One of the hardest things about telling any story is sticking the landing.
A bad ending is not only bad in and of itself, it’s like a cancer that reaches back in time and kills everything that went before it. I can’t enjoy Sherlock anymore. All the clever writing and great performances and wonderful little tricksy puzzles turn to ash when you remember that it’s all leading up to Sherlock defeating his previously unknown little sister with superpowers.
If I had had to write the script for Endgame I’d probably have gone mad with the pressure. I remember marvelling (heh) at Joss Whedon’s script for Avengers back in 2012 and how it managed to juggle seven (SEVEN!) main characters and serve as a satisfying conclusion to five (FIVE!) films. My, how young we were. So imagine the weight of expectation resting on the shoulders of Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and the Russo Brothers, having to juggle a story with dozens upon dozens of named characters AND has to serve as a capstone to a 22 film cycle. I mean, Christ. I’ve only had to review these things and it feels like I’ve climbed Everest.
Did they pull it off? You probably have your own opinions on that but, well…this thing made 2.8 billion dollars at the box-office so somebody liked it.
So, because this thing is over three hours long, this review is going to be a two-parter. Also, I’m not going to do a big introduction explaining the history of these characters and the background to this movie because, well…
Endgame, as I am not the first to point out, is actually three movies one after the other. The first is a pretty fucking bleak (and honestly, beautifully shot and acted) piece about a world in mourning after enduring horrendous, unimaginable loss.
We begin with a visit to our old friend Hawkeye who is still under house arrest after the events of Captain America 3 and now living a quiet, idyllic life with his family on the farm. He glances away for a moment, and suddenly Clint Barton has lost everything and he doesn’t even know why.
After the Snap, Tony and Nebula are in the Benatar, trying to limp back to Earth after getting their asses handed to them by Thanos at the end of Infinity War. It’s not a pairing I honestly would have thought of but dammit if this whole sequence isn’t fantastic. Karen Gillen’s performance of Nebula is one of the great unappreciated jewels of this franchise and she and Downey find something really sweet and affecting here. I love watching Nebula slowly letting her guard down inch by inch as Tony teaches her to play games to pass the time. It’s only a few short scenes but you really get a sense of a deep survivor’s bond forming between them. I love the moment where he tries to passes her the last of the rations and she gently but firmly passes them right back.
As the ship’s life support begins to fail, Tony records a last message to Pepper and prepares for the end. He looks up, and sees Carol Danvers.
Back on Earth, the surviving Avengers (Steve, Bruce, Natasha, Thor and Rhodey) plus Pepper and Rocket, fill Tony in on what’s been happening. Thanos did exactly what he said he would do, and wiped out half of all life in the universe. Steve asks Tony to help them track down Thanos and Tony blows up at him telling him that he was the one who tried to put a suit of armour around the world and that Steve opposed him. So…this is a weird line because the “suit of armour around the world” is a call back to Age of Ultron and Tony’s marvellously well thought out scheme to create an all powerful AI to protect the world. Thing is, that plan backfired (I know, I’m as shocked as you) and it was a massive disaster and entirely Tony’s fault so I don’t really know why he’s trying to rub that it Cap’s face. I mean, if, hypothetically, he wanted to take Steve to task for opposing the Sokovia Accords and leaving the Avengers weakened and divided exactly when Earth needed them most, I think he’d have a slightly stronger case. Anyway, Tony passes out from malnutrition and righteous indignation and Bruce gives him a sedative. The remaining Avengers discuss what to do, and Nebula tells them that Thanos once told her what he was going to do once he’d completed his mission; take up gardening.
Our heroes locate the planet he’s on and Steven says: “Let’s get the son of a bitch.”
So it’s here that the movie throws its first massive curveball. They arrive at the planet and find Thanos alone unprotected and horribly burned. They demand to know where the infinity stones are so they can reverse the Snap and Thanos patiently explains that he destroyed the stones to stop them doing…that. That exact thing that they just said. Nebula tells them that her father wouldn’t lie and Thanos actually seems touched by this. Just when it looks like he might be about to apologise after a fashion to Nebula for everything he did to her, Thor cleaves his head open like a melon because Nebula just cannot catch a break.
