Avengers Endgame

The Endgame

While the stakes are heavily implied amidst the Avengers’ time-heist, they become tangible once the heroes snap their lost loved ones back into existence. We don’t yet see them return — some are in different cities or countries, while others are on different planets — though Laura Barton’s phone call, and Clint Barton’s overwhelming sense of relief, are reason enough to believe the heroes have won. That is, until Thanos arrives from the past, with foreknowledge of events and a more destructive goal. Mere seconds after their apparent victory, the Avengers’ headquarters is reduced to rubble.

Once they push their way out from under the debris, Hawkeye attempts to get the new Infinity Gauntlet to safety, while the lead trio (Iron Man, Captain America and Thor) confronts the Mad Titan. Captain America even lifts Thor’s hammer, one of two Thor wields in the scene.

Rogers lifting Mjolnir is a magnificent sequence, and one we’d all come to expect and hope for ever since Avengers: Age of Ultron, though I can’t help but throw in some wishful thinking in that same vein. There was never any doubt that Steve Rogers would be “worthy” enough to wield the hammer. However a character like Black Widow — the only person who didn’t attempt to lift Mjolnir in Ultron, for fear of it proving her worthlessness — may have needed this culmination a little more from a story standpoint, given her arc across the series.  

Still, once the characters are beaten down and nearly defeated, and Thanos’ gargantuan army arrives, the scene’s payoffs continue. While Black Panther, Shuri and Okoye are the first to arrive through Doctor Strange’s portal — during sunset in Wakanda, making their glowing silhouettes resemble a heavenly resurrection — how the arrival is actually signaled makes all the difference. Were it announced by any other character, it would’ve felt as empty and incidental as Carol Danvers’ return later on. Though the first voice we hear belongs to Sam Wilson, with whom Rogers has a more dramatically established relationship than anyone else (including Bucky, unfortunately). Wilson’s callback to their playful first interaction — “On your left” — signifies not only the return of lost characters, but lost friends, as does the teary-eyed relief on Rogers’ face.

On the downside, this same care isn’t afforded to other major reunions that take center stage. While Scott Lang is given a quiet beat where he stands alongside Hope Van Dyne, the woman he loves, he gives her a casual smile as if greeting her after a few hours apart. This is the same characters whose death is fresh in his mind (he only found out about it a few weeks prior) and his uncharacteristic anger in the film makes it seem like he’s struggling to work through it. Similarly, Rocket’s moment alongside lifelong friend Groot, who died horribly in front of Rocket five years ago, doesn’t even involve the two looking at one another. Rather, it’s used as a reaction shot for the arrival of Carol Danvers, a character we’ve barely seen either one interact with.

These moments can’t help but feel similar to the deaths in Avengers: Infinity War. Some reunions matter. Tony Stark hugging a returned Peter Parker is an applause moment on its own; their relationship is re-established earlier in the film, when Stark looks at their goofy photograph. Other moments don’t seem to hold nearly the same weight — like Wong greeting a resurrected Doctor Strange with a joke — as if the actors, once again, weren’t told exactly what they were filming.

However, the way the battle plays out helps spackle over these problems in-the-moment. It kicks off with the arrival of nearly every group we’ve met in the series thus far, from the sorcerers in Doctor Strange, to the Asgardians in Thor, to the Wakandans in Black Panther, to the Ravagers in Guardians of the Galaxy, followed by snapshot of the entire battlefield. While directors Joe & Anthony Russo have often had trouble portraying scale — Thanos throwing an entire moon at the Avengers in Infinity War is bigger on paper than in practice — the picture they paint in Endgame feels akin to a religious epic, with a giant Scott Lang in the background, and light from each of Strange portal’s shining onto the battlefield, as if to combat the darkness.

It’s Hieronymus Bosch by way of Alex Ross.

Though rather than letting its characters run amok immediately, the film subsequently zeroes in on Captain America, allowing him to deliver his iconic line from the comics and kick off the battle: “Avengers… Assemble!”

What follows is the Russos finally approaching Joss Whedon’s visual panache, albeit imperfectly. As if to bring the heroes full circle, back to The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, they battle in several long-takes as the camera shifts focus from one character to the next, switching between them in fluid motion as if to capture a well-oiled machine. While it still suffers from the major problems with the action in Infinity War — there’s no coherent sense of geography or physical relationship between anyone the battle and the Gauntlet, or between the Gauntlet and the time machine — the chaotic, desperate nature of the fight still feels fitting.

Minor moments become major callbacks, from Spider-Man activating his “instant kill” (which he refused to in Spider-Man: Homecoming), to Black Panther recognizing Clint Barton and calling on him as an ally (after originally responding to his introduction with “I don’t care” when they fought in Captain America: Civil War). Even the conclusion to the battle involves Tony Stark calling back to his first film, as he firmly re-establishes his heroism after having given up earlier on; Stark responds to Thanos’ “I am inevitable” with the line “And I am Iron Man,” before snapping his fingers, Infinity Stones in hand.

As the invading aliens are reduced to dust, Stark gets his heroic send-off. Pepper Potts, knowing full well the burden that has just been lifted, tells Stark he can finally rest. For all the messiness that led up to it — both in Avengers: Endgame, and in the series at large — it’s a conclusion well-earned.

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Saying Goodbye

The biggest surprise in Avengers: Endgame albeit a pleasant one! — is that its final battle concludes nearly twenty minutes before it ends. In the meantime, we’re shown glimpses of global peace and celebration (a la the special edition of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi) as Tony Stark plays us out via posthumous voiceover, later revealed to be a recording for his family. After Avengers: Infinity War called into question his ability to protect people, both as a hero and as a parent, he leaves the world better than he found it for his daughter Morgan, as the lingering impact of the saga is delivered in waves of quiet moments.

While Stark gets a fitting funeral rife with references to prior films — Pepper’s “Proof that Tony Stark has a heart” memento, the presence of Harley Keener from Iron Man 3, Morgan asking Happy Hogan for a cheeseburger as Stark once did — it’s unfortunate that Natasha Romanoff’s on-screen memorializing is reduced to a singular conversation, despite her sacrifice being just as vital. Still, the exchange between Hawkeye and a returning Wanda Maximoff captures the emotional aftermath with precision, as they each wish there were a way for their fallen comrades (Black Widow and The Vision) to know their sacrifices weren’t in vain. While the heroes have undone their major failures, the emotional devastation of loss remains.   

Though, perhaps the most satisfying part of the film’s conclusion comes with Steve Rogers’ sly return to 1945 to reunite with Peggy Carter. It’s the most surprising of the film’s subversions, since Rogers — a soldier, stuck not only out of time, but in perpetual war — finally acts out of selfishness rather than altruism, as if to mirror Stark’s opposing journey one final time. Though it’s a conclusion Rogers writes for himself both after saving everyone else, and after accepting that a normal, peaceful life is something he’s still capable of.

Captain America, a man born into war and bred for conflict, finds love and happiness despite the horrors he’s seen. He re-appears to the team eight decades later, as an old man, and hands his shield down to his friend Sam Wilson, after living a full and beautiful life.

For characters so shackled by their pasts, there’s no happier ending.  

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