Film Review: Avengers – Endgame

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All Good Things...

Warning: This review contains spoilers. Not that it matters because you’ve seen it anyway.

Here it is, then. The culmination of an unprecedented run of rapid release blockbusters – 21 films over 11 years, scooping $20b at the box office. A feat, in franchise terms, that’s never been bettered. What was the model for this boon for the film industry? Episodic television from a less demanding age; a paradigm that once adopted boxes in movie studios and reduces risk taking in the long run. Thus, Avengers: Endgame is an illusion worthy of Doctor Strange. It appears to be a high watermark for blockbuster filmmaking, whereas in truth it’s the point said water breaks and rolls back; a staging post to a dry and dispiriting 2020s, when the best new movies will be on streaming services watched alone and naked by attentive cineastes.

This requiem for movies is a lament for another day, however. We must hope the gargantuan cast of the MCU dust off their funeral apparel and turn up, as they did for Tony Stark’s send off (which doubles as a goodbye to the series’ only real charismatic character). For now, let’s talk about how good Marvel’s endgame is. Is it a worthy cap, pun intended, on a decade’s breezy and colourful storytelling? No. Does it encompass the series’ strengths and weaknesses? Yes. Overall, are we entertained? We are, but not as effortlessly as we might have hoped.

The MCU has always been one generation’s tribute to the genre filmmaking of their youth – the movies of the long 80s (1977- 1991 or thereabouts) from which they’ve robbed iconography, plot points and story ideas. Endgame is bold enough to acknowledge this fact. After the Avengers find Thanos and learn he’s destroyed the infinity stones, they kill him and endure a barren a five years in which the world mourns its dead. Scott Lang, Ant-Man to his friends, emerges from his quantum limbo and learns of the apocalypse. His survival suggests a solution – time travel using the quantum realm. How will it work? No one, including the filmmakers know, but thanks to Pym’s knowledge of Back to the Future and other useful reference points, he’s got a few preconceptions – ideas Stark, Banner and the like shoot down.

This, it turns out, is the point the movie turns from an emotional and compelling spectacle; the bedrock of an engaging first hour; into the worst kind of schlock. Later, we lament characters rubbished the likes of Back of the Future and Bill and Ted, because those movies had the intelligence to establish clear rules on the use of time travel and stick to them; a pre-requisite for using this particular and potentially problematic storytelling device.

One piece of time travel storytelling cited by the filmmakers, but not the characters, is the Star Trek: The Next Generation finale, “All Good Things” – a story centred on visiting the past to save the future. But there too, despite it being a tale, like Endgame, built on technobabble, was a clear set of parameters that structured the plot. There’s no such clarity here and the result is a messy middle section that fulfils the corporate check list requirements of referencing past films and allowing key characters to be reunited with lost loved ones, but kills the movie stone dead.

Back to the Future made it simple. You don’t overwrite previous movies – they’re banked, so just work around them. Endgame botches its opportunity to make a clear set of dos and don’ts, perhaps because writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely couldn’t work out a way to reconcile the story’s audience pleasing requirements with its storytelling complications.

Thus, it should be a problem that Thanos is killed in the overwrought climax, because this is a past iteration of a character who will die later in said character’s chronology – in fact the entirety of Infinity War relies on him doing so. It should be a problem that Karen Gillan’s Nebula kills her past self, as this would surely wipe out her present self? Gamora can be saved from her fate by pulling her into the present from the past, but poor Black Widow is irretrievable. And that’s just the rudiments of the plot. We won’t talk about the technobabble inelegantly cited in a bid to hold it all together – the equivalent of taking out an airplane’s jackscrews and replacing them with chewing gum.

It’s a shame the movie’s bogged down with this head scratching and terminal abdication of storytelling responsibility, because it makes what should have been a rousing final third senseless; just white noise. Amongst all the sound and fury, Robert Downey Jr says goodbye to the series that revitalised him, and may need to again someday, and Chris Evans retires. In other news, and perhaps the one light at the end of the tunnel, the newly restored Guardians of the Galaxy – just don’t think too hard about how they’ve been restored – are joined by Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, who in one of the movie’s best choices, has been temporarily transformed into an all-powerful version of The Dude from The Big Lebowski – paunch, beer, grey sweater and all.

