This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Aventador117’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Didn't think a light turning off would make me cry as much as I did. Hot tip: Don't skip the credits. The Main On-End, at least.
Edit: Now for the review proper. This and Infinity War felt like... maybe not a marathon, but more like one than any other MCU films. They're pretty emotionally draining, but for slightly different reasons. Infinity War feels far more unnerving. The characters turn into dust with very little outside noise. The film ends with Thanos staring out into a sunset, content and happy, because he won. Effortlessly. This film tugs at the heart strings in a manner not too dissimilar to your run-of-the-mill Pixar film. Multiple protagonists die, go through profound change, or get the happy ending they always wanted.
But before we can get there, we kinda have to have the first third of the film. When the film first came out, this bit of the film was lightly derided as being "the boring part." As if dialogue and character interaction is always boring. Now, people seemed to have come around a little bit regarding it. In order for the final battle to feel as massive and cathartic as it does, the characters, and by extension us, have to go through the ringer. Which can't be done in 15 minutes. This film takes its time getting the time travel plot going. At least, kind of. Because although they slowly led us to the time travel bit of the film, I don't think they sold us on it as well as they could. Remember in Iron Man 1 when it took Tony Stark damn near all of the first and second acts to build a flying metal suit? Well in Endgame we see him solve time travel basically on a whim. Now I know you could say that he spent multiple nights working on it ever since he got pitched the idea. I believe that. But they don't show it, which may as well mean that he solved it in one night.
And that's kind of a running problem throughout this film. Despite the massive runtime, the film on multiple occasions takes the easy way out to get to the next plot beat. For example, the rat. Why couldn't Antman get outta there simply by Chang fiddling around with the controls, seeing that he's still in the quantum realm, and pressing the big red button? It'd feel less random. And to me it seems more likely to have some random guy press the right button just by guessing than a mouse doing the same thing completely by accident. I'm kinda beating a dead horse by now, so I'll move onto another example: Tony getting stranded in space. There's two problems specifically with this section: It's too short, and he should've gotten himself out of it. You could've easily written the scene similar to the cave where he's backed up against a wall, and basically decided "If I'm going down, I'm going down building." Find some way to get the ship to limp home, and then go on with the rest of the plot. Or, if you want the rest of the Avengers to find Thanos and kill him while Tony's still in space, have Wong teleport them to Thanos' planet. He survived the snap. He should be able to pull it off. And lastly, this is something I've thought about for a while. Instead of a slow reveal of "Five Years Later", I would've preferred a montage showcasing what happened in that timespan. Start with the happier cases, like Tony's marriage and Bruce turning into Professor Hulk. Then move to the moderate cases, like Cap and Nat who, while not happy about their predicament, can find some silver linings in their current situation. Then go with the ones that went completely off the rails, like Hawkeye and Thor. Again, none of this is because I don't believe their progression over the past five years. They just don't show it, which, to the general audience, is like if it never happened at all. Lastly: I don't think this film looks all that great. The final fight is quite pretty, with some really striking shots, but there's a shocking lack of color throughout the whole film.
Alright, now onto the good shit: The score. Alan Silvestri scored his little heart out with this film, frequently reusing old motifs from past films, and introducing hummable new ones. Y'know that music that plays once Tony's passed out on the Bennatar? It plays at his funeral. And Portals is... well, Portals. It's the best scored part of the film. It changes keys six times throughout the song. If you don't know what changing key signature is, look up Sideway's video on Endgame. But it helps the music to keep the momentum up. For a piece of that length, they might do it maybe once or twice if they're feeling feisty. Six is straight-up insane. It's almost as if six is a really significant number in the MCU.
The directing is also another step up from Infinity War. While not quite as colorful, it has more long takes and creative angles that draw you into the frame. The first scene especially stood out as being particularly cruel, which was exactly the point. He doesn't even get the chance to watch his own family fade before his eyes. They're just gone. And they're exceptional at getting performances out of people. They're not PTA or Ari Aster good at performances, but you'd still be hard-pressed to find a genuinely bad performance in any of their MCU films. They're also really good at keeping the tone of their films consistent. I don't know if you know this, but the MCU has a bathos problem. A lot of times in their films, they'd end a very dramatic scene with a joke. Look up Dr. Strange and Guardians Vol. 2 for the worst offenders. The Russos rarely have this as an issue in their films. It pops up here and there, including in this film, but it's a very, very minor issue. It's basically nitpicking.
