If you’re like me, you’ve either already seen or plan to see Avengers: Endgame, the crown jewel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that started a decade ago with Iron Man. Early box office returns make this movie to be an astounding (though not surprising) financial triumph, shattering records left, right, and center. (Estimates at time of writing are around $1.2 billion globally, over the course of a single weekend.)
But did the overwhelming hype leading up to Avengers: Endgame pay off for viewers? Twenty or so movies over ten years makes for a massive investment, after all, and the previous installment – Avengers: Infinity War – set a high bar and even higher stakes for the protagonists we’ve come to know and love.
So let’s take a look at and break down some of the major moments of Endgame, and I’ll offer my own personal (and obviously biased) opinion.
Spoilers are guaranteed – you have been warned.
Playing With Expectations
A lot of fans likely went into the movie fully expecting all the deaths from Infinity War to be undone by the conclusion of Endgame. After all, several sequels featuring supposedly-deceased characters were officially greenlit by Marvel.
Furthermore, a good portion probably suspected that both Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man and Chris Evans’s Steve Rogers/Captain America would likely see their deaths since their actors’ MCU contracts were ending.
What we got in Endgame was rather more complicated. Yes, everyone who was dusted by Thanos’s apocalyptic Snap in Infinity War returned in the climax… but the intervening five years were not erased, and those who died in other ways were not restored. Meaning that Vision, Gamora, Loki and the other Asgardians, and Natasha Romanoff (who died during the course of Endgame) are still dead.
The loss of Gamora at least is lessened by the presence of an alternate-timeline Gamora, but this version of her never joined the Guardians of the Galaxy and never grew close to Peter Quill.
Poor Clint Barton/Hawkeye got his family back, but he’s definitely emotionally compromised and clearly traumatized from his experiences, leaving lingering doubts if he can go back to being the loving husband and father they knew when this all began.
Tony Stark’s death, while predicted by pretty much everyone, still managed to be both awesome and poignant; his final words not only gave the villain the giant metaphorical finger but simultaneously circled back to the end of the MCU’s beginning: “I am Iron Man.” Snap!
Then there was Steve Rogers. While returning the various Infinity Stones to where they were taken, Steve actually decided to remain in the past, creating his own alternate timeline in which he was able to finally share that dance with true love Peggy Carter (with heavy implication that they married and lived happily ever after). As an old man, he returned to the moment he left to pass on his shield and the mantle of Captain America to a worthy successor… and here I was left feeling extremely dissatisfied.
I mean no offense to the character of Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). I think he’s great. But Steve Rogers’s best friend from childhood is literally standing right there; by comparison, Steve and Sam have only known each other for a few years. That tender moment of farewell should have been between Steve and Bucky Barnes.
Now, maybe Bucky doesn’t feel worthy of the mantle of Captain America, and maybe Steve knew that, which is why he gave the shield to Sam. But Steve and Bucky deserved more of a capstone to their relationship after everything they’ve gone through together, to the end of the line. This was finally the end of the line for them, and that deserved more acknowledgement.
Cameos and Callbacks Galore
The MCU over the last decade crafted a rich tapestry, and Endgame did not disappoint when it came to pulling from the past.
For those keeping score, here is a non-comprehensive list of characters who popped up for a scene or two: The Ancient One (Doctor Strange); Director Pierce, Jasper Sitwell, and Brock Rumlow (The Winter Soldier); Korg and Miek, Frigga, and Jane Foster (Thor); Hank Pym, Hope van Dyne, and Janet van Dyne (Ant-Man); Thaddeus Ross (Civil War); Harley Keener (Iron Man 3); Howard Stark, Peggy Carter, and Edwin Jarvis (Agent Carter).
The central time travel conceit allowed for some of these characters to make posthumous appearances (such as a humorous moment when an Avengers-era Loki uses the Tesseract to escape due to interference by the present-day protagonists). Plus it answers some lingering questions, notably showing the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) defending the New York Sanctum in the battle against the invading Chitauri during The Avengers.
