‘Avengers: Endgame’ marks the end of the current phase of the MCU. A decade of Marvel blockbusters over 22 films has culminated to this melting hotpot of a final stand against a villain who in his arrogance believes himself to be ‘inevitable’. Over these films, which started with ‘Iron Man’ and was always building towards this, a grand plan unfurled in front of our eyes, and MCU took on the proportions of a modern-day saga. Naturally, it garnered a fan base so massive and strong that the film has transcended from the very medium of cinema to become a pop culture sensation and phenomena. The moment something becomes transcendental, especially art, critiquing it and even approaching it, takes a degree of nuance. Thus for ‘Avengers: Endgame’, I shall approach it as a fan of the Marvel movies, and as a fan of cinema. The two approaches yield surprisingly different reactions to the film that marks the grand masterpiece of directors Anthony and Joe Russo. SPOILERS AHEAD.
To understand ‘Avengers: Endgame’ one must first realize that it is the continuation of ‘Avengers: Infinity War‘. To refresh your memory, ‘Infinity War’ was about Thanos’ quest for the Infinity Stones coming to an end. His goal was to ensure balance in the universe by wiping out half of the universe’s population and despite the Avengers coming together valiantly to try and stop him, they failed. In one fateful finger snap, Thanos achieved his goal, and the film ended with half the population gone, including many of the Avengers.
‘Endgame’ picks up from where ‘Infinity War’ left off, except we see the effect of the snap from the perspective of Clint Barton or Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner. Fans will remember that Barton quit the group of heroes since he had too much to lose once he became a father, and his family started growing. Thus, to lose his family in front of his eyes was a smart way to microscopically portray the feeling of pain, loss, and helplessness that must have echoed across the universe when Thanos snapped his fingers. Next up we see Tony Stark, and Nebula, who changed sides recently, struggle to survive in outer space. They suddenly run into none other than Captain Marvel.
Now people might wonder how this happened, especially since the post-credits of the ‘Captain Marvel‘ film showed her answer Nick Fury’s pager and meet the remaining Avengers. However, even in a film with an expansive runtime of 3 hours, there is so much ground to cover, that timelines are sped up. We realize that Captain America had assigned her on this mission, and Danvers is not one to fail. With all the surviving Avengers reunited, they decide to make good on the sentiments expressed in the first ‘Avengers‘ film – if they cannot defend the earth, they will be sure to avenge it.
Surprisingly, in the very first half of the film, the heroes confront a Thanos who has given in to agrarian life and brutally defeat him. However, this does not change things as Thanos has already destroyed the Infinity Stones, making the reversal of his actions impossible. Faced with an insurmountable problem, the scriptwriters fall back on the most obvious way out, that is, time travel. Ant-Man, who in ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ was trapped in the Quantum Realm, comes out five years later.
The five-year jump gives the directors a good way to show the current crop of heroes who will take down Thanos. We see a new Hulk in the form of Professor Hulk, a combination of Bruce Banner’s brains and Hulk’s brawn. Hawkeye too is brought back into the team but he is a changed man, not averse to vigilante justice. Tony, who is the luckiest of the lot, has made the best out of a bad situation and has a family with Pepper. However, the heroes soon realize that the quantum realm is the key to time travel, and if they do go back, they can stop Thanos. Stark comes to the rescue, and as they retrieve the stones, we are shown clips from older Marvel movies where the timing coincides. Thanos becomes aware of this plan and comes to earth to stop them, just as Banner’s Hulk manages to snap his fingers in an attempt to undo Thanos’ action. What follows is a gratuitous fight, and mega battle sequence, which ends with Thanos defeated, and the heroes standing tall, although at great personal cost. The film eventually wraps up, giving a fitting conclusion to every character, and marking the end of an era of Marvel movies.
First, let me get the fanboy side of me out of the way and say it was a completely immersive experience. The audience feels like they are part of the shared experience, as moments of the film draws cheers and loud yells from all corners of the hall. It is a film made for the fans, and the Russo brothers have pandered to fan culture so much, as to have us eating out of their hands during certain moments of the film.
Over the three hours, we revisit some of our favorite Marvel movie sequences, including the battle at New York in the first Avengers movie, and Peter Quill’s daring heist in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. As the ‘time heist’ (Ant-Man’s term) is underway, there is many a tear shed as the heroes show their humanity, Tony in meeting his father Howard, Steve in seeing Peggy again after so long, and Thor encountering his mother, who died in ‘Thor: The Dark World’. Among all this, Black Widow sacrifices herself for the Soul Stone, proving how the Avengers became the only family she felt a part of, for her entire life. Tearjerkers aside, the battle sequences are amazing. We not only get to see Thor wield Mjolnir and his battle ax again but Captain America also proves himself worthy of the hammer and gives Thanos a beating he will not likely forget.
As the battle escalates to an all-out war, one only needs to remember what Umberto Eco said in ‘The Myth of Superman‘ about the inevitability of the hero’s return. All the characters snapped away in ‘Infinity War’ come back, and the battle is on. While there are many spectacular moments there itself, it is best witnessed than described. However, there is a moment of raw female power, which almost reminded me of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Death Proof’, where all the women gang up to beat the serial killing sadist driver. ‘Endgame’ sees the likes of Okoye, Captain Marvel, Valkyrie, and Scarlet Witch teaming up in an iconic fight scene.
‘Endgame’ has its set of flaws too. It is not even the strongest movie in the MCU — which I believe ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ to be. Time travel is a really desperate narrative ploy to fall back on, and even the time travel theory has some loose ends. One example would be Captain America deciding to stay back in time and spend a life with Peggy. However, when he returns aged, he brings back his shield, but not Thor’s hammer, which he was carrying with him while traveling. Some parts of the film feel too mechanical as well, as though the dialogues were sanitized through a rigorous process, and knowing the amount of effort that went into the movie, we would not be surprised.
As far as characters go, the film gives its major actors quality screen time. We see a lot of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Chirs Hemsworth, as Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor respectively. Unhindered by interruptions from minor characters, these three portray roles that will remain an integral part of pop culture. Downey Jr. is superb as Iron Man, channeling all of Stark’s sass to show his moments of weakness, humanity, and the ultimate hero’s sacrifice. When he snaps his fingers to destroy Thanos’ army, and in the process kill himself, one can only remember Captain America’s charge against him in the first ‘Avengers’ movie about Stark never making the sacrificial play. The person, who everyone believed put his self-interest first, gave it all up, his family, and shot at happiness, for the greater good. The themes dealt with here are those of family, be it the one you are born in or the one you make. The Avengers are a family, and the family sticks and fights together.
It is in no way the finest MCU movie, but it is the most resonant, the most poignant of the lot. While all the other MCU movies until this point, have had an aura of anticipation, ‘Avengers: Endgame’ was permeated with an essence of retrospection. If you want my personal opinion of it as a film, it’s good but not great. However, ‘Endgame’ is not just a film, it is a cultural phenomenon and a shared experience where the viewers are being rewarded for their loyalty and commitment to the franchise. As far as rewards go, we could not have asked for anything better, a film with emotions, action, resolution, and respect to its history.
Oh, and by the way, if this is the last cameo by the late Stan Lee in MCU movies, then it was a satisfactory one. ‘Endgame’ is for the fans of Marvel, not particularly lovers of cinema, and as Lee’s car plate reads, that is ‘Nuff said’.