I’m just kidding; there is no such thing as a perfect story. What there are, are stories that are so great to experience that they don’t leave room in your head to criticize them while enjoying them. That’s Avengers: Endgame.
So, some background.
As everyone knows, I’m a lifetime comic-book fan. Not a rabid collector, but I can’t think of a year when I wasn’t picking up one or two titles. I’m not a die-hard fan of any particular superhero or comic; instead I tend to look for those comics where the writer/artist fusion creates magic, and at various times I’ve collected The X-Men, The Avengers, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. I’ve read the titles I like long enough, off and on, to see at least two big reboots of my favorite characters. This is the lens I’ve been watching the ongoing rollout of the Marvel Cinematic Universe through; I knew going in that the characters and their stories would be recognizable but different, and just hoped that we’d see good stories. And it’s been a wild ride.
Some of these movies were stronger than others (to me Captain Marvel and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies felt weakest), but all were enjoyable and a step above almost anything else out there in superhero-fiction. The Incredibles I and II and Big Hero Six matched them, but MCU are the best of the live-action movies.
So now we come to Avengers: Endgame. How does it stack up to what’s come before?
I’m not really sure how to answer that. Why? First, because it doesn’t stand alone; A:E is really Avengers: Infinity War I-II, a more than 5-hour movie. I’ll call it A:I/E. Second, A:I/E can’t stand alone, either. It rests on the other 20 films, which introduced us to the monster cast of heroes and deepened their stories, relationships, and themes over the course of nearly a decade. That’s the genius of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
This is all leading up to why I consider A:I/E the Best Superhero Movie Yet. Not perfect, but Best Yet. First, because of the 20-movie buildup, there has never been a collection of characters in which I have been so emotionally invested. These. Are. People. We’ve watched them grow, change, triumph, fail, love, grieve, etc. With that kind of investment, A:I/E could fail in only one real way; it could fail to provide an emotional payoff to the character arcs of heroes whose stories are ending.
And this is the ending of a chapter of MCU history (the coming Spider Man 2 is a sort of prologue).
A:I/E doesn’t fail. I’ve seen it twice, now, and I can’t think of a more perfect ending. So now that I’ve given it the accolade of BEST SUPERHERO MOVIE EVER!, go out and see it if you haven’t already. If you have seen it, lets move on and talk about it.
WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS, ABANDON SUSPENSE ALL YE WHO VENTURE HERE!
A:I/E finishes two hero story arcs, Iron Man’s and Captain America’s, definitively and perfectly. It gave both the right kind of happy ending. You might not think Tony Stark’s was so happy, but it’s what Pepper told him: “We’ll be okay, Tony. You can rest, now.” This echoes what she said earlier in the movie, and also echoes the key “want” Tony has always had. In Iron Man I, his motive was to fix his mistakes (among other mistakes, being a weapons-maker and war-profiteer). He’s always worked hard to do good, driven by guilt for his mistakes and fear for the world. Well, he saved the world from the biggest threat it had ever faced. Yeah it’s sad he died, but it’s a kind of triumphal sad. He WON.
As for Captain America, Steve Rogers has always been a hero driven by an overriding sense of duty. To his family, to his friends, to his teammates, to his country, to his world. It’s his greatest strength; whatever tragedies befall, as long as his duty is clear, he’s a rock. He’s also been the least-changing MCU hero, in a good way. Constancy is an undervalued moral trait, and he embodies it. But that constancy of heart had a price; Cap couldn’t move on. Even ten years after waking up from the ice, he couldn’t move on from his first love, Peggy Carter. Natasha twitted him about it, as only a friend now as close as a sister could. So the last scene, where Steve gets to finally dance with his girl, confirming that, after everything, he got to live a full and happy life with her, is perfect.
Although Tony and Steve had the best story-endings, two others are nearly as strong. Natasha/The Black Widow, who in earlier movies displayed great regret over the “red in her ledger” and the loss of her opportunity to have a family, found two families in the end: The Avengers and Clint’s family (especially his children, to whom she was Aunt Natasha). She gave her life for both those families, and specifically so Hawkeye would be reunited with his. Hawkeye’s “ending” is implied. No, he didn’t die. But after all he’d been through losing his family, with them back I can’t imagine him doing anything other than hanging up his bow for good to be with them. He might remain involved as a trainer/consultant, but not a field agent.