And they make the most of an encounter between an unknowing Howard Stark and his estranged son Tony, with them bonding over the uncertainties of parenthood. While Howard may not have been the best father to Tony (the terms “absent” and “neglectful” come to mind), this scene helped flesh out and add more nuance to his character. And perhaps understanding his father a bit better helps Tony realize Stephen Strange’s “one perfect future” in which the heroes defeat Thanos.
Of special note is James D’Arcy briefly appearing as Edwin Jarvis, the first time an actor from one of the spin-off TV shows (in this case the much-missed Agent Carter) made the transition to the films proper.
Other callbacks included the Ancient One punching Bruce out of his body (Doctor Strange); Thor supercharging Iron Man’s armor (The Avengers); Ant-Man punching a Chitauri leviathan like the Hulk (The Avengers); the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility at Camp Lehigh (Captain America, The Winter Soldier); Thor went for the head (Infinity War); Cap’s elevator scene with the Hydra agents (The Winter Soldier); and Proof the Tony Stark Has a Heart (Iron Man).
The Big Battle
The epic final battle at the climax of the movie gathers protagonists from the whole of the franchise together for the big smackdown.
Before they arrive, however, viewers get to whet their appetite with a more intimate three-on-one with Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man versus Thanos. Let me tell you, audience members cheered when Cap walloped Thanos with Mjolnir. Because, yes, Captain America is worthy!
The choreography and creativity in that fight surprised and entertained, to be sure, not to mention certain callbacks to The Avengers that sharp-eyed viewers will easily spot.
The full-on battle sees all the surviving and restored heroes – together with the Wakandan army, remaining Asgardians, and Strange’s sorcerers – fight Thanos, the Black Order, and all the mooks on an absolutely massive scale. It’s spoiled a little bit when Captain Marvel and her story-breaking power shows up and she single-handedly obliterates Thanos’s ship, but only a little bit.
There is a cringe-inducing girl-power moment where all the female superheroes just happen to show up at the same place at the same time on the battlefield. And it’s even undercut when the viewer realizes that Carol Danvers doesn’t even need their help given how powerful she is, so it just comes across as painfully staged for feminism points.
And yet, the massive battle is actually window dressing for a game of keep-away with the Infinity Gauntlet being passed from Avenger to Avenger to keep it away from Thanos. And it finally ends with a one-on-one between Thanos and Iron Man, who turns the Infinity Stones’ power on Thanos at the cost of his own life. Big spectacle counterpointed by individual heroism.
Avengers: Endgame is by no means perfect. Jokes and gags about Thor’s flabby form later in the movie tend to fall flat (especially since his physical deterioration is a reflection of his feelings of intense guilt and self-hatred over failing to stop Thanos’s Snap). The rules of time travel – despite being discussed – still ended up perplexing many viewers (especially when it came to Steve Rogers’s fate).
I, personally, was a little disappointed that no mention was made at any point of Phil Coulson. You know, the guy whose death actually united the Avengers in the first place? S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t even get a place in the big battle, and they still have a helicarrier.
And I already discussed at length my feelings regarding the coda for Steve Rogers, so no more need be said on that count.
The many, many good points of this film vastly outweigh the bad, though; each of the core Avengers get a chance to shine. Even (and perhaps especially) Hawkeye, who has been the constant butt of jokes about what a guy with a bow and arrows brings to a team of superheroes. Black Widow has finally wiped that red from her ledger for good. Bruce Banner found peace and balance with the Hulk, no longer living in constant fear and anger. Thor forgave himself for his failure and realized that he needed to be true to who he is, rather than who he is expected to be. Tony Stark got the family he always wanted, including a better understanding of the father he once hated. And Steve Rogers finally got to dance with his girl.
And many of the supporting cast of superheroes played important roles, most notably the normally-comedic Paul Rudd proving some serious dramatic chops as Scott Lang/Ant-Man.
Marvel has set up the next phase of its Cinematic Universe saga. As Gandalf said in The Lord of the Rings, “One stage of your journey is over; another begins.” We can only hope that future MCU films continue with the same high standards as the first twenty-two.