EDITOR’S NOTE: This review contains major spoilers for Avengers: Endgame
A big part of long-term serialized storytelling is that things can never completely change. Comic books often publicize big events that promise to change the status quo, where “nothing will ever be the same again.” However, aside from a few big changes, things mostly stay the same.
A lot of this stems from the fact that most comic book creators are borrowing from a sandbox of shared properties. The writer has to return these characters largely unchanged for the next writer to build on, notable exceptions aside.
Hence, comics have relied on what they call the “illusion of change.” Superman returns from the dead. Dick Grayson returns the mantle of Batman back to Bruce Wayne. The Avengers reunite. Thor survives Ragnarok and re-establishes Asgard. Norman Osborn relinquishes control of HAMMER, and SHIELD takes over again.
Thanos, in the original Infinity Gauntlet storyline, snaps away half of all sentient life, nearly wipes out all of Marvel’s heroes, but everything gets restored with barely any consequence.
Marvel’s Cinematic Universe doesn’t have that luxury: the movies don’t have a sliding timeline. Actors age. Contracts end.
Recasting isn’t always a solution. After all, some of the actors are, to a majority of the audience, the definitive version of the characters they’ve played. Avengers: Endgame does something its comics counterpart cannot afford to do: provide a definite conclusion to ten years’ worth of stories. No illusion of change. This really is the end for some.
Avengers: Endgame Shows Heroes In Defeat
After Infinity War hands the Avengers a resounding defeat at the hands of Thanos, the remaining members of the team regroup to find a way to reverse the snap. With the assistance of Captain Marvel, they discover the horrifying extent of Thanos’ actions – he destroyed the Infinity Stones, thus ending any chance for them to undo the decimation.
Five years later, the team deals with their loss in their own way. There’s nothing else to do but to move on. Our heroes try to have as normal a life they could. Tony Stark starts a family with Pepper. Steve Rogers focuses his efforts to help people deal with trauma as a counselor. Natasha Romanoff buries himself in her work to make the Avengers functional. Clint Barton lashes out and turns into the assassin Ronin. Bruce Banner finally accepts the Hulk as a part of himself, and merges both his sides into a single personality.
Thor falls into a deep depression, drinking non-stop, hiding away from the world, and going severely out of shape.
When your “initiative” relies on you saving the world, “falling together” can be such a cheesy line. And when it came down to it, the Avengers know they failed. With the Infinity Stones gone for good, it’s now just a matter of “moving on.”
Of course, time is relative.
The Endgame Is A Gamble
Hope comes in a ton of unexpected ways. Sometimes, the answer to your problems lies in wait. Or in this case, the Quantum Realm.
When Ant-Man And The Wasp released, people got a horrifying glimpse of life after Scott’s crazy adventure. They get to save Janet Van Dyne from the Quantum Realm, and with her came knowledge of what’s down there. According to her, everything – even time – works differently in the Quantum Realm. Fast forward minutes later, we find out Thanos “snapped” half the Universe while Scott was in another one of his quantum skirmishes.
In Endgame, Ant-Man finally escapes the Quantum Realm, and he brings with him a chance for redemption. With his information, The Avengers can now undo their mistakes – quite literally, in fact.
Access to the Quantum Realm can let them jump back to the past. This allows them to do what they’ve wanted to do in the first place: steal the Infinity Stones and restore the world the way it was.
This is where Avengers: Endgame turns into a heist movie, and since I love heist films, I embraced this fully. Watching the Avengers figure out how time travel works and developing a plan is wonderful, and once their time heist finally starts, it’s delightful to see old scenes from previous movies play out from different points of view.
A Blast To The Past
We see the start of the cleanup from the Chitauri invasion, Thanos’ whereabouts during the first Guardians of the Galaxy, and how our various protagonists, with years of character growth behind them, react towards these events. Seeing Professor Hulk becoming embarrassed by his wilder self’s tantrum is gold, as is the more jaded Steve Rogers react with annoyance to his more idealistic past.
