Countdown to Endgame #22: We Made It

As The Avengers: Endgame approached, Team Midnight committed to watch all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released to date in chronological (story) order: 22 films in 8 weeks. Follow along with us.

Getting into the rules of the spoilergame makes me feel embarrassed, so let me just say that I don’t think you should read this unless A) you’ve already seen Endgame, or B) you’re ok with talking about what happens. We’re gonna get into it. (Duh!)

As the culmination of 21 films and 11 years of storytelling (and for us, a concentrated dose of movie-watching/writing during all of our leisure time for the last two months), we went in to Endgame with significant anticipation and very high expectations. And it – still – blew us away, totally bringing it as only the final chapter of a story this massive, heart-wrenching, and spectacular could. We have very little that is critical to say. Mostly, experiencing this just brought us a lot of joy.

Of course, it is helpful to have seen many (all?) of the previous MCU movies if you want to enjoy every little callback and in-joke, but the most critical are the previous three Avengers films (specifically Infinity War, the “part 1” to Endgame’s “part 2”), Captain America: Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy, and – unfortunately – Ant-Man and the Wasp. If you have seen those six films relatively recently, you’ll be up to speed on a good 80% of what’s going on in Endgame – and there is a lot going on in this movie, so that’s pretty good!

Hero: The Avengers

“A part of every journey is the end.

Tony Stark

The original six Avengers are the primary heroes of this story, with a few additions:

  • Steve Rogers / Captain America
  • Tony Stark / Iron Man
  • Hulk
  • Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
  • Clint Barton / Hawkeye
  • Thor
  • Scott Lang / Ant-Man
  • Nebula
  • Rocket
  • Col. James Rhodes / War Machine

Other Heroes:

  • Everyone! All the everyone is back. Seriously, every hero we have mentioned in a previous Countdown to Endgame post – as long as they aren’t dead (RIP Agent Coulson) – is back.

Villain: Thanos

“I am inevitable.”

This Thanos comes from the past – a time before he made the gauntlet and found all six infinity stones. He gets a glimpse of his finger-snapping future and subsequent demise at the hands of the Avengers, steals access to their quantum tech, and transports himself nine years into the future in order to take the infinity stone gauntlet they’ve made and then ensure the failure of their tricky plan to undo his universal “correction” effort.

Villain Complexity Rating: 5/5

This Thanos from the past is still super interesting – but for totally different reasons than the Thanos we met in Infinity War. That guy – though sociopathically arrogant – believed in impartiality, carried his purpose as a heavy burden, sacrificed a lot, and suffered greatly to achieve his goal which, he believed, would bring peace and prosperity to the universe.  This Thanos takes a shortcut to the power of the gauntlet and is fueled by hatred for the Avengers (and because of them, the people of earth) who not only killed him, but figured out a way to undo his master plan.

Combined, these dynamics push Thanos into a fuller, more ruthless madness, in which he intends to use his power to destroy not half, but ALL of life. Though able to wield the power of the stones, this Thanos hasn’t had the experiences he needs to truly comprehend that power, and is therefore poised to use it recklessly. He embodies the place where the Egos and Malekiths of the MCU villain-verse meet the Red Skulls and Ronins – a new cross-breed of supervillain who seeks both to destroy AND exert absolute control over all life: albeit a new, “grateful” universe of beings who are unaware of the bloody history upon which they were created.

“What’s at Stake” Rating: 5/5

If Thanos wins, all life in the universe will be extinguished AND a whole new universe will be created in order to be subjugated to Thanos’ will.

What did our hero(es) learn?

With the exception, perhaps, of Thor – this is the film in which the OG six Avengers find peace. Black Widow finally finds her way to be redeemed from her dark past. Bruce ends the war between himself and Hulk, becoming the best of both of them. Clint becomes a crazed murderer for a bit, but eventually finds his way back to his family, and to himself. Cap finally moves on from the neverending war he’s been fighting for 75 years in order to have love, and the possibility for a fulfilling life that he thought he left behind in 1945.  And Tony. He not only figures out how to finally make the world safe, he also finds true and lasting meaning with Pepper and his daughter.

And Thor – well, Thor’s having a hard time. He does have a heartfelt talk with his Mom, which seems to help. Hopefully he’ll figure out how to find peace in a future MCU film? I guess the storytellers had to keep us in suspense about something…

Heroism Rating: 5/5

We have got off the charts heroism left and right in this thing. All the core heroes embrace the dangerous uncertainty of time travel. At one point, every one of the core heroes very nearly (willingly) dies. Clint and Natasha fight over which one of them will sacrifice themselves for the future of humanity, Cap – obviously worthy – wields Mjolnir, Tony and Bruce both use the infinity gauntlet, so many people in the army of heroes very seriously endanger their safety and well-being.

Oh yeah and Thor – well, he overcomes some emotional obstacles, but I gotta say, he’s not at his best.

