Avengers: Endgame; A Fresh Start for the MCU

Marvel ends its first chapter of the MCU in an unsuspecting way

Picture courtesy of Marvel

Picture courtesy of Marvel

Vincent Towne, Staff Writer

This movie was different, to say the least, from the rest of the MCU films. Avengers: Endgame begins and ends with quiet, intimate moments. And it’s that sense of intimacy that makes this galaxy-spanning MCU blockbuster such a triumph. Marvel’s chapter-closing Endgame has been in theaters, broken box office records and caused reactions among emotional fans. If you haven’t seen it, STOP NOW, this review has its fair share of spoilers.

The film opens in a rural field as a hero loses everything, his family, his whole life, the same devastating loss felt by half the galaxy. It ends in another tranquil countryside as another hero regains the life he lost long before, and he also passes a baton to the future, pointing the way to a new era for the Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In between, Endgame tells an epic story. It spans the galaxy, across space and time, and climaxes with a time-realigning battle involving vast armies of superstar superheroes. Yet somehow it seems to maintain that intimate feel for most of its runtime. Sure, viewers are hurtled to alien planets and travel in time, but it’s done in the close company of a crew of friends we’ve grown to love during the first decade of the MCU.

The prologue shows us the home life of Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). His family vanishes in an instant, victims of the cliffhanger from Infinity War that wiped out half the souls in the universe. Where Infinity War ended with the devastating scene of beloved heroes turning to dust, this scene drops us right back in the devastation as real people vanish. With every new Avengers movie, it’s easy to joke about Hawkeye’s dispensability, but this time, Barton is us, cringe haircut and all.

Cut to deep space. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are drifting amid the magnificent cosmos, bored. This silly game is the kind of thing the MCU has always excelled at; little moments that make us love the characters as they head into the huge CG battles. The MCU is at its best when its extraordinary situations are faced by ordinary people. These same extraordinary situations have an effect on the extraordinary heroes, with characters like Tony Stark and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) plumbing the absolute depths of self-doubt and despair. Although, it has to be said, Thor’s despair makes for some heavyweight humor. Tony Stark’s reunion with his former friend Steve Rogers is particularly intense, the rift between them is even deeper than during Captain America: Civil War. Robert Downey Jr. gives a masterful performance when Stark first returns to Earth and bitterly reprimands Rogers, showing the real emotions in the aftermath of “the snap”.

Together, they and their fellow Avengers set out to undo the snap that brought worlds crashing down. With a bit of help from new recruit Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), they quickly achieve what they couldn’t throughout the whole of Infinity War, finding Thanos and parting his murderous head from the rest of him. Taking out Thanos so early is an audacious maneuver by the filmmakers, wrong-footing the audience from the start. It’s the boldest twist the film makes, however, from then on events could have been written by a committee of fans, as characters have countless crowd-pleasing encounters and conclusions. It’s hugely satisfying and you can’t begrudge fans or characters their happy ending. Still, a few daring twists would have helped the film feel less like it’s proceeding on rails. Compare Endgame with the most recent Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, for instance. Say what you like about it, lots of disgruntled fans have, but it wasn’t afraid to challenge viewers by exploring the very foundations of the franchise. I’m not here to praise The Last Jedi, but at least it took chances, Endgame is nowhere near as brave.

Anyways, it’s intriguing that these superheroes face a problem against which their superpowers are almost irrelevant. With Thanos gone, the heroes must deal with something they can’t punch or laser-blast. As Steve points out, “The world is in our hands… We gotta do something with it.” It’s the strength of their character, not their muscles, that counts. That’s a feeling we can identify with. For Thor and Hawkeye, revenge and violence bring no peace. In the real world, there are no easy solutions, no colorful cartoon villains to punch back into space, whether it’s xenophobia or inequality or climate change, problems are solved by collaboration, persistence and refusing to give up just because life seems overwhelming. In a way, the actual filmmaking elements of Endgame are secondary. Things like cinematography, music and production design almost seem invisible, merely a delivery system for the characters we’ve come to know and love. Eye-popping settings and effects unroll in front of us like Marvel wallpaper. I feel it’ll take a second viewing to fully appreciate the film’s qualities, when we can see through the tears.

Picture courtesy of Marvel

Endgame does have some striking visual flair; cosmic light playing on Tony Stark’s stunned face, or Thanos’s menacing space cruiser emerging from a gas cloud. But it’s counterweighted by sludgy design that makes assorted settings look the same. Try distinguishing between the final battle at Avengers HQ and the various alien planets, for instance. When the missing heroes triumphantly return, what should be a colorful comic book double-page spread becomes a murky sludge.

Despite reducing the cast to the core crew, plus Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Nebula providing gags and turning the plot cogs, there are still a lot of things Marvel has to keep up. With so many moving parts, the script sometimes grinds along with stuff just happening without much motivation or effort. That’s my biggest complaint.
Tony Stark figures out time travel without even meaning to. The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is just the Hulk now, so deal with it. Captain Marvel turns up and saves the day when the plot requires her to, while being absent the rest of the time, she’s just busy, OK? And the entire salvation of the galaxy is set in motion because a rat just happening to wander across a button. So that’s the future Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) foresaw? This brings us to the time travel. I’m not going to get into Loki (Tom Hiddleston) disappearing or Gamora (Zoe Saldana) leaving her timeline or Captain America going back in time to be with Peggy (Hayley Atwell) and STILL showing up in the end without being on a different timeline, frankly I don’t need the headache. Let’s just agree that time travel is cheating.

As for the future of the MCU, I have high hopes. Marvel can go in any direction at this point with a new set of young characters ready to take the wheel. I personally hope that the movies bring the comic fan favorite villain, Kang, into the theaters. The whole time travel thing could serve as his origin story and give the fresh cast of avengers a new objective.