Endgame shrugs off our puny attempts to slot it into normal classifications. If it was judged as a conventional movie, with conventional storytelling needs, it would feel like a random assortment of incomprehensible moments. But it’s not a conventional movie, or even a conventional sequel.
In some ways, it’s closest to being a series finale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (And yes, we all know that the MCU will go on, but honestly, calling this a season finale wouldn’t do it justice). And just like a serialised TV show, it assumes that you’ve seen everything that’s lead up to these moments, and you’re already invested in the narrative and characters, so it wastes absolutely none of its 181 minutes of runtime on explaining things to the uninitiated.
But as much as the MCU is its own entity, it still draws on the 60 years or more of Marvel comic book history, and some of the best little moments are for people that are familiar not just with the MCU but with the Marvel Comics Universe as a whole.
If you’re just a casual viewer (maybe you saw Infinity War and a couple of other previous MCU movies) then you’ll still enjoy what you’re watching, but you might be a little confused around certain characters and plot points, and you certainly won’t understand why other people in the cinema are gasping, or whooping and clapping at seemingly innocuous moments. (All of these things happened in the cinema during the showing I watched).
Avengers: Endgame is a love letter to fans of the MCU, and it’s meticulously designed to give them the best experience of all.
Fortunately, I am an unashamed fanboy and I loved nearly every second of it, including the last act that was a unique and exhilarating experience that left me shaking in my seat, with emotional payoffs that left me choked up (and I say that as someone who’s never really been the ‘cry at the movies’ type)
But that’s enough of the general, non-spoilery review stuff. If you haven’t seen Endgame yet, go see it. (From the news of the box office, if you don’t see it soon, you’re probably the only one - your friends are all talking about it already, and you’re going to be left out.)
If you read on from here, I’m going to assume that either you’ve seen the movie, or you’re never planning to and don’t care about spoilers.
Seriously, spoilers ahead.
Endgame does a lot of things well in its role as a final chapter, taking its time to dwell on the aftermath of a world in which the Avengers lost, then using its ‘time heist’ structure to visit some of the most prominent highs of the franchise, all the while setting up a climax that strung together some of the biggest ‘f#$k yeah’ moments ever committed to film.
Probably it’s hardest job though was to close the arcs on the original 6 Avengers, giving each of them a satisfying send off. We were quite confident going into Endgame that whatever happens next in the MCU, Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton, Bruce Banner, Thor Odinson, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark wouldn’t play the same kind of role in it.
So just how good a job did the movie do in giving us a satisfying ending?
Steve Rogers might have gotten the most satisfying ending of all; after taking a backseat in Infinity War, he was right at the forefront of almost everything that happened in Endgame, and from facing off with his past self (“That IS America’s ass”) to raising Mjolnir to fight Thanos single-handed (I enjoyed Thor’s delighted ‘I knew it!’ almost as much as the frenetic, stunning choreography of that sequence) to his almost quiet ‘Avengers, assemble’ before the final battle. He got a chance to show why he’s the heart, soul and unconquerable will of the Avengers. Most satisfyingly of all (particularly if you’re Steve Rogers), he not only survived the battle but got to reclaim his lost past with the love of his life, all while knowing that he could still leave the future in safe hands.
Grade: 10/10 for finally getting that dance.
Thor and Bruce Banner (they get graded together because they’re friends from work) took very different paths after the events of Infinity War, and their arcs in Endgame more or less reflected that difference.
On the one hand, Banner’s newfound acceptance of Hulk gave him arguably the best version of himself (though personally I’m with Valkyrie, I think I preferred either of the previous versions of him). His time-travel shenanigans were funny (though maybe a little cavalier, with the fate of the world?) as was his encounter with the Ancient One and it would have been nice to see him contribute more (whether brawn or brain) to the final battle, but he DID bring back half the universe, and took all the punishment from the gauntlet before immediately having to hold up a collapsing building (for like, half an hour?) so that’s fairly hard to top.
Thor on the other hand, took his failure in Infinity War extremely hard, and that depression was primarily shown in him going from ‘pirate angel’ to ‘melted ice-cream’ (can we just make GOTG 3 into 2 hours of Drax and Rocket describing things?). His arc through Endgame was less about redemption — if anything, he was less effective against Thanos here than in Infinity War, which was a little frustrating — but more about self-discovery. Getting the chance to see his mother again, giving up the crown of Asgard, and joining the 'Asguardians of the Galaxy' while definitely not being their leader - Could Thor’s best days in the MCU be ahead of him? Of course.
Grade: 7/10 for the (former) Strongest Avenger/s. (It doesn’t matter which one it was, because Carol Danvers has that title locked down now).
Also friends from work are Clint and Natasha, our favourite spies who, with no superpowers at all, keep pace with gods and giants by being ...proficient in ranged weapons? Maybe it’s not surprising that they always get the bleakest storylines, because wow, Endgame isn’t kind to them.