As a character piece, this film is kind of insane. It has less characters than Infinity War (for two-thirds of it), but a lot of them have fully realized arcs and development. Particularly for the big three: Tony, Cap, and Thor. Tony probably has the most actual growth of any of them (shocker, I know). He doesn't exactly start off as big of a dick as in Iron Man 1, but after the five year jump, he's incredibly reluctant to give up the family he's created. He basically says that if there's even a 1% chance of them getting wiped out because of time travel, he won't do it. Which, of course, given how time travel works in this film, is basically impossible. There's also a lot of foreshadowing about his death; some of which is just to prepare the audience for it. Some of it actually pushes him further to it, like the line from his dad about the greater good rarely outweighing his own self-interest. He realizes that his father wasn't perfect, but he tried his best, and now he has the chance to be better. As for Cap, unlike his previous entries, actually has a positive change arc. In most of his other entries he has a "flat arc", for better or worse. Here, about halfway through the film, he actually realizes what he wants, and he has the means to do so. He's tried his hardest to try and fit in with the modern world, but by the time Age of Ultron rolled around, he kinda just accepted that he never will. But here he realizes that he finally has the opportunity to fix this issue, and he goes for it. And no, he isn't Peggy's unseen husband as is alluded to in prior films. He basically created a new timeline in, like, 1946 that he lived the rest of his life in. And odds are he busted Bucky out of Hydra's stranglehold, nipped Hydra in the bud before it ever became a huge issue, prevented numerous assassinations, etc. Then he returned to 2023 of his old timeline, and gave the shield to Sam. As for Thor, he has what I'll call a "There and back again" arc. That may not be the technical name for it, but I'm pretty sure someone else came up with it before me. He starts out the film basically where we left him in Infinity War. He's pretty shook by his fight with Thanos, but when he hears about the opportunity to undo the snap, he goes for it. But alas, it was not to be, and he kinda just gave up all hope of... anything. He basically sulks away while Valkyrie does all the heavy lifting. Until Professor Hulk comes knocking and says the one word that Thor never wants to hear again. But still, being the God of Thunder, he reluctantly agrees. But while other characters are already pulling themselves out of their funk, Thor is still stuck in a rut, despite everyone else's best efforts. But then, ten years in the past, he stumbles into his mother, and she tells him the one thing no one else had the balls to say: He is a failure. And that's okay. Everyone fails at who they're supposed to be every now and again. This is the one thing that Thor has needed to hear not just in this movie, but throughout the whole MCU. He's supposed to be this wise, benevolent king, but he's not really good at leading. He isn't politically savvy. He's just a chill dude with a big ax.
And all of this leads us to the ending. First, Thanos is not ruined in this film. Partly because the Thanos we know died in the first 20 minutes. And mostly because his new plan didn't actually come out of nowhere. He saw his fate. He saw that the plan he'd been working on his whole life had some problems with it. He saw that people wouldn't accept it, and they'd try to change it. So, as one does, he changed his plan with this new information. It's basically the same plan, except he's killing everyone, and replacing them with new people that, at the very least, won't try to undo his efforts. And after Thanos lets the Avengers know this, they fight. And holy hell is this one impressive fight. Despite the monochromatic gray color palate, it's still intelligible, fast-paced, and full of emotional reversals. If any of you need a good example of what a good emotional reversal can do, start a minute before Cap catches Mjolnir. Thor's on the back foot, tries to catch Stormbreaker, but Thanos catches it and presses it into his chest. Negative swing. Then, right as all hope seems lost, Cap throws the hammer, pulls it right back to him, and proceeds to go ham on Thanos. Positive swing. But it's not enough, and Thanos gets back on his feet, turns the tide, breaks Cap's shield, and sends him flying to the ground. Massive negative swing. Then his army descends onto Earth. Even more negative. All the Avengers are out. Cap, the only one standing, is basically done for. Then: "On your left." Ginormous positive swing. Not only is everyone back, not only have they come to fight on Cap's side, but all the other Avengers who were previously out cold (Tony, Thor, Hulk, etc.) are now back in the game. Cap says "Avengers Assemble", the fight continues, the pendulum stops swinging for a bit until the van blows up. Not gonna lie, the middle bit of the battle is my least favorite part of it, but it's still fun.
But when the van's gone, and the stones have no way out, the tension ratchets back up again. It's becoming more and more clear that they'll be used again, but by whom? After Thanos knocks away Thor, Cap, and Danvers in quick succession, Tony realizes that he'll have to make the sacrifice play, like he did in The Avengers. Only this time, it really is a one-way trip. This is one of my favorite deaths in any film. Not only is it foreshadowed plenty beforehand (including in other films), but it's perfectly emblematic of who he is at the moment of his death. Selfless. There is literally nothing more selfless he can do than sacrifice himself to save the universe. And the visual representation of his death was one of the biggest gut punches I've seen from a film recently. That in of itself is already enough to make for a great death. But what I think elevates it above most other deaths is the reaction of the rest of the world. They mourn, and the film slows down for a few minutes to let the audience and the world at large process it. Even Fellowship of the Ring didn't do that as well. After Boromir died, it cut to Frodo and what he was doing, before cutting back to Aragorn and company's reaction. Endgame had about five minutes between Tony's death and the next plot beat. Enough time to say goodbye.
I'll be honest, my opinion of this film is kinda scattered. It seems kinda fitting, considering this film is also a tad scattered throughout. I've moved it up a couple spots in my MCU and 2019 lists. Having watched most of the MCU films beforehand, I've... maybe not noticed new things. I'm usually able to process most of a film on a first watch. But a lot of choices here seem more fitting than they were before, and others less so. But I'm just glad that, out of all the modern franchises, a lot of which have gone down in flames and kept going, the MCU managed to stick the landing. I'd imagine there's plenty of Star Wars and especially Game of Thrones fans that would kill for this kind of satisfying finality. I know the MCU will go on, and I'm not planning on getting off anytime soon. Who knows how long it'll be before their next thing comes out thanks to this goddamn pandemic. But, if you want, you can stop at Endgame. It's a good place to stop.