Eleven years. Twenty-two movies. Forty-eight hours of films alone, plus TV and online series. And it all ends with the three-hour epic conclusion of the Avengers Saga, Avengers: Endgame. (At least until Phase Four starts.)
You know what, I’m going to say it right now. This was the best Marvel movie ever. Any series. And maybe that’s because it’s standing on the shoulders of the emotional weight of Infinity War and even the entire MCU. It doesn’t matter. This was the best.
My rating: 5 out of 5, And for once, I wish the scale went higher.
Oh, and I’ll save you the trouble: there is no extra scene during or after the credits. Though stick around if you want to hear the audience gasp in incredulity.
So, this is without a doubt the movie event of the year—nay, of the past four years. I think the only more highly anticipated movies of this decade were Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. For all the hype that Infinity War had, and deservedly so, Avengers: Endgame has it beat. Early estimates said it could become the highest-grossing film of all time, beating out Avatar. (That’s right. No Marvel movie including Infinity War has beat out Avatar or even Titanic yet. It’s time to unseat James Cameron from the top two spots.)
Alright, now for the serious stuff. If you’ll recall, in Infinity War, Thanos straight-up won, wiping out half the sentient beings in the universe because apparently no one told him demographic transitions are a thing. Doctor Strange said that this was this only way to beat him in the end, but even Iron Man didn’t know how to do it. Plus, Iron Man was stranded on a dead planet, and over half of the Avengers are dead. Ant-Man is trapped in the Quantum Realm, and Nick Fury called Captain Marvel before he disintegrated, but even with them, it’s going to be hard to beat the man with the fully-powered Infinity Gauntlet.
But Spider-Man has another movie coming up in three months, and Black Panther is far too lucrative to stay dead, so they’re going to have to pull it off somehow, or Marvel is sunk. Yeah, I think this story deserves three hours to tell it.
I think there are three particular reasons why this movie is the best though…
MASSIVE spoilers below! You have been warned!
The weirdest and frankly most jarring part of this movie is the fact that it takes a hard left turn right from the start, and Thanos gets killed about fifteen minutes in. I get why they did it, and there’s a good reason for it, but I felt like it broke the flow of the movie. But that was honestly its biggest flaw. How is it a three hour movie, then, you ask? Well, Thanos is a smart villain and didn’t just leave the source of his power lying around. He destroyed the Infinity Stones so that no one (including him) could undo the Snap.
It seems like it’s all over until five years later, when Ant-Man accidentally gets ejected from the Quantum Realm and realizes that the Avengers can use it to travel back in time. But they don’t just stop Thanos from snapping his fingers in the first place. What follows is the first reason I think this is the best Marvel movie: it has one of the best treatments of time travel in fiction I’ve ever seen. It’s a middle ground between not being able to change the past and having multiple timelines, where I honestly didn’t think there was any middle ground. The Avengers can create multiple timelines, but they can’t change their own past. Their own timeline is still there and still in ruins, and they can only fix it going forward. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen that before. The closest I can think of is The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter (a very good book, by the way).
There’s an axiom in writing that I hold to: “Time travel ruins any story that isn’t specifically about time travel.” And it usually holds true. Being able to change the past makes any changes, gains, or losses meaningless. I think Avengers: Endgame straddles this line. It’s half about time travel; there are even some minor actual changes made. But it doesn’t let time travel break the story.
Long story short, the Avengers steal the Infinity Stones from the past and build their own gauntlet in the present to undo the Snap. This leads to the second reason I think this is the best Marvel movie: all of our original six Avengers gets closure in some form or other (granted, for Banner, it’s just finding balance with the Hulk), and it lands every beat perfectly. Thor gets to reconcile with his mother, and Tony gets to reconcile with his father, and honestly, there are so many ways just those two scenes could go wrong that it would have made me nervous if I knew in advance, but they didn’t. Add to that Natasha giving her life to finally make the difference she wanted, Tony’s and Pepper’s final scene, and Steve finally getting back the life he lost, and you have one fantastic emotional roller coaster of a movie.
The third reason this movie is the best, let’s be honest, is the fanservice. You have Steve in the elevator in a near-perfect callback to Captain America 2, Steve wielding Thor’s Hammer (see Avengers: Age of Ultron), Tony Stark’s last words and a hundred smaller things, and of course every part of the final battle. It was so much fun from start to finish, and you could tell they enjoyed making this the culmination of the entire series.
I listed three things, but that really wasn’t all. Endgame also avoided all of the other possible pitfalls. Most importantly, Captain Marvel slotted in far better than I’d feared she would. She played an important enough role to be worth including her, but she couldn’t just curb-stomp Thanos when it came down to it. Trickery won over raw power. Then, there’s Doctor Strange’s “Endgame.” That may need its own post to parse it out, but he knew what was going to happen the whole time, and yet it didn’t overshadow the plot or make the characters’ efforts feel cheap. They fought hard for everything they got, and it never felt like a certain thing. In fact, for one moment, right before the end, I was afraid it had gone wrong, and they’d have to improvise something else. Everything came together right when it was supposed to and not one second earlier.
I don’t usually pay attention to the credits, but I felt the need to look up the screenwriters for Avengers: Endgame. They’re Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and would you believe this duo were responsible for the disaster that was Thor: The Dark World? But now, with Avengers: Endgame, all is forgiven. These two men deserve every penny they got for this script.
Thus ends one of the greatest cinematic stories of all time.
Oh, and I’ll save you the trouble one more time: that one kid you didn’t recognize at Tony’s funeral was Harley Keener, the kid from Iron Man 3.
Great review, Alex! I came back to read this after I had seen the movie a couple of days ago. I completely agree with your Time Travel axiom. I had a minor blow up with my daughter at the end of Infinity War which went something like this: Me with a grump, “They’ll go after the time stone. I hate that cheat!” She with an eye roll, “I know! I know!” Me quizzing her after she saw Endgame on the day it came out, “Well, did they use time travel?” She with a mysterious smile, “Yes, but not the way you think. You’ll be very satisfied with this movie.” Me after seeing the movie (and still waiting to the end even after being warned by you and others that nothing happens), “Wow!” You hit every positive beat. I was afraid that Captain Marvel would be too much of a “Superman” force, but they wisely kept her out of the picture until she could turn the tide, but not take all the glory. I also appreciated the (relatively small) gathering of female heroes who acted as wingwomen to get Carol Danvers across the finish line (sorry to mix my metaphors). I missed Black Widow in the scrum. My take on the upcoming Black Widow stand alone movie (if it isn’t a prequel)–Steve had to replace the soul stone when it was taken–“a soul for a soul.” Still wondering what happened to early Gamora who disappeared (but not “dusted?”) Thanks for telling me who the kid was a Tony’s funeral. I wondered, but not enough to look it up myself. Keep up the good work. I enjoy your reviews!