Whether this is the MCU’s peak or not will depend on how risk averse it is going forward. Endgame tells us that the more bogged down the filmmakers get with character crossovers, the less focused they become. Story, not atmosphere, should be Marvel’s focus in their next phase – and original stories please, not those half-heartedly reheated from the VHS collections of the eager directors-for-hire.

If greater heft and consistency is achieved, the franchise may yet prosper while all around it – you know, movies for adults – turns to ash. If not, now would probably be a good time to say thanks for the gags and the distraction, but goodbye.

Directors: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Country: US

Year: 2019

Running Time: 181 mins

Certificate: 12A for moderate Gwyneth Paltrow, bad time travel, and a kid at a funeral that no one recognises.

33 Responses

  1. dave says:

    Its is oft said, that those who can do, and those who lack the talent to do, become critics, casting aspersions on far greater talents

    I would of course be prepared to eat my words if the writer of this review were to make a blockbusting movie which grosses £700m in a couple of days. Sadly I doubt he has the talent to attract the income to make a five minute you tube video

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      Thanks for invoking that hoary old cliché, Dave. Criticism’s a different skill of course, so it’s a bit like saying that you don’t have the nous to critique your living conditions because you’re not an architect, but don’t let that basic confusion infect your thought terminating consciousness.

      What’s that? You’ve got leaky pipes, mice and damp? Well fuck you, unless you can build a house you know nothing.

      As you like clichés though, here’s another. Thin skinned, intellectually insecure morons who personally identify with the things they like, attack critics who don’t share their affection for corporate product, because they regard it as a threat. Well you’re right to be threatened. You’re a cock who equates box office with quality. In other words you lack the critical faculty to review movies – even those aimed at children.

      Anyway, thanks for reading.

      • Arnold says:

        I think I’m with Dave on this one…

        • Ed Whitfield says:

          Feel free to take more time if you’re not sure. I don’t want you to embarrass yourself.

      • Rocketlawn says:

        Ooh, how biting. The idea that critics should be able to make movies is a tired one, but you aren’t better. “movies for adults” really? “half-heartedly reheated from the VHS collections of the eager directors-for-hire.”. You are asking for the attack at this point. How are these plots recycled beyond archetypes that go back forever?

        Whining about the plot hole that 2014 thanos was killed is irrelevant. Same with wanting to establish rules for time travel. Would you rather have a specific point by point overexplained system like 2018 beauty and the beast? soft technology or magic systems are ok. Look at lord of the rings (book or movies) Gandalf has magic abilities and can do stuff, unless you look at the silmarillion (which most people didn’t) you aren’t given an explanation for what he can and can’t do or why and it doesn’t ruin the book or take away from the themes.

        Box office success is not an indicator of quality, yes, but that does not mean a commercially successful product is bad as you imply. You seem terrified of something that is both so don’t throw stones in a glass house.

        • Ed Whitfield says:

          You get some baffling feedback sometimes, but the idea I’m afraid of a successful blockbuster is just weird. I didn’t imply I was better than – what, the filmmakers? I don’t know what you’re talking about there and I suspect you don’t either.

          The recycling is not archetypal – as I said, it’s specific to a certain era of genre filmmaking. Today’s franchise filmmakers grew up in the ’70s and ’80s. Those movies were informed by the storytelling values of the ’40s, but sadly we have a group of people who are copying the copies without the same grounding in storytelling craft – so we’re getting the escapism without the artistry.

