(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick…and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Avengers: Endgame.)
The existence of film franchises goes back to some of the earliest days of cinema. Hollywood’s first talkie The Jazz Singer resulted in the sequel The Singing Fool. Horror hits like Frankenstein, and Dracula spawned Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Dracula, not to mention a whole series of monster movies from Universal Pictures. King Kong gave life to Son of Kong, and so on and so forth.
On the other hand, the blockbuster sequel as we know it today is still a relatively young invention of Hollywood. It’s evolving and changing, albeit slowly, as audiences look for something new and refreshing that feels just as familiar and comfortable as it does entertaining and exhilarating. And that’s exactly what makes Avengers: Endgame so damn special.
In our Avengers: Endgame spoiler review, we explore this heaping helping of Hollywood spectacle, how it both defies and leans into the tropes of your typical blockbuster sequel, enhances the hefty roster of films that came before it, and delivers a film that packs an equal amount of action, heart, comedy, and surprising but delightful fan service for those who have stuck with the Marvel Cinematic Universe for over 10 years.
There Was No Fight
In case losing half of The Avengers in Infinity War wasn’t enough of a punch to the gut, Avengers: Endgame begins with a twist of the knife. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), the former Avenger known as Hawkeye, enjoys a peaceful afternoon on his off-the-grid farm with his wife and three kids. But a charming archery lesson with his daughter turns into sheer panic as she and the rest of his family suddenly turn to dust, a dull clap of thunder in the distance signaling that the power of the Infinity Stones in the hand of Thanos is sweeping over the world, clearing out half of the people living on Earth and in the rest of the universe.
It’s just the first few minutes of a Marvel sequel with a first act that is light on action and heavy on fear and failure. What follows is a feeling of helplessness as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes can’t undo what has just been done.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) remains marooned in space with Nebula (Tony Stark) aboard a ship with no more power or fuel to get back to Earth. But soon, a nick-of-time rescue by Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) will reunite him with Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to debate what to do about Thanos, who has since used the Infinity Stones again since retiring to a place he refers to as the garden.
Stark is sitting in a wheelchair, looking malnourished and exhausted. He’s defeated, and he’s still scared. The remnants of Captain America: Civil War rise again as Stark blames Cap’s absence and departure from The Avengers as the reason for their failure. Cap said they’d fail together, but he wasn’t there when Thanos beat them to hell on Titan. Stark redirects his fear as anger and he lashes out at the only person who might be taking this loss as hard as he is.
This team isn’t ready to face Thanos again, especially being short-handed and watching their friends die just a few weeks earlier. Their fear is palpable, but Captain Marvel remains confident that they can kill Thanos and use the Infinity Stones to bring everyone back. Captain America and Black Widow are more than ready to help them. There’s a determination in them to right this universal wrong by any means necessary. But it’s too late.
When our team arrives at the little shack Thanos has been living in, he doesn’t even try to fight back. Regardless of Captain Marvel’s overpowering strength and Thanos having the side of his body brutally burned by the power of the Infinity Stones, there’s no fight for him to put up. What’s done is done. And to ensure that, he’s destroyed the Infinity Stones by using the stones themselves. And before anyone can pull anything else from him, Thor finally goes for the head, decapitating the titan who defeated The Avengers one-by-one.
It’s a hell of a way to begin a blockbuster sequel that sells toys and lunchboxes to kids. The rug is pulled out from under audiences who were expecting to be thrust into an epic rematch with Thanos. Our heroes suddenly have no mission, no villain, and no hope. All they can do is live with their failure, and that’s exactly what they do.
Five Years Later
As if having no hope of bringing back all of the dusted Avengers (and trillions of others) wiped out by Thanos wasn’t enough, this movie makes our heroes live with their failure for five grueling years, and things are bleak. For the first time ever, there’s nothing to avenge. In fact, those left after Thanos snapped his fingers were integral in his success, and no one is taking it well.
Captain America leads group therapy sessions where stories about new dates filled with post-trauamatic tears are considered to be a breakthrough. Black Widow tries to preoccupy herself my overseeing any potential missions that might come from disturbances happening around the universe. Nebula (Karen Gillan), Rocket, Okoye (Danai Gurira), Captain Marvel and Rhodes report in from various locations via hologram, all feeling like they’re also just trying to distract themselves from what they haven’t been able to undo.
