Short version, NO SPOILERS: it was a triumph, I am so impressed by the cleverness of the storytelling and meta-closure, and by how much heart it had, and how much love for the characters and the fans shone through.
It wasn’t perfect. There are a few things I want to dig into. Some of those things are inevitable consequences of the realities of making films, and although they sadden me, I think the film does the absolute best it can with those realities. Others I’m a little more critical of. Overall, though, my feeling at the end of the film was satisfaction. A closed loop, a complete story, a victory that came at appropriate cost.
Longer version below the cut. Spoilers abound.
Let’s start with talking about those realities of film making. One of the reasons I generally prefer written fiction to either TV or movies is that characters don’t have to be “written out” for external real-life reasons. In theory, an author is free to keep their characters around for as long as they want (in reality, as we all know, this does not stop most authors from gleefully murdering them anyway).
In film and TV, you’re much more at the mercy of the fact that actors have real lives that do not always allow them to keep on playing your character for as long as you want. Not only that, but the costs of employing high-end stars in major roles over and over again add up to a lot, so having them “retire” into minor roles is not usually feasible.
Which is why I went into Endgame fully expecting the Big Six to be taken “out of play” in one way or another. I hoped they wouldn’t all die, but I didn’t count on it. They had pretty much all reached a point, in terms of their character arcs, where they were played out and ready to step out of the spotlight. And doing that without killing them off was always going to be tough, both taking into consideration the characters (would they really sit out the next end-of-the-world event? Really?) and the real-world considerations (availability and affordability of actors in future films).
My take on their options before I saw the film: Tony and Steve had to die, no question. Neither of them would ever be able to “retire”, but both had run out of rails, and RDJ and Chris Evans have been doing this for a decade and are Very Expensive at this point. I was undecided on Nat, but thought she would die due to, again, it being very hard to imagine her doing anything other than being an Avenger, and Scarlet Johansson also being Very Expensive. I hoped Clint wouldn’t die, but was afraid they’d do it for pathos. Thor and Bruce I was uncertain about, but I thought Thor had a 50-50 chance of biting it (again due to character arc completion and actor availability – Chris Hemsworth is a very sought-after man these days).
So in many ways I was actually pleasantly surprised, at least from the perspective of a) narrative satisfaction and b) expectations driven by real-world factors. Of course, the fan part of my brain would never be happy with anything other than “all the characters live forever without ever changing”… but I never expected that outcome, and hey, we have fanfic for that. 🙂
Let’s look at some of these character finales in more detail.
The Big Six
Apart from fan-brain crying into its pillow because Tony Should Live Forever And Also Be Banging Steve, I have zero complaints about Tony’s death. Narratively, it was perfect. His arc was always about going from self-centred to self-sacrificing, and we already had it in miniature in the first Avengers film. He was never, ever going to be able to sit back and let other people save the world. Not only that, but he’d progressed from someone with not all that much to lose, to someone with everything to lose, not just his wife and daughter but his friends and found-family, and he was willing to give it up anyway. Beautiful. On a meta-narrative note, closing off this magnificent era of the MCU with his death is only right and proper, given how Tony’s been the heart of the franchise since that first “I am Iron Man”, and I couldn’t have asked for a better, more moving sendoff.
I am also heartbroken in the best possible way by Pepper making sure the last thing he saw was her smiling and telling him that they were going to be okay. Despite aforementioned Tony/Steve shipping, I have loved Pepper since the first Iron Man movie and I love her relationship with Tony. She knew him so well, and she knew exactly what he needed, and she didn’t hesitate to give it to him.
In an ideal world, I would have loved to see Nat become the official Avengers Head of Admin, sitting at her desk with her peanut butter sandwiches, coordinating everything for the next generation. It was never likely though, not only because of real world considerations, but because then you have to ask yourself what Nat would be doing in her free time, and it’s difficult to answer that question (THOUGH I WOULD BE HAPPY TO TRY VIA FANFIC). Given her origins as an assassin who would kill or die without a second thought, the fact that she died smiling in order to save Clint and the rest of her found-family was profoundly moving.
There is a flip-side to her narrative, though: she’s a woman who can’t have children and has ‘failed’ in her romantic relationship with Bruce. To consider her life therefore essentially over, and to make her more expendable than Clint, a man with a wife and children, is something that raises a red flag with me.
