While watching Avengers: Endgame, I couldn’t get the picture out of my head of someone out there who finally decides, “Alright, I’ll give one of these Marvel movies a try,” and picks this one. This scenario will happen to someone! I’d like to meet this person and ask if he or she made any sense out of this movie. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it made perfect sense to me (and likely will to you), but without 11 years of backstory, the plot of this movie probably makes as much sense as staring into a kaleidoscope for three hours.
Avengers: Endgame is, without a doubt, the most confusing and convoluted of any of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, yet it’s also unbelievably satisfying – and, yes, does act as an endpoint for many major character arcs. If you want to jump off the MCU train, well, Endgame provides a station for you to do that.
(Before we go any further: Look, if you don’t want to know anything about Avengers: Endgame you probably shouldn’t read any more of this review. But, if you’re still reading, that probably means you want to read about the movie a bit to get a sense of what’s going on and whether it’s good or not, but just know it’s nearly impossible to be completely “spoiler-free” when trying to review this movie. I’ll try my best to be careful, but proceed at your own risk.)
Clocking in at over three hours long, Avengers: Endgame has three very different and very precise acts, each lasting about an hour each. And each of these acts is almost a different movie.
Picking up just a few days after Infinity War, the remaining Avengers decide to strike back against Thanos. (You may have seen this scene as a released clip; yes it happens very early in the movie.) And while this counterstrike proves to be at least somewhat successful, the Infinity Stones are long gone. There’s not much to be done. It’s at this point (still very early in the movie) that Avengers: Endgame jumps five years into the future and basically becomes The Leftovers for about an hour.
It’s a pretty startling transition. Endgame really does become a film about loss, grief, and just trying your best to move on. The reason for Endgame’s long running time is, without question, this act. In any other superhero movie, it wouldn’t exist. Or, at least, it would be fairly short. “Our heroes are in despair — got it.” We’d just quickly get to “the plan” and then “the fights.”
But in Endgame we stay in this world – a world where everyone has lost so much. Steve Rogers is literally in a therapy group – long enough for us to feel the emotional impact. This section of the film is a bit sad and moody, but nothing that comes later works without it. These characters have lived with this for five years, so we all get to live with it for about an hour. It’s at this point I thought to myself, Wow, this movie is depressing. The mood soon changes.
Without giving too much away, the next act of Avengers: Endgame is basically a heist movie. As we saw in the trailers, yes, it very much involves Ant-Man and some trickery involving the Quantum Realm that sends all the surviving Avengers hurtling in different directions in an effort to, once again, reunite the six Infinity Stones in an effort to reverse Thanos’ snap and save the half of the universe’s population we lost during Infinity War. Good grief this sequence is a whole heck of a lot of fun. And it’s an excuse to both explore a lot of our heroes’ motivations and let a whole heck of a lot of actors return for one last curtain call. (There are times when Avengers: Endgame feels like the last scene of Titanic with everyone back on the ship, applauding. And, you know what? I’m okay with that.)
Well, here we are, we made it. After 11 years, we are at the first true stopping point of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ve already heard from people who have said they are stopping now. At first, I didn’t believe this, but the more I think about it, the more I can buy into this. A lot of things will be different going forward and a lot of elements we all used to lean on won’t be there anymore. But, we’ll eventually meet new characters we like. There’s a new Spider-Man movie this summer! And we have The Eternals coming up. And, sometime in the near future, we’ll have the MCU debut of the X-Men and Fantastic Four. There’s a lot to look forward to!
I’ll admit, watching Avengers: Endgame, I got more emotional than I thought I would. A lot has changed since 2008, for all of us — both personally, and also just how the world works, and it’s hard not to think about that while watching. It’s strangely sentimental for a movie that features the biggest all-out superhero fight I can ever remember seeing. The Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t over (technically Phase 3 isn’t even over yet until after Spider-Man: Far From Home), but, man, in a way, it sure kind of feels like it is.
But this is the way it works. Sometimes we have to say goodbye to things or people or characters we like. As George Harrison once said, all things must pass.
‘Avengers: Endgame’ opens this week in theaters everywhere. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.