Accounting for the last original Avengers, there’s The Hulk and Thor. I don’t need to say anything about Bruce’s ending. I imagine that he probably even got the love of his own life, Betty Ross, but Marvel didn’t need to go there (although it would have been cool if she’d been at the funeral). Thor’s ending was the weakest.
Speaking of the funeral, I figured out who the lone boy I didn’t recognize was; the teenager kind of standing off by himself; Harley Keener, the smart kid Tony met in Iron Man 3 while he was on the run. At least that’s my guess.
Lest I make you think it’s all about the ending, nope. The other thing A:I/E nailed was the sheer epic payoff. For power and impact, I can’t think of a Final Battle that’s done it better–not even the epic battles of The Lord of The Rings. Once Bruce snapped his fingers and Hawkeye’s cellphone buzzed, you know all of the snapped-away are back. So I was expecting the snapped-away heroes to show up like the cavalry coming over the hill for a last-minute rescue, but they weren’t the cavalry, they were the entire army. Actually, three armies–an army of Asgardian warriors, Wakandans, and sorcerers. How cool was that?
A final note on the overall plot; I went into A:I/E expecting that the Avengers would somehow get the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos and just reverse the Great Snap. And while that would have been doable, plot-wise, the decision to avoid the easy way and instead hit the heroes with total failure and five years to live with the failure was a brilliant choice. Because in the Real World, failure has consequences. Hitting the heroes–and the audience–with those consequences was gutsy and brilliant.
And the Timey-Wimey Stuff
Finally, I can’t tell you how inexpressibly happy I am that A:I/E avoided the Timey-Wimey Ball. What’s that? To quote TV Tropes:
The Timey-Wimey Ball is the result of a series or movie where the writers are a wee bit confused or forgetful about exactly which kind of time travel can happen, sometimes within the span of one episode! One day You Can’t Fight Fate (or at least not without the Butterfly of Doom coming along), but the next you can Screw Destiny and Set Right What Once Went Wrong by killing Hitler and changing the past for the better. Especially headachy because there’s no Temporal Paradox, or if there is it’s totally arbitrary.
I’ve read a couple of complaints from viewers who thought they saw a bouncing timey-wimey ball somewhere in there, but that’s because with everything going on the explanations for what was happening went by kind of fast (and they staged a less-than-clear ending that confused some people). Here’s the “science.”
In the Marvel Universe, you can’t change your past. You can change the past, but that’s because when you travel back to the past, the instant you arrive you split off a new quanta of time that can be described as Past X + YOU. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t seem like you changed anything; just your arrival creates a divergence.
If the idea of creating whole new universes every time you time-travel gives you fits, you could instead use the model I did for the Infinitude; there are an infinite number of quanta (alternate realities), a subset of which–still infinite–are exactly or near-exactly identical. Traveling back in time takes you to one of these identical quanta, which you can completely knock off the rails of subsequent history through your actions, creating a massively divergent timeline from that point. It works out the same; you can never visit your past, just a past that looks like yours until the moment you arrive.
A:I/E stayed true to this model of time-travel from beginning to end. The Avengers visited four different quanta pasts, “creating/diverging” four new histories. And no, there was no reset when Captain America took the stones back to their original quanta; all of their actions in New York, on Asgard, and on other planets changed things. The movie didn’t even try and address those changes, but I’ll give you a few. To keep things straight I’ll talk about MCU Prime (the unaltered timeline), Alternate NYC (the visit to the Chitari Invasion of New York), Alternate Asgard (of Thor 2), Alternate Space, and Alternate SHIELD.
Alternate NYC: In that timeline, Loki escaped with the Tesseract/Space Stone. Among other changes, this derails Thor II since he wasn’t in his cell in Asgard to tell the Dark Elf agent where to find the shield generator (and that’s not considering all the mischief Loki might have gotten up to between Thor I and II in that history). Captain America also left some very confused Hydra agents, who were bound to Do Something about that confusion, and a Captain America who now knew Bucky was alive somehow (if he believed the older Cap, and he would after his Tony Stark made sense out of what had happened). This totally diverges the timeline leading to Captain America II and III. Since I’m sure Cap didn’t give the Mind Stone back to Hydra, this messes up the timeline for Avengers II as well (at the least, no Wanda and Pietro).