However, I have always loved the relationship between Nat and Clint, how much they clearly love each other and are soulmates, and the fact that this doesn’t necessarily translate into a romantic/sexual relationship (and is wholly compatible with Clint’s love for Laura and his kids – and the bit in Ultron where you see that not only does Nat adore Laura, but Laura adores Nat, was a really big deal for me). It did not surprise me in the slightest that they would fight over who gets to die for the other.
I was 100% expecting Steve to die, so that had a big effect on how I reacted to his ending. As with Iron Man, Captain America was too big a deal to carry on being part of the franchise at this point. The thing that saddened me about his prospective death was that it felt unfair that of all of them, Steve never really had a chance to just take a breath and live his life.
And then he did. And he deserved it so much. He deserved to put the burden down. He had done his service a thousand times over, and more. He stood alone between Thanos’s horde and the world. He closed the circle by returning the stones. He more than earned his right to walk away after that.
There are two things I don’t like about it, though. One is pretty obvious: Bucky. Fan-brain also thinks Steve Should Be Banging Bucky (Or Possibly Already Is) and is therefore pretty devastated by their separation and now-huge age gap. Even non-fan-brain does raise an eyebrow, though. Bucky was so central to Steve’s movies, was his single most important motivator: he essentially fulfilled the role of a major love interest whether or not you care to interpret the relationship that way. In this very film, Steve knew that the one way to throw off his younger self was to tell him Bucky was still alive.
To have Steve walk way from him like that – even with Bucky’s obvious knowledge and acceptance – jars badly with the rest of the films. One thing it makes me wonder is if there’s supposed to be an implied missing scene in there, one where it’s specifically Bucky who goes to Steve and says, “you know you could just not come back, right? you know you could just stay there with her? and maybe you should?”.
Which brings me to point two: Peggy. I adore Peggy Carter, but the MCU has never sold me on her being The Love Of Steve’s Life. He barely had a chance to get to know her, her life went on without him, and in terms of emotional investment, Steve’s relationships with Bucky, Nat, and Tony all had a ton of convincing weight behind them that his relationship with Peggy simply lacked. Most of that, I’m sure, is because the first Captain America film was so early in the franchise, and was really their only chance to make Steve/Peggy resonate – and that wasn’t their priority at the time. Nonetheless, all the following stories – for both of them, if you include the Agent Carter series – were about letting go, moving on, getting over each other. To suddenly reverse course with a time-travel reunion… I don’t know. It doesn’t sit right with me.
On the other hand, what else were they going to do with Steve, apart from kill him? He could have had his own noble sacrifice like Tony’s, but he’s spent his whole life doing that, making ‘the sacrifice play’, in his own words. He has always given all of himself for others. No, I like that he chose, finally, to walk away, to lay down the shield, to have a life of his own. I just can’t quite swallow the form it took, and at the same time, can’t see how else they could have arranged things, unless he and Bucky got lost in time together or something.
I’m surprised and pleased that he didn’t die! I have mixed feelings about the direction they took him in and the way they used him as comic relief for a lot of the film. Particularly, the whole “he’s really let himself go” aspect of it, with a lot of jokes about how he was fat now… sigh. I would have liked to see his ongoing depression and guilt taken more seriously, and I would definitely have liked to see him actively mourn Loki, given the importance of their character and relationship arc in Ragnarok. I feel a bit cheated by how much of Thor’s plotline here was treated as humourous, especially the “oh no how pitiful he is” moments like when he was rambling on about how Jane dumped him.
On the other hand, I’m glad that they didn’t just wave his physical condition away either. He didn’t suddenly become buff again, and he didn’t suddenly snap out of the fog he’d surrounded himself with, it took a while for him to pull his weight. I love that it was the chance to talk to his mother one last time, not his father, that was handed him during the time travel. I also, personally, find Chubby Thor very attractive, as the god-like sculpted physique that the Guardians of the Galaxy were admiring in Infinity War doesn’t really do it for me. Just saying.