Visual Aesthetic/CGI Rating: 5/5I

Totally on par with the Guardians films and the best of the Russo Bros’ prior MCU work (Winter Soldier, Infinity War), Endgame is visually spectacular. The Bruce/Hulk and Thanos motion capture is the best it has ever been. The scenes that take place in the context of prior MCU movies are perfect simulations, and the filmmakers use these scenes to great effect – both as opportunities for commentary on the characters’ journeys and to have a lot of fun. They’ve found a way, somehow, to make the suit heroes (Black Panther, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel) look like human bodies while they move around (proof that it is possible!). The final battle sequence is breathtaking in its scale, depth, detail, and originality – and the Russos’ magical talent for storytelling through physical action is in full bloom. It’s not only the big action scenes that shine, though – as always, the Russos tell a lot of story through the small interactions and personal experiences our heroes have (Scott talking to the kid on the bike in San Francisco, Clint frantically looking for his family post-snap, Cap gazing at Peggy in 1970, Tony exchanging eye contact with Doctor Strange on the battlefield, and so many, many more!) and in Endgame, they use these moments to not only add variety to the narrative crescendo and to advance the characters’ journeys, but also to ground the action in the deep, emotionally resonant stakes.

Heroic Cinema Saturation Index

Betsy Rating: 5/5

Participating in the madness of Avengers: Endgame opening weekend was such a fun experience; on opening night, surrounded by hundreds of excited people who gasped and cheered their way through this three hour experience felt special, and when you magnify that by the $1.2 billion dollar box office scale worldwide over the weekend… man. There is something in these stories that resonates with people, that really connects us to one another across many lines of difference, including socioeconomics, politics, and international borders. I keep having this recurring thought that I’m sure many pop culture fancy-pants academics have had before me – that this universe may be one of the most wide-reaching, actively evolving examples of contemporary mythology that we have. At this point, these characters have been with us for decades (Cap has been around for 78 years!), have evolved through multiple storytelling formats, have been interpreted and rewritten by hundreds of writers and illustrators and actors and directors, and have influenced the hearts and minds of billions of people all around the world. These characters and stories are lasting, they’re significant – and these movies are more than escapist spectacle. They reflect something important about how we aspire to see ourselves as human beings at our best: making difficult choices, being courageous despite impossible odds, working together, protecting one another, seeking love, nurturing friendship, making sacrifices, offering second chances, believing in one another, taking risks, taking a stand even when it’s hard and even when you’re alone. These themes and many others saturate the characters and stories in this universe – and they have a lot to teach us about who we are and what we are struggling with as human beings right now. This is something I’d like to think about a lot more – and may write about more, someday. Endgame really inspired me.

And like the best MCU movies, it was so fun – kind of unexpectedly so, given then somber tone the movie carries overall. From the surreal silliness of Cap admiring his own ass to Peter Parker’s millennial tendency toward over-explanation, the funny moments feel spontaneous and true to their circumstances. The movie resolves all the reddit fan theories in the first 20 minutes, and after Thanos’ head goes flying and the “Five Years Later” flashes on screen, we’re all collectively thrust into the morose dread of the unknown path out of a universe crippled by grief. It is so brilliant. The whole time heist plot arc, which dominates the center of the movie, is tricky, lightweight, and staccato – until, of course, Vormir, which so traumatically sucks us back into the grave stakes of the plot against Thanos. Endgame has some of the most powerful moments of distilled heroism, and the final confrontation, which is epic and enormous and insistent on delivering exactly what we wanted but didn’t expect, somehow avoids veering too far into sentimental grandiosity. The runtime flashes by, and the conclusion brings forth a tenderness, intimacy, and warmth that nicely balances out the magnitude of its core story.

So many characters shine in new and distinct ways (past vs. present Nebula, Clint as unstoppably violent vigilante, Bruce/Hulk/The Professor signing autographs for kids, Tony as a Dad, Scott joining the big leagues, Cap leading post-snap grief support groups). Without being unnecessarily pedantic about it, the mantel is clearly being passed in this movie from the OG six Avengers to the leaders of the future of the MCU (who look much different than our 4 white men, one white woman, and a monster). As much as Endgame does feel like a conclusion in so many ways, it also feels like the beginning of a new set of stories, and even after ALL this – I’m still sitting up on the edge of my seat, eager to see how it plays out from here.

I really love this movie. It felt significant, and left me feeling grateful and kind of bittersweet, thinking big thoughts about heroism and love and humanity. Like the most lasting, most significant, most important stories do.