          Plot holes that sink a movie’s narrative may be irrelevant to you, but maybe that means you’re part of the problem. The filmmakers had someone like you in mind – someone they imagined wouldn’t care. You know which other segment of the audience doesn’t notice or care about a film not making sense? Children. What I want is a movie with internal logic, a simple thing that makes all the difference. People used to care about this sort of thing. It’s why today’s blockbusters are generally terrible. The example you gave, that this movie doesn’t need to have a coherent set of rules to structure its story because in a very different fantasy series, the main character used magic, is fucking terrible. If I were you I’d have been embarrassed to think it, let alone type it.

          Movies for adults? Yes, really. If you don’t think this is a legitimate concern, I can do nothing for you. Perhaps you’d be better off watching one of those YouTube channels where grown men and women are surrounded by merchandise.

  2. julian says:

    Allways is nice to be the singular unique Snowflake who doesn´t like something that everybody enjoy. hoorray i´m different!!

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      You’re right, Julian. Hooray for groupthink. To please you I will never again think for myself.

  3. Jimmy says:

    Is this where I post all my words I found in the thesaurus? Seriously, this is like reading a review that just wants to talk big of them-self and make themselves sound smart by using big ol’ fancy words.
    Anyway, anyone saying they didn’t like this movie to me is probably someone who didn’t like a lot of the MCU than. Yes it has plot holes, but that doesn’t turn it into a terrible movie.
    Move on buddy, enjoy life. Don’t fault a movie because a few things didn’t fit in your round holes.

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      Is this the reply where you use all the small basic words you know to sound like an anti-intellectual dickhead?

      • Ethan says:

        Shit man, I may not agree with you on the movie, but your replies to comments are f*cking hilarious

  4. Jeff says:

    Ed, your replies to the comments are hilarious. Keep thinking for yourself.

    I think your review is thoughtful and satisfying on the whole.

    One small editorial correction: It’s Scott Lang, not Scott Pym (Hank Pym of the “Pym particle” is the Michael Douglas character).

    I also have the following contribution on the subject of the seeming internal inconsistencies you pointed out in the film’s treatment of the “rules” of time travel.

    First off, I think it’s fair to say that time travel is practically impossible to employ without blaring inconsistencies. To me, the question of whether I *want* to suspend disbelief, i.e., what will doing so allow me to get from the story, tends to outweigh that of whether or how I *can* suspend it.

    It doesn’t bother me that much, for example, that Nebula is able to kill her past self and continue to exist. Dr. Strange’s predecessor time stone keeper’s graphic demonstration of diverging threads of existence, produced every time the stone is used, is a satisfying enough attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable on that point. Suspension of disbelief only requires assuming that the reality line of the present Nebula diverged from that of the past Nebula, whom the former encounters and kills, at or before the moment said encounter took place, so that the encounter is not part of the latter’s past, but only part of her present. Perhaps the two lines of Nebula’s reality don’t strictly diverge, but somehow overlap or intersect at certain points. Fair enough.

    The fact that her present self could exist having killed her past self didn’t bother me, though I will say they could have given it a more satisfying treatment. For instance, it could have been a powerful idea that Nebula had the strength of will to risk uncertain consequences of killing her past self. Or quite apart from the dual/branching time continua, there was also the mysterious interconnectedness of the two Nebulas, which seemed to tie in to her identity being sort of fluid. If the two Nebulas could jam and garble each other’s signals and link into each other’s thoughts and memories, how could *either* Nebula be sure that killing the “other” wouldn’t cause both to instantly drop dead?

    They opened the door to exploring the characters’ own confusion about how meddling with the past will actually affect the present when the avengers had their conversation about the “rules” of time travel in other movies.

    As to the Avengers’ resignation (under a brief, half-hearted protest) to save the Black Widow from her ultimate fate in Vormir by meddling in the time dimension, because her death was part of an irreversible bargain to procure the soul stone. If you accept that each stone (or the essence that it embodies) is an equally fundamental component of the universe, then it is not so far fetched to suppose that each component has a dominion that is at least somewhat independent of the others.

    Thus, Black Widow’s death is a sort of displacement in the soul dimension, which you might say is “orthogonal” to the time dimension.