And…that’s it. They’ve lost. It’s over. Thanos is dead, the stones are dust, half the universe is dead.
Show’s over, folks.
We now see the new normal. Streets abandoned. Daily life ground to a halt. An eerie calm hanging over everything. Oh, what giddy escapism.
Our heroes are still processing their loss in different ways. Steve runs a counselling group for veterans, Natasha is now leader of what remains of the Avengers who protect what remains of civilization. Carol’s gotten a haircut that makes her look like she wants to speak to the manager. It’s a grim time.
In an abandoned impound lot, Ant-Man suddenly emerges from the back of Hank Pym’s old van where he’s been trapped in the quantuum realm since the end of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Scott runs around San Francisco becoming increasingly baffled and horrified, to the point where Paul Rudd looks so haggered that he stops looking like a twenty something and starts looking like a thirty something.
He’s finally able to track down Cassie (who’s now fifteen) and she fills him in on everything that’s happened.
Meanwhile, at Avengers mansion, Rhodey tells Natasha that Clint Barton is running around Mexico killing cartel members and she tells him to bring him in. Steve swings by the mansion for a chat and we get a lovely scene where Natasha admits that she can’t move on because the Avengers is the only thing she has left. I’m not going to discuss everyone’s performance in depth, because obviously that would take longer than the actual movie but I gotta talk about Johannson.
From her decidedly unimpressive debut in Iron Man 2 to this. Holy momma. She is phenomenal. Undoubtedly her best work in the role, maybe a career best performance.
They’re interrupted by Scott, hammering on the front gates. Scott explains that from his perspective he was only in quantum space for a few moments, because in the quantum realm time gets all gooey and runny. Scott wants to use this effect to travel back in time to stop Thanos. So Scott has basically invented time travel and just needs someone to work out the piffling little details like conceptualising, designing, building, testing and perfecting the actual time machine. Said person shall get shared credit. Like, 25%.
Scott, Natasha and Steve pay a visit to Tony, who’s living an idyllic existence in a log cabin with his wife Pepper and their daughter Morgan, who Tony dotes upon and is already equipping with cutting edge military technology.
Lexi Rabe, incidentally, who plays Morgan Stark, is absolutely adorable and you don’t question for a minute that when the Avengers ask for Tony’s help he tells them to screw off. Like, yes, obviously, he’s not going to jeopardise this. Tony Stark is finally at peace. He finally has everything he ever wanted. He is happy and living his best life and only someone pathologically committed to their own self-destruction would…
So Tony invents time travel without really wanting to and now has to figure out if he’s really going to jeopardise eve…it’s Tony Stark, people. Obviously he’s going to do that.
So, I actually thought this movie was going to go to a hella dark place, where Tony has to choose between saving the countless trillions killed by Thanos or erasing his own daughter from history. But of course, that was because I thought the movie was going to do a conventional “change the past to save the present” story when in fact it’s doing something delightfully different. But we’ll get to that.
After Tony turns them down, the Avengers go to their backup, Bruce Banner, who has now merged fully with the Hulk to become Professor Hulk, a huge titan of muscle and strength with the mind of a philosopher poet and the gentle manner of a Buddha. So, basically, he’s The Rock.
But, if the box office weren’t proof enough, you can’t send a Hulk to do an Iron Man’s job and their attempts at time travel only succeed in some mildly amusing comedic montage and you can’t save the world with that.
So Tony rolls up to show all these basic travelling bitches how this shit’s done. He also gives Steve back his shield which he’s had since the end of Captain America 3 saying that his father made it for Steve and that anyway, he needs to get it out of the house before Morgan uses it for sledding.
Steve puts the call out for all of the remaining Avengers to…uh…convene? Congregate? Foregather? I can’t think of the right word. Rhodey, Nebula and Rocket arrive at the compound and Rocket and Banner take a trip to Norway where Thor and the last of the surviving Asgardians have settled.