Justin’s Rating: 5/5

I can say with around 90% accuracy that I was probably more excited for the theatrical release of  Endgame than I have ever been for any film. This MCU writing project was a big part of that anticipation for sure, but even without the intense review and meditation on the material, there’s a lot to get excited for. With the Russo brothers returning to direct and the writing team behind some of the best films in the series tapped for the screenplay, this film was all but guaranteed to match the intensity and execution of its predecessor. As it turns out, Infinity War, good as it was, was just the wind-up for this haymaker of blockbuster storytelling, delivered on time and on target with devastating effect. Or perhaps more accurately it was the 5th round flash knockdown that got me to my feet for a moment before I realized the fight wasn’t over. To keep this sort of obnoxious boxing metaphor going, Endgame picked me apart like a seasoned prizefighter toying with a journeyman opponent, peppering me with body shots and wearing me out with tricky footwork before laying me out in spectacular fashion. It felt really good to get my ass kicked like that. It’s been a while.

A dizzying amount of plot manifests in this film, but the three hour runtime gives it plenty of space to find its rhythm, never rushing but definitely keeping things interesting in the, uh, championship rounds. After an early and quite sudden decapitation steals the wind from the Lang anal invasion theorist’s sails, Endgame settles in for some harsh reality. 5 years post-snap, earth is in a dark place. Our remaining heroes have cobbled together a surrogate S.H.I.E.L.D. led by Natasha, but there’s little to do besides trying to figure out where Hawkeye/Ronin is going to turn up next to mow down huge swaths of criminals since Steven Seagal got dusted by Thanos. Cap is working on his master’s in social work, Thor is scoring Victory Royales in New Asgard, Okoye nurturing her budding interest in physical geology, and Tony Stark has left the dang building. It’s a bleak future indelibly stamped with the failure of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. It’s also brilliant staging for a triumphant return against all odds.

I’m not going to get specific about who dies or who comes back from the dead or who gets their private parts accidentally swapped with who while returning from the quantum realm, but after Ant-Man stumbles his way back to reality, the beat picks up a bit. Hulk is back! He wears clothes now and glasses and god dang I love Mark Ruffalo but anyway he’s pretty pivotal in this film for a couple reasons, the first of which is figuring out time travel (with Stark) so that the Avengers can become the Prevengers and reprise some of our favorite moments from past films while retrieving the stones before Thanos can get them! Endgame has all of the fun in this act toying with what-ifs and new perspectives on familiar scenes before blowing it to bits with the death of a beloved character. I’m not sure if Nat is really dead, but this moment caught me with my hands down. This is more than an Agent Coulson moment because of what Nat and Clint mean to the Avengers, and more than that because of what they mean to each other. But like the death of Coulson brought this team together the first time around, the death she fights to earn galvanizes the squad into the inviolable entity they need to be to take down Thanos for good.

When that big moment comes, the Avengers coming together as their evolved selves and in some truly heroic and surprising ways, it makes perfect sense that this was her parting gift to the team that gave her purpose when the world had cast her out. The final conflict with Thanos defines epic battles for the screen with a new standard in clarity, narrative, and choreography. This is a gamechanger, folks, and it’s exhilarating to behold on the big screen. On my first viewing, I was moved to tears by gratitude for being able to witness the cinematic action splendor of this moment, made immeasurably grander and more poignant by the unparalleled pantheon of films that precedes it. The wide shots are painterly in composition and palette with elements like Valkyrie on her winged horse flying through a wizard’s portal onto the battlefield and into the fray. The close-ups a further mutation of exceptional style and function that has become the trademark of the Russo brothers. Much has been made of the All Lady Allstars team-up moment contained in this battle, but it feels natural in this context, and its moment has arrived. This will be a film, and I, for one of millions, can’t wait. Fanboys with fragile masculinity syndrome and/or misogynistic tendencies, here’s your chance to ditch your weird darkweb chatgroup homies and  embrace your inner hero! Ladies like dudes who support ladies being awesome!

One thing that Endgame makes clear is that Thor is now 100% the property of Taika Waititi. The writers are having some fun with him in this film, but there’s an acute absurdity missing that that fat suit can’t hide. The same can be safely ventured for James Gunn’s Guardians and in particular Rocket and Gamora, characters for whom he seems to have special talent for writing that I miss a bit here. These are minor criticisms however, and I am more than a little excited for the future of all these characters and their respective series’ futures.

Final note because I need to stop gushing, but I need to say something about Endgame’s embrace of atypical soundtrack material for MCU films outside of Spider-Man and Black Panther. Opening with Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” during the title sequence is bold and inspired, but it feels right on, especially if you know any of the lyrics. I got goosebumps. More importantly, it locates this film squarely in our reality, just like Kendrick Lamar’s tracks did for Wakanda. It also sets up my favorite expository moment with Hulk and Rocket riding in the back of a truck to New Asgard while The Kinks’ “Supersonic Rocket Ship” plays. It killed me I love it so much. I’m actually dead. Actually just everything about this film killed me. If you haven’t seen it, why in the fuck are you reading this?! Still go see it, but what’s wrong with you? Go see this film.

OVERALL: 5

The Avengers: Endgame is playing all over the place. Go see it, or come with us to see it again. Thanks for playing, everyone – this has been so much fun!

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