In this single scene, you can see how each of them is still dealing with the fallout of Thanos. Rocket wisecracks, but quickly realizes that it’s not doing anyone any good. Captain Marvel sees even more of the devastation as the rest of the universe’s planets deal with the same problems Earth has. Okoye seems to take solace in the fact that there are things happening that they can’t control, like earthquakes happening below sea level. But one of them has been shaken for another reason. More on that later.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has to deal with the shock of The Avengers’ failure in a much different fashion. The thief who became Ant-Man has been stuck in the quantum realm for five years, though for him it felt like five minutes. In those five minutes, the world went to hell, he lost his partner (any maybe girlfriend) Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), as well as her father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and mother Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), to the snap, and he learns that his surviving daughter Cassie has aged five years, looking like a grown woman when he reunites with her.
Rudd’s performance is typically very comedic, usually letting the others around him do the heavy, dramatic lifting. But the look on his face as he sees his daughter suddenly grown up in front of his very eyes is full of such genuine emotion, it’s the first time that tears feel like they’re welling up inside your eyes. No one is safe from having their heart squeezed by the lasting impact of Thanos and his universe-balancing plan. Lang’s response to all this is an endless stream of thoughts on overdrive about how the quantum realm can be used allow them to travel back in time and fix everything.
That leads us to Tony Stark, who has recovered magnificently from his tragic sojourn to space. Not only has he recovered, but he’s a family man now. Gone is a flashy place to call home. Instead, Stark is living in a cabin in the woods with an adorable daughter named Morgan and the one person he always wanted to protect the most, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). And Stark isn’t willing to put his family on the line for a wild time heist, as Scott Lang almost excitedly calls it. But Stark is also scared because he doesn’t want to fail again. He’s not willing to take the kind of risks that he used to take as Iron Man, and that’s understandable since those decisions resulted in some pretty disastrous consequences, including the situation that brought them to a plan such as this.
Meanwhile, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has become twice the demigod he was. Literally. In a state of depression and denial, Thor has been chugging beers, playing video games, and waiting for the cable guy to show up in a new Icelandic village appropriately called New Asgard. He’s no longer the chiseled god of thunder who once led armies. He’s overweight and willfully turning his back on recovery. Valkyie (Tessa Thompson) has even given up on trying to bring Thor back from the precipice of hopelessness.
While Thor’s physical state might illicit laughs throughout, this depiction isn’t meant to be solely comedic, and it certainly isn’t meant to mock those who let themselves go in a bout of depression. Instead, it shows the extreme fall that Thor has taken, and Chris Hemsworth’s performance shows it. The actor impressively goes from gleefully chuckling, threatening online gamers, and drinking like a frat boy to showing the broken man he has become at the mere mention of Thanos’ name. It’s a leap from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other that Hemsworth masterfully pulls off a few times throughout the film, going from temporary joy brought on by inebriation to sad realization of the rock bottom he has hit.
Then there’s Hawkeye, and the dusting of his family has not been kind to him. The former Avenger has taken solace in becoming a deadly assassin, killing people for money. He’s become a shadow of the man he used to be, using excessive violence for these jobs, becoming something of a terrorist. It’s the kind of thing that brings Black Widow to tears when Rhodey provides an update on a bloody crime scene he left behind.
It’s not all depressing for the survivors though. In the five years since the snap, Bruce Banner has figured out his Hulk problem. Banner and Hulk now co-exist as one. Instead of seeing the Hulk as a disease, Banner started to see him as a cure. While everyone else felt failure once, Banner and Hulk had to feel it twice. Since then, Hulk has now become a genius green giant. He’s the only one who seems to have used what happened as a catalyst to improve his life, and the result is the best iteration of the big guy that we’ve ever seen in the MCU, both as a character and as a visual effect. By way of motion capture, Mark Ruffalo’s essence has been perfectly captured in this sweater and thick-rimmed glasses-wearing Hulk. All his subtle mannerisms and facial expressions shine through this incredible digital character.
But Hulk seems merely content with his life, and he’s not using his full potential to work through these difficult and confusing times. Thankfully, it’s Natasha who reminds him that peacefully co-existing with Hulk was once something that seemed impossible. So maybe this theory about using time travel to get the Infinity Stones and bring everyone back has some potential.
But even with the long shot hope of time travel undoing this massive disaster, this is the bleakest we’ve ever seen the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Our heroes are living in a nightmare, and they’re all dealing with their own failure in a variety of ways. So undoing what Thanos has done isn’t just about getting everyone back, it’s about getting their own sanity back too.
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