Sooo…this is probably the one big misstep in the movie for me. Having Thor slip into a deep depression and just let himself go is certainly a plausible path for the character and the direction and the writing all treat this respectfully and with a good deal of tact. The problem is that Chris Hemsworth got addicted to comedy during Ragnarok and has been chasing that high ever since. And look, I absolutely loved Funny Thor in that movie, but that movie is not this movie. A lot of shit has gone done since then and Hemsworth’s broad comic performance just feel a little tasteless and jarring here. I want to laugh with Thor, not at him, and this kinda feels like I’m being invited to do the latter.
Meanwhile, someone who probably could stand to loosen up and laugh at himself a little is Hawkeye, who has been dealing with his grief by cutting up the entire Yakuza real nice, like. Nat arrives and tells him that they’re maybe a way to bring his family back and he’s all “…well, damn. That killing spree now just looks like overkill.” Nat brings Clint back and they decide to put him on the team, despite the fact that he’s so depressed he’s turning into David Lynch before our very eyes.
Back in the compound, Hulk explains for
the audience Ant-Man, War Machine and Nebula how time travel is going to work in this movie. And honestly, I love it. Often for stories, time travel is like cocaine.
A giddy rush, a huge mess and then death. Any story that involves travelling back in time to change the present runs head-long into the grandfather paradox. Any time your time-travelling heroes are in peril, you have to come up with reasons why their future selves didn’t warn them beforehand. Take it from a guy who sunk years of his life into a still unfinished series of books about time travellers, you’re better off leaving time travel on the shelf. What Endgame does brilliantly is establish that, no, you cannot change the present by effecting the past. All that will do is create an alternate timeline that will have no effect on your home dimension. What you can do is go to the past and bring something back with you. A spice box from that take away that closed a few years back. A long discontinued T-shirt, perhaps. Or six all magical stones representing universal aspects of existence that, when combined, give the wielder infinite power. Or POGS.
Because this is not about change the past to save the future. This is about stealing the infinity stones and bringing them back to undo the snap in the present. This…is a time heist.
We now get a really nice scene of the Avengers just hanging out and planning the hesit which, like the party and farm scenes from Age of Ultron, is great because it’s just characters we like hanging out and enjoying each other’s company. The plan is to travel to Asgard in 2013 to get the Aether, Morag and Vormir in 2014 to get the Soul and Power Stones and New York in 2012 after Natasha cleverly points out that there’s a window of opportunity for them to get the Mind, Time and Space Stones without even leaving Manhattan.
The team line up for one last inspirational speech from Steve and Operation Clip Show is a go.
Bruce, Steven, Scott and Tony arrive in New York in 2012 in the middle of the Chitauri invasion. Hulk heads over to Greenwich to get the Time Stone from Doctor Strange who looks…different somehow.
The Ancient One tells Bruce that Stephen Strange’s shift won’t start for another five years. Bruce tries to take the time stone and of course she punches the soul right out of him. Banner’s soul begs her to give him the time stone and at first she refuses, but when he tells her that Stephen Strange gave up the time stone to Thanos she changes her mind. She reasons that he must have had a reason to give the time stone to a giant CGI monster so she should also give the time stone to a giant CGI monster because she is just a slave to trends.
Meanwhile, in Asgard 2013, Thor and Rocket arrive right before the Night Elves attack as part of their plan to do *checks notes, realises that he doesn’t care* something. Seeing his mother, and realising that she’s about to die, Thor has a nervous breakdown and runs off.
On Morag 2014, Nebula and War Machine wait for Peter Quill to arrive so he’ll lead them to Power Stone, while Hawkeye and Natasha fly off to Vormir to get the Soul Stone which I’m sure will work out great.
Nebula tells Rhodey that they need to be careful because in 2014 Thanos, Gamora and Nebula are all looking for the Power Stone. Rhodey asks “So where are you?”