    How then, you ask, was Gamora retrieved by, as you say, “pulling her into the present from the past”? I offer the following, for what it is worth: She wasn’t. Or at least, pulling her from the past was not sufficient; another sacrifice was required. When Black Widow threw herself in the pit, she not only saved Hawkeye from having to do the same, but saved Gamora? The exchange of her soul for the stone nullified or superseded the would-be exchange of Gamora’s? Can you tell that I am a lawyer?

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      Yes Jeff, I can. Thanks for the correction. I was aware but conflated the two in my head. I’m just glad I didn’t refer to Bruce Gamma.

      I submit that the way you deal with inconsistencies is you create a set of rules and stick to them. Saying there are always inconsistencies lets the filmmakers off the hook (though it may be true, but here it’s just attributable to laziness). As I say, the movies cited were clear on what you could and couldn’t do, and exposition duly delivered, they got on with it. Given the Avengers were so concerned – well Stark at least, about preserving the present, you’d think they’d have been more cautious on this whole divergent universe point. I’m sorry to say I think the creative team just got confused or didn’t know how to reconcile the big ticket items like the climatic battle with Thanos, with the story they had, so fudged it.

      As for Black Widow, what you say is superficially attractive, but if the stone is returned to the time and place it was taken, then surely every person who showed up to get it – Thanos and Gamora included, would still have to go through the process, the same way we have to check a book out of the library every time it’s borrowed. How does one person borrowing a book then returning it, make it unnecessary for the next person to check it out? If the price is a soul, it’s always a soul, so Gamora should stay dead. Unless now it never happened? Oh, I’m so confused.

      Again, if the movie had integrity, in terms of its storytelling, the Russos would have accepted this and stuck to their rule that what’s done, pre-snap, is done. Instead, we get a movie where the first film, infinity war, is undone on two fronts – not just the characters that died in the snap, but those who died beforehand. Crowd pleasing? Yes. Internally consistent? No. But if you’re right it’s good to know Black Widow could be saved at any time simply by getting an old man, say Captain America, to take a pym particle, go back to that location before BW got there, jump to his death, and then they can simply pluck her from her own past. Et viola! So why all the tears? No one’s ever gone.

      • Matthew says:

        Thanks for calling out what to me was the biggest issue with the film– the fact that instead of pushing forward with all of the pain and grief and finding a way through it, it merely undoes both the previous film AND the entire first act of this film.

        They actually thought it was a good idea to have the same villain with the same goal and a not-as-good version of the same final battle at the end. The irony here is that this is what this franchise has been doing with EVERY instalment– they have simply made it literal this time.

        This is a franchise that succeeds only by advertising the next product in ways that make you believe it will be better than the one you just consumed (mostly by introducing movie versions of characters steeped in comic book nostalgia), constantly passing the buck to the next movie and the next, building up to the grand finale… and when we get there they advertise the PREVIOUS movies, so you can remember how you felt when they promised that they would keep getting better.

        The whole thing feels like a cynical, sarcastic joke.

  5. Kevin Izard says:

    My, my… Mr. Whitfield, you are fully entitled to your opinion, as are your readers. It is my suspicion that you were not a fan of much, if any, of the previous MCU films, or maybe even the genre. But to get down in the dirt with someone who disagrees with your opinion should be beneath you as a critic.
    That being said, the success of any fantastical work requires that its viewer (reader) sustain their disbelief. If the viewer/reader is not able, or not willing to do so, he is doomed to be a dissatisfied. If someone gets hung up on the intricacies of how time travel would work, or how a hammer can judge worthiness, or how an arc reactor can generate seemingly unlimited amounts of energy, he is dead in the water from the start.

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      Well you might have a point Kevin, if it wasn’t for the fact that I do like the genre and I’ve enjoyed most of the movies in the MCU – though I find them frustratingly breezy and inconsequential – a bit like television episodes. But this is a different kind of franchise, I accept, so great stand alone movies are tough to make in this format. But, no, my reviews of previous MCU movies do not stack up with your theory, sorry.

