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.