Oops, this review is very late. Beware of spoilers, if you haven’t seen it yet!
I have a hit and miss record with Marvel movies. Generally, I’ve discovered, I love a superhero movie that combines its superhero-ness with another genre — a heist movie in Antman, a thriller in Winter Soldier, comedy in Thor Ragnarok. I’m not typically such a fan of the movies when they play things more straight, like in Civil War. And I’ve had a problem with previous “all the heroes” movies like Age of Ultron and Civil War being too damn full of characters to feel satisfying.
So I wasn’t sure I wanted to sit for three hours for End Game, which promised to be the most superhero-y of superhero movies. But I’m so glad that I did, because honestly? I thought End Game was fantastic. It was the perfect conclusion to a decade of movie mythology.
It was a great choice to take (almost) all of the newbies out of the mix with Thanos’ snap. Without needing to worry about every single character in the Marvel canon, the movie had room to breath.
I also loved that the movie focussed on character moments over action sequences for most of its run-time. Sure, we have a big blow-up fight at the end, and there are a couple of scraps along the way, but most of it is about looking at who these characters are and how they relate to one another after so much years of history. To me, at least, that’s far more compelling.
It also helped that End Game has a pretty perfect three act structure, if you discount the opening prologue set immediately after Infinity War. Act One is Antman’s return and the discovery that they might be able to fix things after all. Act Two is the actual process of re-recruiting everybody and travelling in time to gather each of the stones. And of course the big twist leading into Act Three was that they brought everyone back, but Thanos showed up again anyway, and this time he wants to kill everyone.
Unfortunately, putting the newbies out of commission for most of this movie reaffirmed how very white and male the original key Avengers were. With everyone else turned to dust, Black Widow has to hold down the fort as the only female Avenger again, and that makes things… complicated.
Black Widow has a strong story arc in Endgame, and it ends with her getting exactly the resolution she wanted. She feels helpless after Infinity War, so she does everything she can to keep the Avengers going, long after the other key players have abandoned her. She wants to make a difference. She wants to help Hawkeye after his grief.
And she does. She chooses to sacrifice herself not just to save the world in general, but also to save Hawkeye — she gives him the gift of that future with his family that he wanted.
But it kinda sucks that she was one of only two female heroes for most of the film, and she was the one to die.
Meanwhile, we also have Thor, who has been the focus of most of the criticism of the movie. The writers seem to have run with the comedic Thor of Ragnarok, and that’s probably a good choice, considering how successful that movie was. They also decided to deal with the extreme trauma that Thor suffered in Infinity War, and that was ALSO theoretically a good choice. But combining those two elements was asking for disaster.
Comedic!Thor has always been at least partly the butt of his movie’s own jokes. Thor Ragnarok never said Thor wasn’t strong or emotionally complex or worthy of an epic story, but it was also unafraid to make Thor bicker with Loki and swing awkwardly around in a trap and generally be a character to goodnaturedly laugh at. And End Game captures some of that. Thor chilling out with his buddies, talking smack on voicechat on Fortnite? Sure. The movie needed some levity.
But the movie also acknowledged that Thor has been through a lot. He lost his parents, all of Asgard, 50% of the surviving Asgardians, his brother, and any sense that he was a hero or could do anything to help anyone, all in a very short space of time. Hawkeye went through less than that, and he became a super angsty tortured creature of revenge. Thor, it seems, became depressed. He abandoned any sense of being a hero, and mastered the art of the video game battle royale.
And ultimately, the movie was about Thor finding a place and a self that would actually make him happy. He doesn’t want to be King of the Asgardians. He wants to be out there, adventuring, helping people. So by the end of the movie, he regains his confidence and he sets off for a new life.
All of this is good, theoretically. The problem is how it came together. I felt a lot of sympathy for Thor while watching it, but the movie definitely seemed to be pushing for the audience to laugh at him instead. He was playing the comedic role again, but this time the comedy wasn’t goodnatured. It was focussed on his weight and the results of his grief, and part of the joke was how that grief has made him “not!Thor.” He’s not persuaded to help the other Avengers by being given a flicker of hope to make amends. He’s persuaded by booze. His mum tells him to eat a salad.
By the end of the movie, he rediscovers who “Thor” is. But maybe they could have cut out some of the Ragnorak jokey tone around him until after he regained some of that confidence and purpose. It’s one thing to make the clear superhero into the punchline. It’s another to make the suffering, depressed, broken character the punchline too.
My only other complaint isn’t really that much of a complaint at all, since the plot worked so well as it was. But I was disappointed by Captain Marvel’s lack of a role in most of the movie. It seemed like the writers needed Captain Marvel’s world-breaking powers in order to save Tony Stark and Nebula, but considered her too strong to have around most of the rest of the time. She’s so powerful that her presence breaks the story, and so she was barely in it at all. She still got a couple of badass moments, including her fight with Thanos at the end, and it made perfect sense for her to be taken out with the power stone so Tony Stark could complete this era of Marvel. But still… give me more Captain Marvel soon, Disney. Please.
And my hopes for the next phase? Ms Marvel and Squirrel Girl. If you can make Antman a thing, you can definitely bring the unbeatable Squirrel Girl to our screens. She’s literally unbeatable. She’s defeated Thanos and Galactus. They need her on the team.