Alternate Asgard: The Aether/Reality Stone was extracted from Jane Foster, removing the need for the sophisticated plot to get it out of her and destroy it. Lady Frigga, Thor’s mom, probably survived in Alternate Asgard since Malaketh wouldn’t have been coming for Jane. (To answer a stupid objection, bringing the stone back, there is no way Captain America would have re-injected it into Jane Foster even if they could have returned the stone to it’s previous viscous state.)
Alternate Space: The chain of events leading up to the formation of the Guardians of the Galaxy . . . absolutely derailed. Also, the Thanos of that reality is dead with all his minions.
Alternate Shield: Like the Reality Stone, the Space Stone is also returned in a very different shape than it was taken. Not sure of the effects of that, but there have to be some. Also, the theft of some of Henry Pym’s Ant-Man juice has to have changed things too, if only with initially small but cumulative effects.
And none of this takes into account the changes Captain America makes on his own journey to return all of the stones to their quanta. Technically, to do his duty there all he needs to do is hit each quanta long enough to drop each stone anywhere. But it’s Cap we’re talking about; he knows they’ve changed things–you can bet he stuck around in each quanta long enough to put the stone in a good situation and at least make sure they didn’t Destroy Everything in any of them with their interference. (I’ll bet he fought alongside Thor repelling the Dark Elves’ attack on Asgard.) Which brings us to our last new alternate-universe.
Alternate Carter: All we know about this quanta is that, after returning the Infinity Stones to their rightful quanta, Steve decided to grab his Happy Ending. With more Pym Particle charges in his suit, he traveled back to the end of Word War Two to find his girl, Peggy Carter, to whom he’d promised a dance. To make it nice and tidy, I prefer to think he found a quanta whose own Captain America had died in that final flight rather than getting frozen for 70 years. He made that his new home–where I’m sure he completely changed the post-war timeline (after all, he’d had 10 years to study post-war history from V-Day to 2010). He was their Captain America and, after a long and eventful life, he brought that quanta’s Captain America Shield back to MCU Prime to present to the Falcon. The End.
22 thoughts on “The Perfect Endgame”
There is another physics concept about time that states time is one big “block” from beginning to end. In this block, everything that has/is/and will happen is already set. The immediate question that crops up about this is “destiny” and lack of choice, but nothing could be further from the truth. Because everyone is who they are, they will ALWAYS make the same choice in any given situation, thus time never changes. In the event of time travel, those who travel were always meant to travel to certain points, thus their personal timelines never alter. (For example, Steve goes into the ice, stays there for 70 years, comes out, does everything he’s meant to do, and then goes back to his time after returning the stones because he was “destined” to do that. In his time, he’s still frozen in the ice. Events around that play out as normal. They look for him, but never find him until an expedition stumbles on his frozen self 70 years later. Steve himself would never mention it to anyone (except maybe Peggy), because that is who he is. After all his experiences, he knows better. And yes, his older self would have lived through the events again, but with his “foresight”, he knows better than to monkey around with anything).
The big unknown here, as far as story goes, is what are the choices he could make in his lifetime with Peggy. Again, with the concept, it is all “meant” to happen, the timeline doesn’t change. Everything plays out the way it’s supposed to. This concept of set time avoids all the messy paradox stuff and the need for alternate timelines/realms/universes etc.
Just some food for thought. 😉
That has been used by some writers (Robert A. Heinlein, for one), but it doesn’t work here because with the “block of time” it is impossible to change the past—whatever you do in the past you did in the past, which helped create your present. But in End Game those that went into the past changed it, Loki’s escape being a big one.
Some of the complaints I have read about this movie are so damn petty. Which is just wrong, given the scope.
(My favourite line, tho, remains “He’s an idiot.” I swear Quill is the poster boy for unearned privelege.)
Also nice to see the change in Thor’s attitude. In Age of Ultron he was perturbed to see Steve budge his hammer. Now he rejoices.
I still find the time travel in the film massively confusing and poorly explained in the movie itself. My teenage sons and I still don’t have the same opinion about how it was supposed to work.
Things like Tony’s snap too … I just assumed he dusted everyone leading to a changed universe like you write about. However my sons both thought that he sent them back in time with wiped memories and that the dusting was just the visual effect of that.
Honestly the more I think about it the less sure I am about how any of that was supposed to work. Even if you are right how would Cap get between timelines, especially in the absence of someone like Tony? I just can’t make it all work in my head.