As with any heist, things go awry. They lose the Tesseract, and have run out of Pym particles. Vormir still requires a soul. Thanos from 2014 realizes there’s a disturbance in time.
We Need To Make Hard Decisions
Let’s start with Vormir. This scene was an inversion of the Vormir scene from Infinity War. Instead of Thanos sacrificing his – at least in his mind – beloved daughter for his ends, we have Hawkeye and Black Widow competing who gets to sacrifice themselves for the Soul Stone.
This scene made me wish we got more of Black Widow, because as much as her death was an emotional gut punch, her sacrifice would have benefited more from a solo film. She, however, still chose to go out on her own terms, giving her agency over her death.
Paving The Way For That Victory Lap
The Avengers successfully undo the snap, bringing everyone who disappeared back into the present.
However, their victory is short-lived. Hulk gets horribly injured after undoing the snap, and Thanos kidnaps Present Nebula. Things get awry from here.
The Mad Titan had evil 2014 Nebula take the place of our Present Nebula. This Nebula hijacked the quantum portal and sends Thanos and his forces into the present. They decimate the Avengers Headquarters, which sets up the final showdown between the Avengers and Thanos.
Or, as I like to call it, Marvel’s victory lap.
Almost every hero the movies have featured in the last ten years makes an appearance, setting the stage for one of the most epic showdowns in history. It was also full of some long-overdue payoffs, like Captain America wielding Mjolnir, much to Thor’s overwhelming joy. Peter Parker finally gets that hug from Tony Stark, and Scarlet Witch finally gets her revenge on Thanos.
We finally get to hear “Avengers Assemble.”
Everyone who’s wished for better female representation in Marvel movies finally get a teaser for the future as all the major women heroes team up, in a shot that made audiences explode in cheers in both viewings I’ve been in. It is a bittersweet moment, however, as Black Widow definitely deserves to be there. She was the first, and she should’ve led the charge.
Closing The Circle
When Captain Marvel gives Thanos a much-deserved beating, the Mad Titan steadily overpowers our heroes. It’s at which point Doctor Strange reveals the one factor which ensures their victory over the 14-million timelines he’s viewed.
Tony Stark must get the Infinity Stones himself.
Tony – “just the guy in the suit” – manages to distract Thanos long enough to acquire the stones for himself. The Golden Avenger repeats the same sacrifice he’s done in The Avengers (2012), this time amassing the power of the Infinity Stones for the good of the Universe. Thanos and his forces get snapped out of existence.
The Avengers have won.
The Endgame Arrives
The founding Avengers finally have what they’ve always wanted. Black Widow finally, in her mind, has erased all the red out of her ledger, despite doing good over the course of a decade. Hawkeye has his family back. The Hulk has made peace with his more violent side. Thor realizes his Worth despite his failures. He abdicates his throne for a more capable person – Valkyrie – to lead New Asgard. Odinson is finally free to discover who he really is and to explore the universe. Captain America, the soldier who’s only known conflict and lived from one mission to the next, finally gets to have a life by settling with Peggy Carter.
However, Tony Stark, Iron Man, the one who kicked off the universe with 2008’s Iron Man, finally gets to rest.
Weighed down by survivor’s guilt since the first movie, he spent the last decade balancing his more reckless impulses with the greater good. He finally fulfills his self-sacrificing streak with a snap and a declaration that he is, once and forever, Iron Man.
And the Marvel Cinematic Universe has given us a conclusion to Steve and Tony’s stories. The comics will always feature them, in constant conflict, never aging, always fighting the good fight. But as far as the movies are concerned, they’re done. The shield has been passed on to the Falcon. Tony’s sacrifice has inspired a new generation of heroes to carry on. This, for now, is the end for the Marvel Universe as we know it.
There will be more Marvel movies and probably more Avengers films in the future, but the Marvel universe will never be the same again. As we hear the sound of Tony Stark hammering in the cave during the closing credits, we get a sense of finality and uncertainty on what to expect.
And I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.