I will also always, always love that his reaction to Steve picking up Mjolnir was to be utterly fucking ecstatic. That he and Bruce clearly still shared a deep friendship after the events of Ragnarok. That he is completely unthreatened by powerful women, and shows open admiration for them at every opportunity (Carol, Valkyrie). And that he is definitely trolling Quill at this point with the macho leadership contest.
I am down for hobo hippy Thor wandering the galaxy to Find Himself. Good ending.
I don’t have much to say about Clint, because I was just SO FUCKING HAPPY that he didn’t die, and got his family back. He has been used as Character Death Bait once already in the MCU, we really didn’t need to go through it again! I have always had a soft spot for him as a character, and wish we’d seen a bit more of him in other films. I shamelessly adored his little Assassin’s Creed cosplay murder spree and frankly find no particular reason to condemn him, given his choice of targets.
I will also never not love his Amazing Quiver of Arrows That Are Just Right For The Task. Very happy with his ending and quiet retirement, and despite the pain of losing Nat, knowing that she got exactly what she wanted out of her sacrifice: him and his family living on.
I also don’t have much to say about Bruce, except that I was again thrilled that he didn’t die, and I really liked the compromise between him and Hulk, synthesising the two of them. I was a bit surprised and sad that his relationship with Nat apparently didn’t pick up again during those five years (yes, I know he’s big and green now, but I’m pretty sure Nat wouldn’t actually care) or that we didn’t get some sort of closure on it (for example, that her betrayal in Serkovia was something he could never quite get past, or that she could never quite get past).
I’m glad that his newfound balance was never threatened; this was never an “oh no the Hulk might take over again” storyline. It was so nice to see him genuinely quite happy and well-adjusted, and fully accepting of himself as both Hulk and Bruce. I also really enjoyed his argument with the Sorcerer Supreme about the nitty gritty details of time travel, and his declaration that it was almost like he’d been made to take up the Infinity Gauntlet. I hope we might get some cameos from him in the background of future movies, sciencing up a storm somewhere. Can we have him in Black Panther 2 gleeing over stuff with Shuri? Because that would make my LIFE. Very happy with this ending.
Other People Who Died (Or Maybe Didn’t)
First up: I think they made absolutely the right call in limiting the return-to-life-via-Infinity-Stones to only the people Thanos snapped away. Much though it pains me to lose Loki, Gamora, and Vision, if they’d started pulling in random people who died before the big event, it does raise the question of Where Does It Stop (are we going to bring back Quicksilver? What about Coulson – who is actually still alive in the extended universe, but who the Big Six all believe has been dead at Loki’s hand since 2012? What about the people who died in Serkovia? In New York? Howard Stark? Peggy Carter? You get the idea.). That said, I’m also very glad they created some rather clever loopholes for the future return og at least two of those three.
I was very curious how they were going to deal with Gamora. It seemed unlikely she would stay dead, but equally unlikely they would make some sort of exception for her (particularly when they doubled down on the sacrifice for the Soul Stone being something that could never be taken back, which made sense since otherwise Thanos could just snap her back to life when he had the Gauntlet). My assumption from the end of the film is that she headed off to do her own thing in this timeline, but is likely to turn up again in Guardians 3. It’s a shame that her relationships with the Peter, the rest of the Guardians, and Nebula have all been reset, but on the other hand I was totally confused by wtf was going on with her romantic arc with Peter, so maybe it’s for the best. (I watched Guardians 2 in the assumption that they were now in a relationship, only to realise that somehow that apparently hadn’t actually happened yet?? idek, it was weird). I also loved the reversal of Nebula being the one to bring Gamora over to the other side.
1a. Nebula – YAS MY BEAUTIFUL BLUE DAUGHTER IS NOW OFFICIALLY A GUARDIAN OF THE GALAXY AND DID NOT DIE (in this timeline)
I never expected Loki to be brought back without caveats, since he died pre-snap, and I’m thrilled that they nonetheless created that nice little loophole with him grabbing the Tesseract and yeeting himself out of there. It’s a good call, since they can choose whether or not to follow it up, and if they do they will also be playing with 2012 Loki, pre-character-growth, which means they can use him as a villain or chaos-maker without having to walk him back.