Clint was ‘retired’ during Infinity War, but the loss of his entire family to the snap (in a devastating pre-credits sequence) give him not only a badass new weapon set and vigilante mission as Ronin, but also more than enough motivation to jump straight into testing time machines and flying spaceships.
Natasha spent the aftermath of the snap very differently, taking over as the leader of the Avengers / Shield, even as her ‘family’ tries to move on with their lives. She’s also the natural person to partner with Clint to try to claim the Soul Stone.
Their friendship has been developed through 4 films at this point and feels genuine and earned, as does their surreal competition to commit suicide in order to save the other. Like the other times they’ve fought each other, Natasha wins, except of course that win lies broken at the bottom of the cliffs on Vormir, allowing a devastated Clint to claim the Soul stone.
On one level, this feels like a logical narrative and a noble sacrifice - their backstory has included Natasha’s debt to Clint, and the ‘red in her ledger’ and as his best friend, of course she’d want him to survive to return to his (hopefully unsnapped) family. But on another, it feels like just another thoughtlessly cruel chapter in how the MCU has treated Black Widow. Consider that the same movie features a very deliberate shot of all the other female heroes and warriors of the MCU rallying around Captain Marvel, while the original female Avenger (who’s been in more MCU movies than anyone except Iron Man) was sidelined with a death so specifically irreversible that not even the power of the Infinity Gauntlet could bring her back? That’s pretty damn harsh.
6/10 for Clint, because he kept the gauntlet safe and T’Challa remembered his name.
9/10 for Natasha, for holding the world together for 5 years and saving her bestie.
2/10 for the MCU powers that be, because even DC treats their female heroes better. Who gives a character a solo prequel movie after they’ve killed her off?!
That brings us to the man himself - the alpha and omega of the MCU as we know it. In the week before I watched Endgame, the thing that I spent the most time wondering about was what they would do with Iron Man. I’d resigned myself to the conclusion that Tony Stark was almost certainly going to die (I actually believed that moment had come in Infinity War when Thanos stabbed him through the chest after that extended sequence where he fought him alone on Titan) but I just hoped that it would be something fitting for his character - something more than just a futile gesture of defiance or even a valiant sacrifice for his team.
As much as I’ve been a fan of superheroes, the Marvel universe, and the Avengers, I personally identify most as a fan of Tony Stark.
The first Iron Man movie showed us a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist who was practically the platonic ideal of male wish-fulfilment. A superhero who didn’t have powers, but also didn’t have to be dark and brooding 24/7. More importantly, at the core of it, Stark wasn’t a genetic experiment, a god or even a skilled soldier or operative — he was just an engineer; a nerd in powered armour. As you might imagine, this kind of hero resonated strongly with a self-confessed nerd.
Stark’s only superpower was his brain and his ability to build things. Admittedly, building those things becomes a lot easier when you’ve got billions to fund your high-tech manufacturing and AI assistant, but let’s not forget that he started his iron man journey building his arc reactor “in a cave, with a box of scraps.”
Despite the fact that Iron Man could go toe to toe against the heaviest hitters in the MCU (leaving aside Iron Man 3 where for some reason, his suits were apparently made of tin-foil), he was shockingly and uncomfortably vulnerable outside of the suit, and very conscious of that human frailty. Unlike Steve Rogers who instinctively throws himself on grenades without a second thought to save the people around him, Stark takes a more considered approach with his heroics, using technology and problem solving to prevent the need for self-sacrifice in the first place.
Their differing perspectives drives a lot of the narrative in the Avengers movies, and while Stark has shown that he’s able to ‘make the sacrifice play’, it’s always a last resort, and his instinct to protect the world through technology continues unabated, resulting in the creation of Ultron and ultimately the split in the Avengers along the way. That history is what ultimately makes his arc in Endgame so poignant, as he has even more to lose than the other Avengers; they all fought Thanos and lost, but he also survived by being lost in space to rebuild a life in the aftermath with a wife and daughter. He’s been much luckier than most of the post-snap world, and he knows it.
But then that’s the reason Dr Strange was willing to risk the Time Stone — when your odds are 14000605:1, Tony Stark is the guy you want in your corner.
His arc in Endgame goes from being defeated, resentful and frail after his ordeal on Titan, all the way through parenthood and stable family life, to inventing reliable time travel (wonder just what kind of lasting effects THAT’s going to have on the MCU). And just to cap his entire career of over-achieving, he’s the one that outwits and personally defeats Thanos once and for all, not just putting a suit of armour around the world, but around the whole universe. That’s a hell of a way to bow out (and a hell of a call back to the words that started it all)
Grade: 12/10 For being the inevitable Iron Man
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