I have been busy writing in my new job and while there was a lot of material I could have written about over the last few months, there is no better opportunity for me to upload another review, than Avengers Endgame.
Endgame truly is the culmination of eleven years of storytelling over twenty three films (including Endgame) in the first ever cinematic universe. While many have dreamed of a cinematic universe in the past, few people ever imagined that a universe like this could ever exist, spanning countless stories and characters that all blend together perfectly. It is equivalent to a long-running television series, but even on television, one rarely encounters two or three shows that run in parallel and overlap. Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis ran concurrently for a while and had cross-over episodes, but even those were very limited in scope and characters rarely transitioned between the shows. DC unsuccessfully tried to copy Marvel’s attempts at creating a cinematic universe, but was more successful with its shot at a live-action television universe. The ‘arrowverse’, as it is sometimes referred to, spans the shows Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Constantine (cancelled after one season, but still recurring as a guest across all running shows), Black Lightning and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. Together they create a universe of multiplying shows, where big events force the episodes to collide and overlap and individual characters move from one show to another between seasons.
Yet Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU) remains the only big budget cinematic universe, because it took its time to neatly weave together so many different story threads and slowly building up all the connections it needed to feel like an interconnected reality. Marvel’s leap of faith is continuously being rewarded with an insane amount of money they make with these films. Even the least performing films, like Ant-Man made more money than most other studios’ productions could ever dream of and are well worth the efforts to have them made from a financial stand-point. The same cannot be said for other franchises, like the DC Universe, or even Star Wars, where individual films can actually flop and cost the studio more money to make than they are able to rake in.
There has been a lot of speculation on whether or not Marvel will be able to continue building upon this existing MCU with new characters, or whether it will have to reboot it at some point, in order to avoid fatigue and increasingly ridiculous story-threads. This really is a great danger, as the complexity of stories and indeed life itself increases exponentially with the time we spend in it. That is why comic books tend to go overboard with their storylines and eventually have to kill off and revive all of their characters again and again, destroying any shred of suspension of disbelief.
Endgame feels a bit like that to me. I really enjoyed the film, but the MCU is turning very comic-booky for me. Some people really love this development, but I am not necessarily one of them. Thor: Ragnarok was already a film that felt very odd to me. Having really enjoyed the first two phases of the MCU, it felt strange to have characters from those more serious films killed off instantly and people making lots of jokes and quips about it. Even when Asgard was destroyed they made a joke about that, instead of allowing us to make an emotional connection with the very dark new situation that Thor and his people now find themselves in. Enter Avengers Infinity War and the bitter fate of Asgard looks even grimmer.
Endgame is very dark, yet the humour is omnipresent. Characters goof around endlessly and admit to each other that everything they are doing is ludicrous and completely devoid of any realism.
Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed the film. It was very well made, assembled (pun intended) the biggest number of big name actors ever seen in any film before and contained some of the most beautiful cinematography I have seen in recent years. On top of that, the soundtrack was likely the most beautiful composition Alan Silvestri has delivered in recent memory. The emotional impact was fantastic and while much, like the entire plot was incredibly predictable (and I did indeed predict it correctly from start to finish), some of the eventual character fates (good and bad) were very surprising and sometimes even shocking.
So what did I dislike about it?
Everyone suspected we would get a time travel film, or a ‘time travel heist’, as Ant-Man called it. But the details of time travel and how it impacted reality were glossed over completely and done away with, so as not to distract from the main story. This was done quite tastefully, but it also left a bitter aftertaste for me. I have too many questions, going out of the theater for Endgame to feel like a satisfying conclusion.
Everything else was beautiful. Tony Stark’s death and particularly Natasha Romanoff’s death were truly heartbreaking and made me wish Endgame didn’t happen, as I loved those two characters more than most characters that had been snapped away. I also feel that the Black Widow deserved a bigger send-off and her sacrifice was not honoured sufficiently at the end. Neither were the sacrifices of all those others that left their lives in prior battles, be it Vision or even Quicksilver, who was never even mentioned at all. Vision was not mentioned either, just alluded to twice by Scarlet Witch. Thanos’ death was also unsatisfying, even though he died twice. The first time around, he had already fulfilled his destiny and his death did not do anything to prevent his dark deeds. The second time around was slightly better, but him having to watch as his armies and children turn to dust, before he himself disappears may have been poetic, but did not feel sufficient. He was not defeated in combat, or demoralised into giving up his increasingly ridiculous plot. He was just snapped away. Speaking of his mad plan. He realised that the execution of his plan was flawed and killing half the universe did not actually lead to happiness and prosperity. On Earth, it actually led to chaos and apparently lots of dirt in the street etc. Because it seems people were busy making shiny monuments for the vanished and did not feel the need to pick up their garbage anymore. So Thanos’ conclusion is that he needs to remake the universe in a way that half the lifeforms never even existed or at least their memories are completely forgotten. Hey, Thanos? How about you create more resources for everyone or think of something slightly more efficient than mass murder and amnesia? I guess that is why they call him the ‘mad titan’. His experience with overpopulation has traumatised him so severely, he cannot think of anything but his original solution. Still, it makes Thanos seem even more insane than in Infinity War and devalues his character, in my humble opinion.