I would have been Totally Down for 2018 Loki still hanging around the MCU, snarking wildly but slowly learning to Be Occasionally Heroic and possibly bonding with Rocket, but narratively speaking he’d completed his arc, and Mr Hiddleston is also a hot property these days, so I take this as a win.
Never really had much hope for him, since his existence required the Mind Stone and obviously the stones were going to have to be disposed of. One thing I wondered in Infinity War was why no-one suggested trying to upload his brain (I mean, I can think of plenty of reasons why it wouldn’t work, but they could have had a go). I thought perhaps we might get a holo-Vision, or even that his consciousness might now somehow be involved with the Gauntlet itself, but then Thanos destroyed the stones so… we’ll never know.
3a. Wanda: broke my heart and I hope we see her healing after this (and I really hope they don’t take her on a villain arc or something, which is often fiction’s fate for superpowered women who have suffered a bereavement). I hope Clint adopts her and brings her home to his family. I’m glad she got to unleash her full power at last, and I found her rage and pain cathartic.
Other Assorted Things
I was disappointed by how little Captain Marvel was involved with the film, because she is my One True Love, but completely understand the reasons for it. Narratively she’s too big a gun and is also part of the next gen Avengers; it would be unfair to give her the spotlight during this farewell to the original crew. I was surprised that the end-credits scene from her film wasn’t part of this one, though; it made her arrival to rescue Tony feel a bit out of nowhere, since I was expecting there to be a slightly extended introduction scene with the others first. The MCU is also generally pretty good about not doing stuff that will really confuse you if you didn’t catch one of the stingers, and I think it falls down a bit here. I wonder if the scene was included in an earlier cut and they decided they couldn’t spare the time?
Apart from that, I loved every second that she was on screen and struggled not to screech like a pterodactyl when she showed up with That Haircut. The Women Of Marvel tribute moment made me happy even if it was a bit obvious. I’m sad that we didn’t get any follow up on Maria and Monica and whether either of them was snapped, but like, where would they even have fitted that in??
I was not expecting the main plot of the film to be Wacky Time Travel Hijinks and I am blown away by the cleverness of the conceit. Not only does it make the film much lighter and more fun than you might have expected given the setup, but it creates a beautiful meta-narrative approach to summing up the saga so far and saying goodbye to the Big Six. I enjoyed the fun fanservicey moments, the behind-the-scenes stuff with “oh yeah after the big fight in 2012 there was a ton of admin”, the parallels (Steve in the lift with Hydra), and the gleeful disregard for the usual rules about not changing the past (because something something quantum).
Also they have blatantly opened the door to any multiverse shenanigans they might choose to explore later, possibly including cameos from alternate universe versions of people like Steve, Tony, and Nat, and that’s always fun, even if it does eventually tend to lead to Infinite Crisis Of Infinite Comic Books aka KonMarie Is Coming For Your Alternate Timelines. 😛
And finally, those end credits? Beautiful. Feelings all over my face. Sob.
I’ve spent the last few years unlearning the habit of obsessively picking out “plot holes” in narratives. While there absolutely are plenty of stories with gaping voids that swallow common sense and basic planning, there are a lot more stories where the answer to the question “why didn’t it happen this way?” is “because then there would be no story” and that’s okay. Stories are not real life, and even in real life, people are fallible and don’t always do the logical, sensible, self-consistent thing even if it’s right in front of them.
All the same, allow me a little bit of Fridge Logic:
1. Thanos demonstrated that you could use the stones individually. I feel like there were more things that could have been done with the Gauntlet than just Snap Fingers, Revoke/Restore Existence.
(Most likely answer: ethical concerns about freely using that much power and the unintended consequences. Or, any of the stones would have run the risk of killing the user, even Bruce, so they had to go big or go home, no nuance.)
2. Given that they were time travelling, there was no actual need for the entire team to go and split up looking for the stones simultaneously, or immediately. They could have called Carol back and waited for her; she might have been able to wield the Gauntlet safely. They could have sent the same core team after each of the stones (come on, who didn’t want to see Red Skull’s reaction to Steve showing up?).
(Most likely answer: this is a very common conceit with time travel plots; you still need the sense of urgency, you can’t allow the more ‘realistic’ option of taking your time outside the jumps. If any justification is needed, you could go with the idea that the participants were so swept up in the race to get the stones that they didn’t think about it, or that they were extremely worried about having any of the stones hanging around in 2023 for extended periods of time.)