      On your second point, the job of the screenwriters is to establish quick and simple rules for the time travel, that will structure the plot, so we don’t have to think about it and can concentrate on the story. You establish the parameters and you stick to them. Simple. If we’re hung up on details, and taken out of the movie as a consequence, it’s because the creative team failed to maintain that internal logic. Given how anticipated this movie was, and how long it’s been planned, I think more effort could have been made. I’ve seen BTTF2 about a billion times but I never got caught on the plot – it’s complicated but internally consistent. The movie works on its own criteria. That’s all that’s required, not some sense of how it should have played out, but a film that works on its own terms.

  6. Joe Schmoe says:

    I actually agree with Ed on this. While the nod to the fans and the nostalgia is great, I found the time travel trope to be a cop out.

    They tried to set their own internal rules which made very little sense, then they didn’t even pretend like they were following them.

    I still enjoyed it for a popcorn movie, but the theory of “going forward” and pulling 1/2 the population back out of the quantum realm seems like it could have held more plot cohesiveness. Time travel in itself is a dues ex machine, you can fix anything with time travel, ANYTHING.

    It gets kind of old and despite loving the last battle I was taken out of the movie numerous times by the silliness of “oh that didn’t work, let’s do more time travel”….

    Not trying to attack anyone as done above, sharing my view is all.

  7. Andrew says:

    “We won’t talk about the technobabble inelegantly cited in a bid to hold it all together – the equivalent of taking out an airplane’s jackscrews and replacing them with chewing gum.”

    OMFG. Was that childish or what. R U mad, bro? By any chance , have you ever read a super hero comic book in your life? That as clearly a homage to all fans of long date and the Way they tie up the 21 movies altogethers. Man, I feel sad if you don’t think all these 11 year e fort as worthless.

  8. Mubi says:

    You my friend is an absolute mental person. This is a comic book story for god’s sake. You so called critics want to explore some deep meaning in everything. Go and fuck yourself in the dark basement you grown up without any love.

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      No Mubi, we just review the movies we see, not talking about what the studio told us we were getting, but what we got. Not what we wanted the film to be, but what the filmmakers did. You, my friend, have been brainwashed by hype.

  9. MC says:

    The “plot holes” you speak of actually aren’t plot holes. At a minimum, their explanations are internally consistent.

    This movie clearly employs a multiverse explanation for time travel, which actually aligns with the latest scientific explanations for how time travel could happen.

    Every time that time traveled, they created a separate branch. That’s why travelling back in time won’t impact the present. This was clearly explained in the movie — it’s clear you just missed it.

    There are already tons of articles online that explains all this. I advise you to take a look.

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      If it’s necessary to read multiple articles online after the fact, then it doesn’t work. Also, not wishing to piss on your chips, but how, if time travel is something none of the characters have ever experienced and believe impossible, would they know their actions would result in the kind of branching you describe? You and I would assume time was linear, would we not, and act accordingly? The Avengers certainly thought so, as they made attempts to avoid themselves so events would play out as they had before. And before anyone cites BTTF2. When Doc was talking about alternate timelines, the divergence had already happened. His hypothesis was based on observation not conjecture.

      Anyway, if you’re right, though it makes for a movie with no internal logic and no stakes, because you can do anything and still be certain the timeline you experienced remains in tact, then it’s a very convenient device for writing a story with no discipline, isn’t it? A decade in the planning.

      • Nathan says:

        I didn’t do any article reading or anything, but the explanation for time travel (whether a good one or not) seemed pretty obvious to me. Bruce and Tony do a decent job at explaining it before they time travel (saying they can’t change the past at all, because it’s the past), and the sorcerer supreme explains it again (with visuals) when talking to Bruce when he asked for the time stone.

        The stakes weren’t that they were going to change the past, they were that they only had 1 shot to do it right and that Thanos found out about it.

