With around 40 screenwriters, 19 directors, and put together over a 10-year period, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) seeks to tell one cohesive unified story.
It hasn’t always been perfect. There are plot holes and story threads that have simply been abandoned. At times the movies were clunky and overly jam-packed (see Thor 2, or Ironman 2 – IMHO), sometimes they were lacklustre (The Incredible Hulk), and there was a persistent villain problem (ie. several villains were cookie cut and uninspiring – can anyone remember the villains and their motivation from Thor 2, The Incredible Hulk, or Ant-Man?). But generally, they delivered on fun, entertainment, character and heart.
With the release of Avengers: Endgame, the fourth Avengers movie, the MCU’s ‘Infinity Saga’ (the movies of Phases 1-3 dealing with the Infinity Stones) has come to an end. It is not the end of the MCU, but it is the end of the road for a few characters and their arcs through the MCU.
So here’s my non-spoiler review of Endgame.
Avengers Endgame is the culmination of the previous 21 movies in the MCU franchise. After viewing it, there is a very real sense that this movie draws to a close a number of threads and character arcs that the past movies have been building up. And it does so in an incredibly satisfying manner. You will laugh, you will be delighted in the callbacks (if you can remember them all!), you will cheer in gleeful enjoyment, you will cry, and you will leave with a feeling that 22 movies have just been tied together in the most satisfying way.
Satisfying, I think that’s the word I would use to describe the profound sense I left with.
Everything pays off in this film. The relationships between key avengers is built upon and brought to its crescendo. Black Widow and Hawkeye, whose relationship extends before the MCU (with references to some incident in Budapest picked up in Avengers: Age of Ultron), have an incredibly poignant moment. Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Tony Stark settle their differences and re-establish trust in each other – and their screen time is not wasted.
Loss is fulfilled. Time provides opportunities for healing. Characters wrestle deeply with their failures.
And because of all this, the pacing of this movie is markedly different from part 1 – Avengers Infinity War. Where Infinity War was a constant and unrelenting romp from tense action to tense action, Endgame spends the first act of the movie very slowly developing story and character. The slowness of these early scenes isn’t tedious though, and except for one scene in the diner, IMHO, I didn’t think there was much fat to be trimmed.
The slower and intentional pace of the first act pays off big time in the final act. The regulation massive CGI battle can be a bit chaotic and confusing at times, but the audience is rewarded with some very big moments. And I mean big!
Is the movie perfect then? It sure is close.
Upon reflection, there are some callbacks which I felt were a little forced. Particular musical cues used in previous movies to heighten scenes are replayed in Endgame, but the direction of those scenes feels a little more clunky in comparison. Still, the weight of the moment settles in mostly because of the pathos already developed prior. So, in this way my issue isn’t that big.
But there is one nagging quibble, and for the past few days, it’s almost wrecked my enjoyment of the film. It has to do with the ending and what I feel is a moment of inconsistency within the movie. It didn’t stop me from still appreciating that final scene, nor did it prevent the tears for a character that I have most beloved in the MCU. And while I feel that I’ve mentally resolved the inconsistency, for now, I’m keen to find out more from the Directors, the Russo Brothers, how they explain that final scene and how it harmonises with the established rules of the movie.
When I step back and look at the MCU as a whole I can see a gallant effort on the part of multiple screenwriters and directors, and the oversight of Executive Producer Kevin Feige, to produce a massive multi-movie universe. It is an undertaking unlike any other in cinema history. Watching Endgame really did feel like you were a part of history being made. There have been other multi-movie franchises in the same universe – The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter movies to name a few – but these have been based upon novels of the same name. The Bond franchise has more recently had elements of continuity between their movies – especially with Daniel Craig in the title role, and Tom Cruise has put this into some effect with the Mission Impossible series as well. Star Wars should get an honourable mention as well.
But 22 movies in one shared universe telling one story? No one has ever tried that. And you can even see in the earlier movies that various risks were taken, and some risks not taken, on the hunch that this thing might work. When you rewatch the earlier movies, which I did recently in preparation for Endgame, you can pick up a vibe that the writers and directors were playing it slightly safe. Part of the villain problem that I noted earlier probably has to do with not wanting to take big risks, and the regular 3-part act culminating in a big CGI battle is their bread and butter. There’s a good argument to be made that Iron Man 3 – the most divisive of the Iron Man movies – changed the course of the MCU by allowing riskier and more creative directing and scripting.
The variance in voice, so to speak, of the writers and directors throughout the MCU’s 22 movie history is there. Sometimes it threatens the narrative of the unified story, and sometimes it feels as though later directors have to fix various characters along the way. Somehow the MCU has managed to keep the ship steady, headed towards this Endgame, with most of the character arcs making sense. Tony Stark begins the MCU as a self-absorbed narcissist playboy, by the end, he is a self-sacrificing family man at the heart of the Avengers. Thor begins the MCU as an arrogant entitled and ambitious son, and by the end – through failure – he discovers his true power and humility. Steve Rogers begins the MCU as a patriotic and naive soldier, whose trust in authority is broken by Winter Soldier/Civil War, and in the end, rises as the worthy leader of the Avengers. Through their movies, alongside others, we see these characters grow and develop – and that is what ultimately helps Endgame feel like its paid off.
With such an ambitious storytelling attempt, I can’t help in my own mind to consider another unified story which had multiple writers as well. The Bible is written by probably around +40 authors over a period of 1500 years across a wide geography but it tells one cohesive unified story.
But where the MCU sometimes stumbles, I’m amazed at how wonderfully cohesive the Bible is. With its large number of authors (most who never met) writing in various geographical locations across a much larger time span, no story thread is left out or abandoned, every theme of scripture finds its fulfilment and satisfaction – and all the more amazing because it does all of this wrapped up in the person, nature, and work of Jesus Christ. The MCU centres on a team to help save the world. The Bible centres on one man who saves in an even better way – by sacrificing his life in our place, and rising again as King over all.
And as you read the Bible in this way you will laugh, you will be delighted in the callbacks, you will cheer in gleeful enjoyment, you will cry, and you will see how 66 books of the Bible are tied together in the most satisfying way.
So there are my thoughts. What about yours? Did you enjoy the movie – and why? Pop your thoughts in the comments below – and remember: NO SPOILERS!