3. How does Thanos rewinding time with the Time Stone fit into the quantum multiverse proposition? Surely he should just have created another branch – and in that case, surely Strange should have seen that as a future where they win, since the Mind Stone was destroyed in that timeline.
(Most likely answer: SOMETHING SOMETHING QUANTUM DON’T THINK ABOUT IT TOO HARD. Maybe the Time Stone works differently. Maybe Bruce could, in theory, rather than bringing the Missing back into existence, have rewound the last 5 years. And maybe they decided they didn’t dare, especially given that they’d already been time travelling and dicking around with causality. That’s interesting question, though. If the wearer of the second Gauntlet rewound time to before Thanos destroyed the first one, do you end up with two sets of Infinity Stones? Does that cause the universe to explode? Possibly another reason not to attempt it. Though that seems like a GREAT premise for a fanfic AU hmm…)
4. Steve going back and marrying Peggy would have created a new alternate branch of the multiverse, rather than altering the past in this one. So how did he manage to turn up again at the end? He should have been in his own version of the future at that point.
(Most likely answer: see above re QUANTUM, or something about using the Time GPS when he was ready to come back, and he just materialised in a slightly different place for some reason?)
5. I was under the impression that Carol’s powers were not a one-time boost from the Tesseract, but that she was constantly drawing from it as a power source. In that case, shouldn’t destroying the Space Stone have robbed her of her power? I was expecting them to at least use that as a reason why she couldn’t take Thanos out completely – that he was wielding the source of her power against her – but it never came up.
(Most likely answer: Well obviously we don’t want to depower Captain Marvel for all future movies. They could do something clever here with Loki’s theft of the Tesseract in 2012, possibly. Or never mention it again. Or I’m wrong about her drawing from the Tesseract.)
6. Soooo… the world going forward. The desolation of the last five years, the empty cities, the huge changes in society, are all going to still be present. The Missing 50% have returned, but now there’s a five year age gap – we see Peter Parker reuniting with friends at the end of the film, but half their class should be finishing up university now. Not only that, but the Remaining 50% are all extremely traumatised. All are likely to have difficulty readjusting.
Imagine your older sibling vanished and now they’re back, but they’re younger than you (Flight of the Navigator anyone?). Imagine your spouse and children vanished and you were devastated but you’ve found someone new and moved on and had another kid. Imagine you were one of the missing, but find on your return that your loved ones have died in some other way while you’ve been gone. Or because of your disappearance: there must have been plenty of Missing who were driving at the time. Some of them must have come back to find that the other people in that vehicle with them died in the crash that resulted, and in theory Bruce would not have brought them back (though who knows, since he said he tried to bring Natasha back too).
The ongoing impacts on society should produce a nearly unrecognisable world, but is that the world Marvel wants to tell its stories in?
(Most likely answer: either we take the No Endor Holocaust route and just ignore the ramifications – or Tony Stark’s Dying Wish becomes the escape clause for everything. Why isn’t the world more broken? Because Tony can’t stop trying to fix things, and did more with that finger snap than just wiping out Thanos and his horde. I find it unlikely that the MCU going forward will be exploring the huge fallout of the snap beyond “everyone was sad and now they’re not”, but I could be mistaken.)
Overall, I’ve often not quite felt the same “end of an era” reaction to popular films as a lot of people. Neither the end of the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter films hit me that way (partly because I prefer the books in both cases). The MCU, though, has been a big, significant thing that I feel a part of.
When “Iron Man” came out I’d never heard of any Marvel characters except the X-Men. I fell in love with the humour and the way that these films consistently make a little fun of themselves while still taking their premises seriously and respecting their fans. The New Marvel Film has been for years now the only event that will reliably get me to the cinema, and I have faithfully sat through the credits of every single one.
I’m sad that it’s over, and I will miss the characters I’ve grown to love who are now gone, but at the same time I am genuinely excited for the next generation, particularly Black Panther and Captain Marvel. I will still be going to see The New Marvel Film, I think. Though apparently Spider-Man is gleefully intending to break our hearts all over again. -_-