A broad strokes finale that achieves a satisfactory ending, but no way near the experience of Infinity War.
Vague Spoilers ahead.
I was nervous about Endgame. Endings are very hard to do in a satisfactory way, especially when concluding multiple stories in the same film. I was very worried about how all of the plot threads dangling in the MCU after Antman and the Wasp and Infinity War would be tied up. After having seen it I can happily say that Endgame manages to wrap things up nicely, and I would say that overall I very much enjoyed my experience. However, this film did not measure up to Infinity War, which is quite a shame.
I’ll start with the things I enjoyed most. The acting was top notch from everyone in the film, with Robert Downey Jr getting a few moments that were downright haunting. For example, once he arrives back on earth, broken from his fight with Thanos and losing Peter Parker, Tony launches into a tirade at Steve Rodgers, lashing out in his pain. It’s a hard moment to watch as this character we all love loses himself to despair. The acting across the board is well done and suitably dramatic. My only caveat would be that at a certain funeral, none of the characters appear to be nearly as sad as they should be considering.
The action is decent and the battle near the end has enough great moments to make it memorable, including the four-way fight between the original Avengers and Thanos. The costume design is varied and strikes a good balance between campy and functional. And on a more personal and subjective note, I appreciated all the moments that catered directly to fans, such as when Captain America finally wielded Thor’s hammer. Yes, these moments were pandering and obvious, but after over a decade of films, I think that it was inevitable. You can’t conclude that much plot without crafting call-backs and winks to the fans. I am also a bit of a sucker for those moments.
Now we come to the stuff that frustrated me. None of these things were enough to make me hate the film or think it wasn’t fun, but they did temper my enthusiasm a little and left me a bit less interested in the MCU going forward. First of all, the pacing is wonky. One of the best things about Infinity War was just how tight it was as a film. No scene felt unnecessary to me, and all the important moments of the story felt weighty, but not too long or bloated. Group battle scenes didn’t drag on; they were all paced just right. The story went along at a decent speed, but nothing was rushed. The problem with Endgame is that the five-year time jump and time heist take way too much of the film up. Did we really need to travel to four different parts of history? Who honestly wanted a lengthy flashback to Thor the Dark World, arguably the worst marvel film? And these scenes can be entertaining but since we all can guess the outcome, that they will get the gems back to their time for the climax, then it begins to feel bloated. There are one or two great scenes, such as when Tony meets his father and finally gets closure at his death, but they come at the expense of other moments later on. The film didn’t need to be three hours. It could have been two and a half, and still included most of the important parts. Many scenes carry on minutes more than they need to and this just all adds up.
Speaking of the time jump at the beginning, it cheapened the character development for me. It’s always tricky jumping forward in time for a story. Normally I think it works best when starting a new story in the same universe, rather than halfway through an ongoing one. It leaves us wondering how the following films will work, now that they are all set in the future, and it skips important character growth. For Tony, it means that he goes from a complete breakdown to having a young child and living happily in a few minutes. it is tonally jarring and undermines what has come before. Not to mention that in between the jump he appears to have completely forgiven Steve Rodgers for lying to him about Bucky, something that absolutely should have been included. It robs the audience of potential catharsis as they make up off screen.
This also affects Thor and Hulk. Before the time skip, Banner is struggling to balance his Hulk persona and himself. He had just spent two years as the Hulk, before suddenly Hulk refused to come out during Infinity War. This was very interesting and could have led to a lot of fun interactions between the two personalities as they struggle to live together. All of that is gone. Now Banner is the only personality and he lives in the Hulk form. This comes out of nowhere and just doesn’t feel earned or set up. It feels cheap. Thor gains weight and becomes depressed, although his transformation feels less cheap, as his story is not quite finished yet.
The story suffers from the introduction of time travel. The problem is that time travel never makes sense, even in the best films, and so it’s injection into the story opens up a ton of plot holes. How does Captain America return to his own timeline, then come back without using the suit to jump? In general, the conclusion of the characters arcs feels satisfying as it wraps stuff up, but doesn’t excel. Tony gets a great send off, but Black Widow’s departure feels a little arbitrary and not very well executed, especially considering that she is one of the first Avengers.
The music and direction are fine. It is a visually appealing film though not to the same degree as Infinity War. A couple of moments in the final battle come close but again, the pacing means that the shots become very similar as we spend too much time in one place. The MCU has a lot of good musical leitmotifs that I feel they do not use nearly enough. The whole film feels just slightly like an obligation to be honest. Many of the scenes feel less meaningful than what has come before. But none of this is a deal breaker. I have watched far worse films and as hard as it is to conclude a story like the avengers, I think the Russo brothers gave it a fair shot. It would have been impossible to deliver the same subversive ending as Infinity War, although I think with better pacing this would be much closer in quality to that film. In the end, this is a film that I was happy to see, and I may see it again someday. It is a fitting conclusion, however clumsy it might be in places.