Part II: Enter the Endgame
Endgame, from the get-go, has a few challenges to overcome.
Here we have a bit of an issue with the meta-cognitive capabilities of an audience. For example - it was impossible to maintain production schedule for Spider-Man: Far From Home while still keeping it a secret that Peter Parker would return after the events of Infinity War. Ergo, the audience never once for a moment thinks to themselves “I wonder if Peter will survive this?”. It led to catharsis being thrown off - I can’t feel the “fear” portion of catharsis if I am confidant my hero is going to emerge unscathed.
To the Russo brother’s credit- they did strive to throw us off, by allowing the follow-up execution of Thanos to take place within the first 10 minutes of the film, followed by a 5 year timeskip. This timeskip serves to help us feel and see the gravity of Thanos’ snap- as well as the way it pushes our heroes towards desperation. Hawkeye turns Ronin, Black Widow gets tired, Captain Marvel is needed offscreen because she isn’t ready to really join the team yet (or the writers just weren’t sure what to do with her). Tony Stark actually comes off pretty well in the whole ordeal, and Captain is kind of… nondescript sad. All this lasts until Ant-Man escapes from the Quantum Realm (thanks Rat) as our “inciting incident” to launch the Avengers back into action via #timeheist.
I would argue that this is a valid attempt to solve problem #1 as mentioned above - but I would also argue that it falls into “good enough” territory. While the timeskip did let us see a bit of the impact and sadness and bleakness of a world post-Thanos - it never felt real, or like it was going to stick. We already knew the story was going to lead us to recovering everyone (or at least, almost everyone) - and the delay did not effectively make me question that premise.
I would also argue, on the subject of Captain Marvel, that the execution of Endgame actually made the audience feel less excited for Phase 4, rather than more so. Yes, we have a touching passing of the torch, but the underutilization of Captain Marvel and Spider-man (both of whom I am assuming to be our leading cast members in Phase 4) and lack of character arcs for either of them left me feeling like the epic storytelling saga of the MCU does not have any clear vision for the future. This could very well be the end - Phase 3 finishing and no Phase 4 in sight. Now, whether or not that’s a good thing, I think is a discussion we could have later - but given that Far From Home is stated to be the final movie of Phase 3 - I would have expected Captain Marvel to have had more time with the team, talking, discussing, and rubbing shoulders with the ones we know, integrating herself into the universe we have come to know and love.
Now, in terms of resolving character arcs, I feel we have some good moments and choices - however I still wonder if it couldn’t have been done better. The resolution of the Tony Stark character arc I felt was fitting, but relatively simple. The resolution of Steve Rogers arc was predictable given the premise of the movie, and also felt remarkably simple. I understand the decisions were probably made beforehand based on my metaknowledge as an audience member who has watched and loved these actors in these roles for the entirety of my adult life - and I understand ending a story when it deserves to be ended - but neither resolution felt challenging, trying, or particularly cathartic to me. It was, once again “good enough”, but not “good.
On the other hand, the resolution of the story arcs of the other two original Avengers actively disappointed me -not because of where they wound up, but because their decisions and changes happened entirely offscreen. While I know there is a comic precedence for Professor Hulk, I was disappointed that the tension and frustration between Banner and his alter ego, set up so perfectly in Infinity War, was resolved offscreen, during a timeskip, and handwaved away with a few lines of exposition. I also thought that Thor’s character arc from godly frat prince to grim, determined king of a fallen people in Infinity War was epic - and to see him back as a… well, a godly frat prince (now with lower metabolism) - was a step for the character that confused me slightly. I also was actively frustrated when he insisted on passing the kingdom to Valkyrie, stating that she was a leader, and that her leadership was part of who she is, when, in fact, she was not a leader of any sort in Ragnarok, last time we saw her. She was a pirate/bounty-hunter selfish type who found herself trying to recapture her lost glory through the traumatic memory of the loss of her sisters. Nothing about her story ever said anything about leadership. Odd choice on the part of the writers - although my metaknowledge says they just wanted more time for Quill and Thor to hang out together in Asgardians of the Galaxy.
I suppose the resolution of Black Widow’s story and Hawkeye’s story also merits some discussion. For me, the matter of “stakes” was transparent. Their choice between who was to sacrifice themselves and who was to take the soul stone was another one where the easy answer was obvious - the person with nothing else to live for was the obvious candidate (especially considering the movie was started with Barton’s family as a prime motivation for him to continue living). The issue with super-awesome-strong-independent-characters-who-don’t-need-nobody is that they don’t have much going for them, and their sacrifice doesn’t mean a ton. Still - it did throw a bit of a curveball in terms of metaknowledge, because the Black Widow movie has entered production. We’ll see how that turns out later, I suppose.
In terms of the final challenge - the balancing act of how threatening Thanos is vs. the assumption that he will inevitably be defeated or thwarted - I think this is where the film simply could not overcome its audience’s metaknowledge. Thanos using his daughter as a decoy to trace the Avenger’s plan was very smart and threatening, but ultimately - he never felt like he was on the cusp of winning. I thought it was odd that even without Infinity Stones, he was able to go toe-to-toe with several of the Avengers- including some of them (Captain America) at their peak performance. The fight choreography was neat- I especially enjoyed Captain Marvel’s entrance and fight scene - but I never shook the feeling that the battle felt like Infinity War’s lesser sibling - the same bad guys, mostly the same good guys - but less visually interesting (way more dirt) and a bit more chaotic and hard to follow. (Either that or I’m just getting old, which is also a possibility).
In summary, I think Endgame did what it set out to do, and did it well. It is a great testament to the strength of the creative team behind the MCU that the only reason I was disappointed was because the film was good - not great. Every other Avengers film left me with wonder and surprise at how they have exceeded my expectations, time and time again - maybe they’ve just trained me too well, and my expectations were finally high enough for this incredible journey.
Suggestions for Phase 4:
Captain Marvel with more character development.
Less time travel (I just think it’s gimmicky and I don’t love it)
More minority heroes
Less minority sidekicks (because it feels downright token most times)
More Luis (because he is my favorite MCU character)
Less exposition of character development (show, don’t tell)
What do you think?