Reel Talk

Avengers: Endgame and Farewells

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Last year Avengers: Infinity War was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public, breaking many a person’s spirits and setting up a year-long wait to see just what was going to happen. Leading up to that film, everyone was expecting it to be a triumphant conclusion to the mad ten-year experiment that had been the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But, once we all actually saw the movie, and the frankly audacious cliff-hanger that it ended on, it became clear that the real culmination of this series was going to be its follow-up. Where some people had assumed that this fourth Avengers movie would be more setting up the new status quo than serving as a massive conclusion to a decade of stories, it turns out that it was going to accomplish both, while apparently setting the world ablaze with the concept of a three hour movie, something most people seemed completely unfamiliar with. Which, seemed like a pretty difficult thing to pull off. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has broken ground in its inter connectivity, successfully telling one massive story over ten years and twenty-two movies, so could they possibly stick the landing? It all came down to this, with out heroes at their lowest point, ready to save the entire universe. A lofty goal. And, you know what? I think they did as good a job as humanly possible. I am still frankly in awe at this film, what it accomplishes, the sheer scope and ambition of it, and the fact that it’s actually fun and watchable. I don’t know how they did it, and I don’t know if they’ll ever be able to top the sheer spectacle on display with this film, but I am truly staggered by what Avengers: Endgame ended up being, especially after a whole year of frantic theorizing and speculation.

Now, like always on this site, I like to give a deep dive on the plot. And, as we’re living in an incredibly spoiler-adverse world, I want to give a word of warning. Past this point I’ll be talking about every little bit of this movie, twists and all. So, I highly recommend checking this movie out before reading anything further if you want to go into the movie without any knowledge of what happens. But, after looking at that opening weekend gross, I feel like basically everyone has already seen it. Fair warning though.

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This film takes up very shortly after the conclusion of Infinity War, after Thanos fulfilled his destiny and managed to erase half of the sentient population of the universe from existence. And, our surviving heroes aren’t doing well. Back on Earth what remains of the Avengers head back to their mansion to lick their wounds and contemplate the future, while Tony Stark and Nebula are stranded in space, their ship damaged from the battle with Thanos. Things look dire for the pair, until they’re aided by Captain Marvel, who has been traveling the galaxy ensuring safety after Thanos’ attack. She successfully gets Tony and Nebula back to Earth, where Tony officially gives up on everything the Avengers stood for, leaving the team to go try and move on from this horrible event. The Avengers have a different plan though. They’ve managed to locate the location of Thanos, and have decided to go take the Infinity Gauntlet back from him and put things right. So, Captain America, Black Widow, Bruce Banner, Rocket, Nebula, Captain Marvel, and Thor head to Thanos’ retreat, to find something horrible. He’s destroyed the stones, making it impossible to undo what he’s done. Thor kills the Titan for what he’s done, and the film jumps forward five years.

The world has slowly begun moving past this shocking and unprecedented event, trying to find a way to live their lives. Tony Stark has married Pepper Potts and had a daughter, Steve Rogers is counselling people struggling with surviving, and Black Widow is more or less running what’s left of the Avengers, trying to keep the Earth safe. But, things change when Scott Lang, the Ant-Man, accidentally returns from his trip into the Quantum Realm. He survived the Snap, and what more, only thought he’d been gone a short time. So, he heads to the Avengers to tell them that he believes time travel is possible through the Quantum Realm, and theorizes a way to go back in time and stop Thanos. But, to do so they’ll need to get someone smart enough to create a time machine. And, Tony Stark isn’t on board. He’s moved on, and doesn’t want to chance making things worse than they already are. But, after feeling emotional about the death of Peter Parker, Tony decides to give it a shot, and manages to successfully plan a method for traveling through time. He rejoins the Avengers, and a plan is started. A plan to travel through time, steal the Infinity Stones before Thanos could get his hands on them, bring them forward in time, and fix everything. It’s time for a time heist. And, after some research, they discover the ideal times to locate each of the Stones, and split up to get their Stones. Ant-Man and Iron Man will travel to the Battle of New York to get the Space Stone after the events of Avengers, Captain America will get the Mind Stone from Loki’s scepter at the same time, Hulk (who has now gained the mind of Bruce Banner in the body of the Hulk) will get the Time Stone from Doctor Strange during the same time period, Black Widow and Hawkeye (who is calling himself Ronan after losing his entire family to the Snap) will go get the Soul Stone from its planet, Rocket and Thor (who has gained a lot of weight and depression in the five years since losing to Thanos) will travel to Asgard during the events of Thor: The Dark World to get the Reality Stone from Jane Foster, and War Machine and Nebula will travel to the planet holding the Power Stone and steal it before Star Lord does.

And, for the most part, these plans don’t go great. Hulk is able to get the Time Stone from the Ancient One, Captain America is able to get the Mind Stone from some Hydra agents, and that’s all that goes smoothly. Cap and Iron Man are forced to travel deeper in time to get the Space Stone from the government in the 1970’s, where Tony talks with his father and Cap sees Peggy Carter again. Black Widow sacrifices her life to get them the Soul Stone so Clint can be reunited with his family. Thor does get the Reality Stone, along with a pep talk from his mother, and validation that he’s still worthy by acquiring a Mjolnir from the past. And, while War Machine is able to get the Power Stone, Nebula’s presence in 2014 has a dire consequence. Because the Nebula of that time, still a villain, is able to feel her, and informs that Thanos what’s going on. He learns about his future victory, and decides to attack the Avengers and stop them from undoing what he will eventually do.