At the same time, Thanos seems to be incredibly powerful, even without the infinity stones. Iron Man, Captain America and Thor are not enough to take him on? This puts Infinity War into perspective, but also makes the Avengers’ collective struggle in the previous film even more pointless. It seems the only way to defeat Thanos at all, is to use the infinity stones and I find that a bit strange. Not just because he should not be that hard to beat without the stones, but also, because that would mean Iron Man was just like Thanos, snapping away hundreds of souls in an instant (okay, not quite as bad and only as a last resort, but still…).
The returned characters also seemed inconsistent. If five years have passed since the first snap and everyone has aged, including Scott’s daughter Cassie (cause she needs to be her own superhero now, probably joining A-Force, teased by that non-sensical all-female charge short during the final battle), why is Ned, Peter Parker’s friend, still the same age and still in high-school? I mean, if everyone else has aged, what happened to Peter’s classmates? Or are you going to tell me that all of Pete’s relevant class mates that we remember from Spider-Man: Homecoming were also snapped away and have now conveniently reappeared aged the same and just going back to school with complete strangers that are now the same age? Sounds fishy to me…
There are so many aspects of this film I could nitpick on, but I genuinely enjoyed it, so I will instead focus on the time travel parts, as those bugged me the most and nearly ruined the film for me (but thankfully didn’t, because they were outshined by great acting and cinematography). The film’s explanation for time travel is that whatever happened, happened. Time moves like a line, continuously forward and each time you travel to the past, you create an alternate reality that diverges from your own. So far so good, I use the same logic in my upcoming novel Intrepid Explorer: First Flight. This means you can go to the past whenever you want and remove things and bring them back to your own future, without rewriting anything. You might damage an alternate reality, but who really cares about those? I mean, I do, but movie goers probably don’t. At least until the Ancient One explained it. This is also why Thor’s hammer and the infinity stones had to be returned to where they were taken from. Still, one could argue that the realities in question were altered permanently. In one of them, Loki disappeared back into space, still evil. In the same reality, Captain America revealed to Hydra that he knew about them and pretended to be part of the organisation (except the Cap from that timeline doesn’t know any of that. But when his American ass wakes up, he will recall that Bucky is still alive, which might change what he does next, leading to a very different Captain America: Winter Soldier). The same can be said for all other interactions marvel characters had in the past. Were those even the same alternate timelines or does every jump result in a different, separate one? We also have to ask how alternate Thanos came to the future if 2014 Nebula returned with the time device and she only had enough for that one trip. If Thanos didn’t have the Pym particles or the time travel device, how was he able to travel to the future? Specifically to the main timeline future? Are we saying that the future is set in stone and therefore travelling to the future always ends you up in the main timeline, even if you are from an alternate timeline? That doesn’t make a lot of sense.
What about Captain America’s time travel adventures at the end of the film? He returned as an old man. If he was in an alternate timeline, he would not have grown old in the main timeline and therefore would be unable to sit there and wait for Sam and Bucky at the end. There was a swoosh sound before he appeared on that bench, which leads me to believe that he travelled back at his old age from his new timeline at that moment, using the device, but it still leaves open a lot of questions. First of all, Steve is always selfless, yet now all of a sudden, he decides to stay in the past, leaving behind his long lost friend Bucky, whom he fought so hard to get back. In addition, he knew that Peggy had a happy life with her new husband, including several children and he decided to go back anyway and take the other guy’s place. Also, whatever happened to Sharon Carter? Didn’t they start dating some time ago? If they broke up, why didn’t we hear about it? If she vanished in the snap, why didn’t we hear about it? Ignoring her feels very wrong. It’s as if she was just a replacement for Peggy, but Peggy was always the real deal.
At the same time, how are we to know that Cap actually married Peggy in the end? What if he met a different woman and Peggy ended up with her original husband after all? Cap also probably wouldn’t be able to sit still and not do anything all those years. He knew Hydra was infiltrating Peggy’s S.H.I.E.L.D. from the beginning and he also knew about Bucky’s survival, so he would be able to change history in very significant ways, worthy of its own MCU spin-off, or at the very least an animated series. Still, his way out felt selfish and unjustified. Particularly, because Bucky doesn’t go talk to him in the end. Is he happy for him? Is he not angry at all that his best friend abandoned him or that he didn’t get to be his successor? Why is Sam more qualified than Bucky? Because Marvel needs another black superhero for their diversity quota? Bucky knew Cap better than anyone and he even used the shield before. But in the end he is completely sidelined.
Time travel always opens up a very nasty can of worms, particularly because you cannot shut that kind of can after you have opened it and you have to take into consideration a whole new layer of complexity to your universe. It took me two years to figure out how I would pull off a coherent story, based on this logic of time travel. Whether it works or not, you will be able to judge yourselves this summer.
For now, I remain optimistic about the MCU’s future, but a little sceptical of further use of time travel. Let’s only revisit that trope in another ten years from now, okay?