On the planet Korbin, Nebula 2014 is helping her father slaughter the Korbinites for their own good. Gamora arrives and summons her to appear before Thanos, who has learned that the Power Stone is on Morag. Karen Gillen does a great job of differentiating between the two Nebulas. Nebula 2014 is far more innocent (weird thing to say about a mass murdering alien cyborg but these are weird times), desperate to please Thanos and childishly petulant to Gamora. Because her brain is now on the same network as Nebula Prime, she starts displaying holographic footage of Nebula Prime and Rhodey talking about the Power Stone. Thanos orders her brought to his ship.
In New York 2012, Tony and Scott sneak into Avengers Tower as Loki surrenders and asks for his drink. SHIELD arrive, led by Jasper Sitwell and Rumlo to take custody of the Sceptre but not the Tesseract which is…weird. Anyway, Tony (Prime) flicks Scott (Prime) onto Tony 2012 (Make Him Famous) while Steve Prime goes after the Sceptre. He stops the elevator and is able to convince Sitwell to give him the sceptre by whispering “Hail Hydra” and just walks off with the thing.
Down in the lobby though, things aren’t going so smoothly. Director Pierce has shown up to take the Tesseract and arrest Loki (which must have happened in the Prime Timeline and I kinda don’t see how Tony and Thor got out of this without becoming the most wanted men on the planet). Scott Prime sneaks into Tony 2012’s arc reactor and gives him a minor major cardiac event which creates the distraction needed for Tony Prime to swipe the Tesseract…only for him to lose it when Hulk comes busting into the lobby, furious at having to take the stairs and really not in the mood for anyone’s shit. In the kerfuffle and hoo-hah, Loki 2012 escapes with the Tesseract. This brings us to our new regular feature: How fucked is this reality?
So Earth 2012 is pretty fucked. Firstly, let’s take the movie at it’s word that returning the infinity gems after they’ve been taken will restore the original timeline and not just create yet more alternate realities. I will take the movie at its word, because this movie and I are friends and I trust it not to lie to me. So apart from the pretty obvious problem that this universe has Loki 2012 in the wind with the Tesseract, HYDRA in this universe now think that Steve knows about them but Steve 2012 doesn’t have a clue, meaning he’s in serious danger. The Avengers’ victory has now been seriously tainted by letting Loki escape, putting the future of the team in jeopardy. And that’s even assuming Tony 2012 doesn’t decide to hang up the Iron Man armour after his heart attack and get started on the Ulton project ahead of schedule. Oh, and if returning the stones doesn’t reset the timeline, this universe is going to find itself under attack from Dormammu in 2016 without a time stone.
Anyway, let’s look at universe that’s actually pretty nice. In Asgard 2013 Thor Prime gets a much needed pep talk from his mother and gets to say goodbye properly and tell her he loves her while Rocket is able to syringe the Aether out of Jane (the ease with which he does this being proof, if proof were needed, that The Dark World was largely pointless). Before he leaves, Thor Prime grabs Mjolnir and he and Rocket Prime amscray, mission accomplished.
Earth 2013 is not even a little fucked. Maybe even better off. Frigga doesn’t let Thor tell her what happens in the future but she clearly knows that she’s going to die which might just give her the edge to survive the coming Dark Elf attack. And, after being attacked by Rocket, Jane Foster will go through life terrified of racoons, thereby greatly reducing her risk of contracting rabies.
Back on Morag 2014, Rhodey and Nebula watch as Peter Quill dances around kicking the little lizard critters and basically acting like a dork. Rhodey knocks him unconscious and they use his gear to break into the temple of the Power Stone. Nebula is able to extract the stone from the forcefield with her cybernetic arm and the two share a nice little moment where she says “I wasn’t always like this” and Rhodey sympathetically notes that he can relate.
They prepare to warp back to Earth Prime but at the last moment Nebula loses control of her body and is left behind on Morag, twitching and spasming on the ground.
Because, once again demonstrating why he is such a terrifyingly competent villain, Thanos has used Nebula 2014 to hack into Nebula Prime’s memories and is even now watching his own decapitation at the hands of Thor.
And back on Morag, Nebula opens her eyes and gives a terrified whisper.
TO BE CONTINUED…