Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame ★★★★½

MCU Smackdown

MCU #22: Now this is how you end a series.

The two bookends of Infinity War and Endgame are a case study in how to bring a high-flying epic series to a close. As I mentioned in my review for Infinity War, it takes a village. And a TALENTED village at that.

Appropriately not starting with the usual uplifting Marvel logo opening, the prologue of Clint (Hawkeye) turning around during a picnic and his whole family is just gone is chilling -- it reminded me of the opening of the excellent HBO series The Leftovers. Then the opening logo montage begins to a fittingly moody song "Dear Mr. Fantasy" by Traffic.

This is probably the first three hour movie since The Lord of the Rings that didn't feel that long and it captivates throughout its epic run-time. That doesn't mean it doesn't meander a bit at times but it's more forgiving given the stakes involved.

SPOILERS BELOW
The movie proper starts with a friendly game of finger football on a spaceship with Tony Stark and Nebula, with Stark as charming as ever trying to teach a gruff, no-nonsense Nebula the finger football basics. Tony Stark is literally wasting away (with some excellent "de-nourishng" CGI effects) by the time he gets back to Earth.

The remaining Avengers regroup with an awesome scene of Carol Danvers and Thor in a staring contest that ends with Thor summoning his axe which is clearly an act of intimidation and flatly stating "I like this one." An insanely fast plot progression brings them again to Thanos who has destroyed the Infinity Stones but Thor is so pissed he decapitates him within minutes. There's a touching scene where Nebula, with Thanos' blood on her face, leans down and closes Thanos eyes.

Fast forward five years after "the snap" and the remaining Avengers are either not coping or have completely checked out. Steve Rogers is in a post-snap recovery group. Natasha is half-heartedly "leading" a very small team of remaining Avengers. Hawkeye is off somewhere in the world leaving a trail of dead bodies. Stark has settled down with Potts and has a kid. Then Scott (Ant-Man) returns from the quantum world and explains his time travel theory like he's on meth, and we're off to unravel the snap.

A trip to "new Asgard" to enlist Thor is probably the comedic highlight of the movie as an alcoholic and fat Thor wallows in beer and pizza. Unfortunately, he never sheds that fat suit for the rest of the movie and it makes it harder to take his character seriously, especially in the fight scenes with Thanos. I am not trying to fat-shame here, but while this is probably more realistic, it contributes to a dumbing down of his character arc that I'm not sure how they recover from, especially with Natalie Portman apparently becoming She-Thor.

Things get really clever as they devise a plan to travel back in time, appropriate the stones and undo the snap. It's clever not because of the time travel idea (which frankly is a stupid plot convenience), or not in the sense of Professor Hulk chumming it up with his fanbase kids, but clever in that we get a nostalgia-filled trip back in time to some of the original movies.

Stark, Cap, Hulk and Ant-Man head to the original Avengers movie (where it shows dumb "smash" Hulk which frankly I prefer over Professor Hulk). Thor and Rocket go to Asgard. Natasha and Clint head to Vormir and we know from the previous movie that won't end well. Rhodes and Nebula go looking for Quill.

The entire sequence of these four sub-plots is deftly interwoven with critical story points and character developments and some killer Easter eggs (Cap with the Hydra dudes in the elevator, making Hulk take the stairs, and Quill dancing from the opening scene of GoG with Rhodey flatly stating "So he's an idiot").

This sequence wasn't perfect. I'm not sure why they had to add another subplot for Rogers and Stark to go further back in time to have nostalgic reunions -- it could've been removed with no change to the movie. And after our first major character dies for good, there are some misplaced attempts at humor that are frankly awkward.

But that is all forgiven as we get to the epic finale. There are just SO many fantastic bits and pieces to this battle ...

* Thanos just chilling out on a piece of rubble as his minions go fetch the stones.
* Thor double-wielding the hammer and axe.
* Thor powering up Iron-Man's cool "spider" reactor.
* Cap wielding Mjolnir and Thor saying "I knew it!"
* Thanos destroying Cap's shield.

... but the absolute kicker is the dueling "whose army is bigger" scene, especially when Sam (Falcon) speaks into Cap's earpiece: "On your left" and all our heroes "assemble." Goosebumps.

Emotional strings are fantastically pulled as Tony Stark's 10+ year journey through the MCU universe comes to a close. Starting with a sentimental scene of Stark and Peter Parker reuniting with a hug, Tony Stark sacrifices himself to save the universe countering Thanos' "I am inevitable" with a fitting "I am Iron Man" as we come full circle from the ending of the first Iron Man.

I am not ashamed to admit that I teared up again re-watching that scene. I can't tell if it's because Iron Man was my favorite character from the time I started collecting comic books decades ago at the age of 12. Or because we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Robert Downey Jr.'s iconic debut as Iron Man back in 2008. Or if it's just because the creative team that brought this series to a rousing conclusion created a 5.5 hour masterpiece (screw you Scorsese). Or all of the above.

“I still believe in heroes.”

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