Rule #1 of watching superhero movies. DON’T OVERTHINK IT. I joke, but I’m serious; you’ll laugh to know that the single biggest world-breaking problem I had in Wonder Woman was that Diana and Steve sailed away from Thymescria in a wooden boat and woke up the next morning sailing up the Thames, somehow having navigated their way through the entire Mediterranean and up the Atlantic Coast . . .
In the case of the Great Snap, time travel was not involved; with the first snap, Thanos wiped out half of all life in the universe, and with his own snap, Bruce Banner brought all that removed life back. But this did nothing to change the intervening 5 years; that’s clearly illustrated with Spider Man’s babbling to Iron Man about remembering turning to dust and waking up with Dr. Strange saying they’d been brought back and now had to race to save the day. Tony’s own snap just wiped out Thanos and his army, a comparatively minor change to the universe that still killed Tony. He didn’t send them anywhere; Tony’s great wish would not have been for Thanos to go back home where he could destroy his own universe.
As to how Cap got back the final time, since it’s not spelled out we can assume anything we like. Occam’s razor suggests he asked his own alternate-history Tony to whip up a time platform for him when the time came to return.
It was a good movie, but… I’m dissatisfied with a few pretty major points. The biggest?
They played Thor for laughs.
I had a discussion with a friend about this, and I had to lay it out for why this bugged me so much. Thor has lost the most out of any character in Infinity War. They were minutes after losing their entire homeland when Thanos caught them, killed his people, killed his brother, killed his mentor and friend, and Thor was helpless the entire time. After losing his Father, after losing his mother, seriously he’s gotten messed over a lot these past few movies. So, he goes to make a better weapon, to kill Thanos and set things right. He makes the weapon, he is strong enough, but he doesn’t go for the kill, and Quintillions die. He failed again, and everyone paid the price. Then they catch up to Thanos, they can fix it, only it is too late. Five years later and what is the first thing we see of the new Thor? Beer gut, haha he’s fat and yelling at kids on video games.
It is so frustrating. He’s barely pulled himself together and it fits, but, there was never really a moment where I felt they showed the depth of Thor’s pain, it was all played for laughs.
Hulk frustrates me too. Banner is exactly where the end of his story should be… at the beginning of the film. We don’t see Hulk and Banner reconcile, we don’t get to see Hulk fight, we don’t get to see Banner successfully do science (he’s goofing it up before Tony arrives). They just fast-forwarded through the most interesting parts of Hulk’s story. Handing him peace so that we can focus on Cap and Tony.
It is frustrating. Of course they didn’t actually show anybody else’s post-failure character arc either, really; they go from 20 days after the Great Snap to 5 years later and show us where they are now. Yeah, I would have liked to see more of Banner’s arc, too.
As to Thor, I share your dismay. They absolutely played him for laughs. Unfortunately, in a lot of ways it was just a progression they’d begun with Thor: Ragnarok. I liked Thor III, mostly, but shifting the Thor theme from epic seriousness to borderline slapstick wasn’t the best choice they could have made, I think, and it continued into Infinity War and Endgame. So I’ve done what I usually do in cases like this; rewritten the Thor arc in my head.
I understand your alternative past theory, but I don’t think it works. This is because Alternative Carter is also MCU Prime – we know this because old Steve rocks up at the end.
I’ll need to disagree with you there. The movie made it very clear that just traveling to a past moment creates a new timeline, period. It doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do there–none of it affects your original timeline because it’s not connected anymore; it’s a different timeline. Also, as I mentioned elsewhere, in an interview with the MCU’s showrunner, the man stated that, just like with the other four times the Avengers visited, a new timeline resulted when Cap went back to 1945 and in that alternate timeline Cap married Peggy and they had a life together.
It certainly explains where the unbroken shield came from.
Which, watching The Winter Soldier again, only makes sense. You get the definite impression that Steve visited Peggy many times in the center where she was being cared for, and during those visits she drifted in and out of mental lucidity. It seems impossible that she would have been able to keep the knowledge that she had shared a secret lifetime with his future self from Steve then.
Have to agree with you in re Stark’s passing. Howard Tayler’s Maxim #70 reads: Failure is not an option. It is mandatory. The option is whether or not to let failure be the last thing you do.” Tony Stark (and the other surviving Avengers) chose not to let their failure to stop Thanos in A:IW be their last thing, and in the Final Battle he got a chance to make Success be the last thing he did.
