The End is Inevitable in Avengers: Endgame
Started at Iron Man, now we here.
Warning: spoilers ahead.
Endings have never been a strength of The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). There’s always a post-credit teaser hinting at the next film, phase or big bad. But when the megalomaniac who wiped out half the universe with a click, Thanos (Josh Brolin), says, “I am inevitable” in Avengers: Endgame, it sinks in: we’re all going to die.
Oh, no, sorry, the MCU is not ending despite the promise of its title – Marvel movies will outlive us all. The Avengers will return, for sure, but to quote Bill & Ted (via Kansas), “all we are is dust in the wind, dude.” It’s a surreal experience to have an existential crisis in the middle of a film where superheroes pummel an alien who looks like a giant purple thumb. Avengers: Endgame takes the MCU, 21 films worth of scrapes, near misses and heroic feats, and unleashes a magnificent mortality fable across time.
Picking up after the events of Infinity War, the surviving Avengers aren’t coping well with failure. They all wear it differently, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) eats his emotions, but bereavement suits a group we’re so used to seeing win a lot.
The group decide to locate Thanos but it’s a shallow retribution and it only makes their situation worse; they never get past anger, number three in the seven stages of grieving. The optimist in the group, Captain America (Chris Evans), floats the idea that dead is better; people need to move on. Cap has even noticed a pod of whales appearing in an old shipping route that no longer exists because half the Earth’s population turned to ash.
Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) has taken up Cap’s mantra, he moved on, now a family man living in a cabin in the woods, who can’t shake the thought of Dr Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) trip to the future in Infinity Wars: there’s one outcome – out of 14 million – where the Avengers beat Thanos. Soon, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) arrives and time travel enters the equation. In true MCU style, a series of pop culture references are used to explain the rules of time travel. Lang asks, “so, Back to the Future is a bunch of bullshit?” Well, the first film gets dissed, because Avengers: Endgame borrows heavily from Back to the Future Part 2 by revisiting moments from past films to steal the infinity stones in a ‘time heist’.
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo (The Russos) don’t capture the paradoxical delight of tip-toeing through the past, but Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay gives each character a moment of affirmation; time travel becomes a form of therapy.
There’s a temptation for the Avengers to get nostalgic, they are dabbling in their past victories with the knowledge they’re going to fail, big time. Thor comes face-to-face with his soon to be deceased mother (Rene Russo) who tells him: “be who you are, not who you’re meant to be”. Super powered heroes are so often told they are destined for greatness that it’s a cathartic moment for a burnt-out overachiever. Most of the characters encountered in the past have an appointment with death, it is inevitable™, and the fragility of our lives in the scope of time rises to meet the Avengers. But this is a comic book movie, so, they’ve got to fight for it.
The Russos’ pay off over a decade of character beats in the MCU with a magnificent battle sequence where the action moves at the speed of the Wachowskis (The Matrix, Speed Racer, Cloud Atlas, Jupiter Ascending). Each action sequence is framed like a stunning double-page comic book spread, a storytelling method pioneered by artists Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the 1940s.
As the bombast overtakes Avengers: Endgame, there’s never a need to stop down and recap or explain the actions of each Avenger as the Russos effortlessly move between each moment. The number of actors who reprise their roles is a momentous achievement from a contractual standpoint alone. We’ve never seen coordination on this scale before and it pays off because the MCU feels alive and there are familiar faces in every corner.
Avengers: Endgame challenges its heroes to re-build a broken universe, and in the process, re-evaluate the currency of existence: time. What’s the point of saving the galaxy if you’ve got no way to spend the years you’re given? The clock ticks for superheroes, too.