All of our heroes eventually get back to Earth in the right time period, with all of their Stones, and get ready to form their own Infinity Gauntlet. The Hulk offers to be the one to use it, worrying that he’s the only one strong enough to wield it. And, right as he uses the power to bring everyone back to life, Thanos strikes. He attacks the Mansion, and leaves the Avengers in disarray. And, while the majority of the team deals with the gauntlet, Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America decide to stand off with Thanos, buying everyone else time. They fight the Mad Titan, and Captain America even proves worthy enough to wield Mjolnir, but they just aren’t a match for Thanos and his army. Luckily, now that everyone has been brought back to life, Doctor Strange is able to summon them all to one location. Every Avenger, the entire army of Asgard, the army of Wakanda, and every sorcerer working with Doctor Strange come pouring into the battlefield, and the Endgame begins. A massive battle is fought, and when things seem most dire Iron Man is able to get his hands on the new Infinity Gauntlet and uses it to erase Thanos and his army. But, the strain was too much for a mortal man, and Tony Stark succumbs to injuries and dies. The assembled Avengers mourn Tony, and begin planning their new lives. Thor leaves the Asgardians in the hands of Valkyrie, and joins the Guardians of the Galaxy, and after travelling backwards in time to replace all the stones in their proper timelines to avoid any paradoxes, Steve Rogers stays in the 1940’s, living his life with Peggy Carter. And, after approaching them all as an old man, he passes his shield off to Sam Wilson, ready to continue the role of Captain America, and earning himself some peace.

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In the past year, I’ve had quite a while to imagine what this movie would be. And, in my own cocky way, I’d assumed I had it figured out. The time travel angle seemed pretty clear, and some talks about a scene involving every cast-member had me assuming that we’d either be ending the series on a happy note with Tony Stark’s wedding, or a downer note with Steve Rogers’ funeral. And, I was pleasantly surprised to fin myself completely wrong. This film is fascinating. Because, on the one hand, it’s a complete victory lap. Marvel Studios, and producer Kevin Feige in particular, has done the impossible, and made a more or less cohesive serialized narrative that has gone on for ten years, and that wrapped itself up in a satisfying conclusion. It’s full of fan service and Easter Eggs, giving thanks to the fans who have followed them along the entire ride. But, it’s not only a bunch of self-congratulation. It’s also a very fun, emotionally striking, and engaging movie that not only celebrates itself, but shows us how fun it could be at the same time. It’s a movie that pays off things like Captain America wielding Mjolnir and finally getting to say “Avengers Assemble,” while also giving us a series of character deaths that seem narratively sound. Infinity War was called the greatest crossover in history, and featured a truly sprawling cast that touched almost every corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, showing just how massive this world had become. And, Engame, slows everything down, and gets us more or less back down to our principle Avengers character, while giving them all proper sendoffs. The future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a massive question mark at this point, places are set for them to go to some very strange and wonderful places from here, but they’ve also earned the right to experiment, to break any sort of mold they’ve established, and continue evolving. This is the biggest, craziest Marvel movie that has ever been made, and it’s shocking to see it pulled off so well, but the thing that kept me most in awe of was the way that it handled the outcomes of three of its characters.

The current era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is over. Several of the cast-members have reached the end of their contracts, and it became clear that they’d have to be ushered out of the series, while others are being put in new places to continue their stories. Thor gets the knowledge that he’s still worthy, despite several film’s worth of perceived failures, and has decided to go out and find himself. Hawkeye has been reunited with his family, and given a new zeal for life. The Hulk is smart. But, it’s the stories of Captain America, Iron Man, and the Black Widow that I was most struck by, and the ways that their characters were taken from the series. I know the most hemming and hawing has been done over Black Widows death, which I’ve frequently seen given as an example of fridging one of the only prominent female characters of the series. Which, is certainly a valid concern. It’s definitely shitty that they killed the most prominent female character like this, robbing her from the climax but, I personally did find something poignant about her death, and specifically her sacrifice. They’ve taken great pains to explain that Natasha is a woman obsessed with the sins of her past, constantly finding new ways to “clear her ledger.” We’ve also seen her to be perhaps the most loyal of the Avengers, a stalwart figure who always has the backs of her surrogate family. So, getting the chance to personally be responsible for the saving of all the lives taken by Thanos, and helping directly saving one of her best friends in the process, makes all the sense in the world to me. Similarly, Tony Stark’s death, while incredibly tragic, makes sense. Tony Stark has constantly been portrayed as a very selfish man, and his entire arc has been built around him learning to think of others, and to make lasting change. All throughout his narrative we’ve seen Tony being hurt by the things he’s created, all in his quest to save the world, to finally think of someone other than himself. And, by and large, he’s just made problems worse. But, here at the end, he does the most selfless thing imaginable, and saves the entire universe. He sacrificed himself so that all others may live, finally finding a way to become selfless. And, perhaps in the process, he finally showed Captain America, a man who has literally spent his entire life in the service of others, that it’s okay to live for yourself. Cap has been portrayed as the opposite side of the coin to Tony, a character who only cares about others, at the own vast expense to his life. And, after a climactic battle where he stood up against the literal forces of death, inspiring the world to be better, to be heroes, he finally recognizes the fact that he’s allowed to be more than a symbol. He still sees the importance of Captain America, which is why he passes the role down, but he also sees that behind that shield is a man, and to ignore his humanity is a disservice of that symbol. These are characters that we’ve spent a decade with, watching them grow and change and gradually be set on the paths that have led to their individual ends. And I can’t help but think that this movie handled them all really well. Because we’re all going to have an ending to our stories, and the best thing we could do is to live a life of meaning, and earn that farewell.

Avengers: Endgame was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, and released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2019.

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