End game is a movie like none other; not in terms of quality, but in terms of scope and what it tries to achieve. It tries to satisfyingly wrap up the 21(?!) movies that preceded it, pay homage to them, and set up the next phase of the MCU; at the same time, it has to be an entertaining movie for the majority of fans which range from hardcore Marvel geeks to casuals (like me). Considering the many fronts it had to tackle, it’s no wonder that the terrifying run time of 3 hours and 1 minute feels too long and too short at the same time. But it’s most defining aspect, for me, is that this huge blockbuster of ‘never before seen’ proportions is essentially a character drama with an explosive end, thus sharing my opinions on the quality of the movie can only come with a spoiler filled discussion of the main characters in the movie and the quality of their writing. In the interest of keeping things simple and readable, I’m going to group the characters into groups based on how satisfied and entertained I was by them through the movie, starting with…
- The good:
Out of the numerous characters in the movie, I only found 3 to be of satisfying quality—by which I mean they meet the excellent standards that Marvel has set for itself throughout these past years. On a league of its own is Iron Man; Robert Downing Jr. is already receiving well-earned Oscar buzz, because it is one of his best performances and a standout from the other performances so far this year (from the ones I’ve seen). The writing for his character was incredible and provided the character with a satisfying conclusion and a well-executed arc. Next up, Captain America was also performed well by Chris Evans and had a satisfying trajectory throughout the movie, although it was a bit less glamorous and flashy than that of Tony Stark (true to the character in this regard). By far the most interesting and controversial one that worked the best for me, though, was Thor; Chris Hemsworth has been largely seen as a ‘pretty boy actor’ but through this performance, he shows how well rounded and capable he is. Thor essentially has a “modern” mental breakdown after the opening events of the movie, which sees him grow a ‘bear belly’, a wild beard, and become a ‘gamer’ who has regular anxiety attacks and is constantly drunk; what I appreciated was that this was not only a comic relief turn for the character, but also a dramatic exploration of the anxieties associated with people who have seen success but cannot keep replicating it or living up to it. These characters were all incredibly well done and stole the show every time they were on screen and where having their journeys continued.
- The not good, but not bad:
Most of the remaining ‘main’ characters fall into this group, but I want to focus on 3 in order to show why I left thinking most of the characters had a ‘not good, but not bad either’ representation: Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Bruce Banner. Most of the movie takes place in 2025, five years after the events of Infinity War, with characters learning to deal with the aftermath of those events; this is the source of all the great writing for the “good” stuff mentioned before, but for these characters their paths are more mediocre than “good” or “bad”. Black Widow for example is very sad about Hawkeye going rogue and has replaced the dead Nick Fury as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. but her real contribution is sacrificing herself to retrieve the soul stone; that’s kind of derivative to summarize her role like that, but she never felt natural to me, like Iron Man or Thor did. She felt like a less important character that was “chosen” to have a “planned” poignant moment; that’s what all movies are anyway, but great ones never allow the audience to think of that. Similarly, Hawkeye loses his entire family in the beginning of the movie which leads him to go rogue and start murdering gangsters and evil-doers as a way to deal with his grief—and while that is the most clichéd path for him to go, my gripe with him was that the one scene they showed of him being a ruthless vigilante was great and wanted more of that. Bruce figured out a way to merge his brains with the Hulk’s brans (fueled by his guilt of not being able to deal with Thanos) serving as a new direction for the character, which felt “calculated” in regards to this movie. These characters are indicative of how I felt about the movie as a whole: There’s nothing wrong with it, but I wouldn’t call it good either. To me, these events felt like ‘facts’, like something that happened and then you move on; there was no real emotional response from me, no real interest or suspension of disbelief was earned, but they were not actively bad, unlike…
- The bad:
Thankfully there were not too many characters that fit in here, but those that do are what actually drag down my perception of this movie; I thought Thanos was kind of boring in this one, too eager to believe that time travel is real, I thought Nebula’s character (which was beautifully endearing in the Guardians movies) took a couple of steps back for the needs of this movie, but the one character I want to focus on is Ant-Man. Having not seen either of his movies, Ant-Man was the character I had the least feeling towards, yet I found his representation to be actively bad; he is the character that wakes up in a “post-Thanos” world without any knowledge of what happened, but only spends a couple of movie-minutes to get that out of the way—by finding his daughter and then immediately forgetting about her until the end of the movie; he kickstarts the plot by going to the Avengers with his crazy time-heist scheme, but within seconds becomes an incompetent comic relief idiot; he finds out his lover is part of the people who died when Thanos snapped his fingers, but he forgets about her as well for most of the movie and the payoff for reuniting them is a quick smile. He represents what I meant by this movie being too long and too short at the same time; he needed more time to make his reasons feel real and emotionally impactful, but any more runtime would make this movie unwatchable for most audience members, yet any cut from other parts of the movie would make the rest of the cast less good.
What amazes me is that, this is not really criticism of the movie, or reasons why I don’t think it’s particularly good; mostly, this is me still coping to comprehend the massive amount of effort and talent that was poured into this universe and into this movie in particular. It’s an impossible movie to make—even calling it a ‘movie’ is a disservice for what it actually is: it’s a phenomenon that seeks to close out 21 previous movies and plant the seed from which dozens more will grow from. It was impossible to get everything right, to make every character feel as good as the “main” ones, to make every fan (hardcore or not) happy with what they got. Endgame may not take a spot in my 10 favorite films of 2019, but that’s okay because it was not a movie that was made for me; it was a visually stunning, musically impressive, fan servicing conclusion that ended up being a 3 hour long character drama with talking raccoons and time-heists. It did not blow me away and after concluding this, I’ll probably never think or see it again, but I’m glad I did see it and got to be part of the conversation around it.
P.S. Regardless of the scope or the intent, that first hour is a real pain to sit through, especially on second viewing.