As for the timelines, that Infinitude you mention is my personal favorite way to do time travel. But I didn’t see it explained that way in A:E, unless it was when The Ancient One was telling Bruce why she couldn’t give up the Eye, and that seemed to be a special case for Infinity Stones.
The MCU explanation for time travel goes with the idea that an alternate timeline doesn’t exist until you go back. Then your arrival instantly changes the timeline, creating a new alternate reality. But the result is the same; a history that was identical to your own up to the moment you arrive at, and divergent to some degree or other from there.
I do like my approach better, since it means you’re not creating new realities every time you time travel, but Marvel’s explanation is the traditional one.
Of course I said all that before, sorry. What I will say that’s new is that when weaving a theory of time travel, it’s more intuitive to explain it with “divergences creating new timelines.”
BTW, something I realized after writing this; the Alternate: Shield quanta would have experience huge divergences down the road. The Space Stone might have been returned to SHIELD, but it wasn’t in the Tesseract cube anymore. No idea what difference that might have made in handling it the stone, but it may well have changed or negated the circumstances leading up to Captain Marvel and Avengers I . . .
Betty Ross was at the funeral. She was standing with her father in the back just in front of the cabin (on the audiences’ right.)
Thanks! I missed that.
I looked at your graphic for all the movies that fed this one, and wondered where the rest of the movies went. All those Fantastic Four and X-Men and Spiderman movies, and I’m sure I’m leaving some out.
Those movies aren’t part of the Marvel Movie Universe as they were made by different movie companies.
Those characters are not owned by Disney.
Although, Spiderman is now owned by Disney but the earlier movies weren’t Disney movies.
What Paul said. The movies that weren’t done by Marvel Studio aren’t part of the official Marvel Cinematic Universe chronology.
Well Marvel Studio now owns X-Men and Fantastic Four so it’d be interesting to see if they have the Avengers encounter those teams.
I am still greatly annoyed by the lack of basic math. Population growth is an exponential growth problem, killing 1/2 the universe moves you slightly on the curve, but you are still on the curve. If the factor is >1 your population builds to infinity. If it is <1 it goes to zero.
The lesser annoyance is if you need to return all of the stones to their proper place in time, why don't you have your temporal expert (Dr Strange) handle it?
A valid criticism, except that population growth is only exponential under certain conditions. Historically, things like disease and war kept populations from growing exponentially (due to cities being plague-incubators, historically most cities were population sinks). We got sustained exponential growth only for a relatively recent period in places where science beat back diseases but society hadn’t caught up. As it is now, modern industrialized nations are all experiencing zero growth or even population decline where they’re not being replaced by immigrants from places that haven’t modernized yet.
I know, I know; sci-fi likes to play with scenarios of apocalyptic population growth, but we’re already seeing projections that put Peak Population as close as the late 21st Century, after which global population will be in decline. No Thanos needed.
As to Dr. Strange; he isn’t a time-traveler, has never tried to send something through time before, and they already had Tony’s time machine all nice and calibrated. (And if they’d used him in the movie for that, then it would have taken extra time if you were still going to give Cap his Happy Ending.)
But that’s just my opinion; as always and with everything, YMMV!
I’m writing this considerably after your original post but there’s a problem with your alternate-NYC Capt. America universe. One of the rules they made was not to interact with themselves but having a knockdown fight and revealing big secrets certainly violates that. But they neatly put a bow on it because Captain America finishes the fight by whacking Capt. America with Loki’s mind stone weapon *erasing his memory of the encounter* so now presumably he doesn’t report a second himself nor does he know about Bucky being alive. Kind of neat how they got around that conundrum.
Complaint–I’m still unhappy that Vision doesn’t return. Was he not a Real Boy enough to get resurrected? Or mean enough to the rest of the team to be included? Even the problem of not wanting him to keep running around with the mind stone in his head can be hand-waved by saying they let Shuri finish her operation to safely remove it before they returned it or some other way to resurrect him with the rest of the universe. So of all the Avengers I found The Vision’s ending to be the weakest. Maybe they’ll fix that somewhere in the next Phase of movies.
You can certainly go with the idea that Cap getting whacked by the Mind Stone scepter erased his memory of the fight, although there’s no indication of it in the movie. Vision wasn’t resurrected with the rest because he wasn’t one of the Snapped Away. HOWEVER, I understand the Vision will be back.