        When the characters are worrying about changing the past, that’s before Bruce tells them that’s ridiculous and they don’t have to worry about it. Because this isn’t “Back to the Future”.

        Not liking the explanation is fine, but for a super hero film it seems to me they explain it quite enough.

        • Ed Whitfield says:

          They affirmed they wouldn’t change the past. That was a statement of intent. It doesn’t explain what actually occurred. They subsequently did change the past. And before you talk about tangential universes or the like, Banner’s promise to Tilda was that the stones would be returned to their point of temporal origin to preserve the integrity of the time line – no alternate realties, just one nice clean linear timeline. If someone can reconcile that with what later happened in the movie, I’d be grateful.

          • Thomas Olges says:

            The Ageless One said that the absence of the stones from their respective timelines would do irreparable damage to said timelines, not necessarily that just any old changes to the past would do it. The time stone, for instance, was instrumental in preventing Dormammu from pulling all of Earth into whatever technicolor Hellscape he occupies, so they needed that back before Mads Mikkelsen tried to destroy the whole planet. As a fan who enjoyed the movie, I will still happily admit that Tilda Swinton’s explanation of temporal mechanics is distinct from Bruce and Tony’s handling of it and makes far more sense than all of that “Now your present has become your past” nonsense that they tried to float past us.

            My question is: are these movies really any dumber than A) their comic book source material or B) the big tent-pole action movies that they’re replacing? The increasing tendency of studios to back only blockbusters for theatrical release is a sad lookout for the future of the cinemas, but if it weren’t a comic book movie up there, it would presumably just be another James Bond movie instead. This movie isn’t revolutionizing our conception of drama, but it certainly isn’t less weighty or thoughtful than, say, Moonraker.

          • Nathan says:

            She was worried about sacrificing her reality to save his reality. There was already two timelines, but she was worried that by giving up the stone, hers would be ruined.

            She wasn’t worried about the future of the Avengers reality, she was worried about the future of her reality. Two entirely different timelines which happened to touch.

          • Nathan says:

            Also there was a statement of intent early on in the film, but later they confirm that it’s impossible to change the past (their past). (They can, however, ruin the alternate reality they’re jumping into)

  10. Overman says:

    Congrats, you got me to click on a link to your blog just to confirm what type of asshat would piss on this movie just to try to get me to click on said blog. You’ve met the expectations perfectly, childhood insults and all.

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      It’s worse than you think, arsecrunch – it’s what I actually think. But thanks for fulfilling my expectation that someone would hit me with that cliche at some point. Amazed it took two days.

  11. Paul says:

    Hello Ed,

    When I saw this movie yesterday I found it pleasing to watch but after the fact, the more I thought about it the more I couldn’t stomach the plot. Your review helps to put words on my uneasy feeling about End Game. All and all, if I can shut my brain down I can say the movie was really great.

    Unfortunately, I cannot.
    I found the time travel plot muddled and confusing and a bit ‘cheap’. I think I almost had the time travel rules down while watching it: “You can’t change the past, no matter what you do, you just make new branches”. But then old captain American is sitting there and shits on my logic.

    I think I am just confused, and its that confusion that gave me this cheated feeling. I was a big fan of BTTF2, and for all the reasons you cite, it was clear as crystal what was going on in that movie. If end game’s protagonist’s success wasn’t so reliant on this plot device, I could have written it off but I can’t.
    Honestly I liked Star Trek 4 (where they go back to the 80s and pick up some whales) logic more than End Game. There is something they need from the past that they don’t have, they get it while trying not to disrupt the timeline, and little more needs to said about how, they just do it and its not so important after (even though the how is ridiculously stupid it was still a good ST movie of that era). End game’s logic just doesn’t make sense and it really collapses the 4th wall too much (suspension of belief).

    On another note, I wanted to commend you for standing up and writing your mind, i think the majority of people will review this movie as a breakthrough to join the echo chamber of fanboys rather than see a movie as a movie. That fact that it has done well at the box office is a testament to a large and loyal fan base not a good movie.