endgame final battle

It’s all been leading to this.

Avengers: Endgame, the 22nd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is the biggest superhero movie ever in terms of size and scale, taking that title from last year’s Avengers: Infinity War. But even after multiple viewings, Infinity War‘s gigantic Battle of Wakanda has never quite landed for me – and now that Endgame has arrived, its own colossal final battle sequence creates a stark comparison (ha!) between the two. Here’s why Endgame‘s climactic action scene puts Infinity War‘s to shame.

Spoilers for both films ahead.

Infinity War‘s Battle of Wakanda makes sense on a story level: Thanos’s army wants an Infinity Stone, and the Avengers team up to stop them from getting it. The problem comes in the execution, when hordes of four-armed alien villains (also known as Outriders) slowly funnel through Wakanda’s force field and the fighting gets underway in the fields outside the city.

Infinity War Outriders

I love Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but its towering battle scenes have inspired far too many shots like the one above, in which audiences are supposed to be impressed by the sheer number of villains facing down our heroes. But when those villains are creatures we have no relationship to and which number in the thousands, a paradox begins to form: the bigger the fight, the less impact it has.

The Battle of Wakanda sacrifices personal stakes for spectacle. There’s only the briefest sense that Captain America or the Hulk might be overwhelmed in a numbers game against these enemies. This isn’t the early seasons of Game of Thrones, where a heroic character could theoretically die at any second – this is myth-making, hero worship storytelling, where such an underwhelming death would never happen to our main characters. Even when Thor, Rocket, and Groot show up in their big triumphant moment, they’re immediately tasked with just mowing down as many of the horde as possible. The drama simply isn’t there…until the film’s scope contracts and the action focuses around Vision, whom they’re all trying to protect. It’s no coincidence that the Vision moments in the woods all work well – it’s because the masses of Outriders are out in the fields, and the Avengers are just dealing with a more intimate fight against the members of the Black Order, with a vulnerable Vision under immediate threat.

Avengers Endgame - Chris Evans as Captain America

Near the end of Avengers: Endgame, in what I’m calling the Battle of Upstate New York, Thanos looks to be unstoppable as he prepares to unleash his entire army out over the ruins of Avengers HQ. But that’s when portals begin to open behind Captain America, allies pour through to back him up, and the stage is set for the biggest and most epic fight scene in comic book movie history.

As the two sides ran toward each other, I must admit that I inwardly groaned. The Battle of Wakanda was fresh in my mind, and I was not excited about the prospect of seeing twenty minutes of each character fighting off these boring-ass villains again. Honestly, how many times do we need to see Groot shoot his tree arm through multiple villains’ chests simultaneously?

Thankfully, Endgame takes a different approach than its predecessor. This film’s battle doesn’t include the requisite shots of each hero using their unique skill set to defeat a bunch of Outriders. Instead, the camera follows along with the heroes as they play an elaborate game of “chase the McGuffin” while trying to keep the Infinity Gauntlet away from Thanos. Here’s where their powers come into play, and even though this film’s fight is technically way bigger than the Battle of Wakanda, it feels tighter and more controlled. The characters are all concentrating on the same specific item instead of the broader goal of simply defeating the bad guys, and the scene has a vitality that was lost in the climactic scene in Infinity War. There’s a continuous energy as Spider-Man grabs the gauntlet, catches a ride on Valkyrie’s flying horse, and eventually hands it off to Captain Marvel that wasn’t there in Wakanda. (Now that I think about it, the scene is reminiscent of Infinity War‘s battle against Thanos on Titan, where several heroes come together and almost beat him).

Audiences are invested in these stories because of the characters, which is why the final fight of, say, Captain America: Civil War, in which Captain America and Tony Stark go head to head because of their clashing ideologies, works so well. (And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t even like Civil War very much.) But in a film like Endgame, where all the heroes are once again on the same side and fighting against a force of evil, it was a pleasant surprise to see that, even in the biggest superhero battle scene ever, the movie sharpened its focus to what mattered.

Avengers: Endgame is in theaters now.

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