Notes on 'Avengers: Endgame' (spoiler alert)

At the outset, I had a great time watching the film. It ticked all the boxes of an all-round entertainer.

What follows are some specific thoughts I had of the film that shouldn’t be construed as criticism or as gratuitous suggestions to ‘improve’ the film in any sense. Endgame was made to conclude a 22-film franchise; as much as it was epic, it had its role – to please fans not of one or the other narrative but of the MCU in toto – cut out. What follows are my observations – nothing less, nothing more.

Caution: Don’t continue reading if you haven’t watched Avengers: Endgame.

First: The film had been railroaded by the franchise it concluded. All of the MCU movies that came before, and lead up to, Endgame have tried to set a high entertainment bar and mostly succeeded (Venom and Age of Ultron were the exceptions). But that also meant that there couldn’t be a successful movie that didn’t represent the values any or all of the other movies carried and that didn’t – in simple terms – attempt to be epic. So credit to Kevin Feige and the Russo brothers for having delivered the epic in Endgame; in so doing, they did what was expected and didn’t mess it up.

(Aside: Or maybe they messed it up just a tiny bit? On Earth, when Tony Stark, Thor and Captain America face Thanos, the latter launches into a monologue about restarting all life in the universe over, after which he says something about the Avengers having made it “personal”. This is a man titan that has thus far kept things ostentatiously rational – to the point of being Malthusian – but saw fit at that moment to make it about himself. Why? I have no idea – but I suspect that the writers made him say so to consign him into irredeemable villainy from the audience’s PoV.)

But it also meant that at the outset, Endgame couldn’t be surprising. I for one didn’t for a moment believe that anything other than Thanos’s defeat was in the offing, and that in turn partly undermined those aspects of Endgame that all the other MCU movies before could make use of. Being ingenious becomes much less dramatic when it’s widely expected, especially at the end of a franchise that has already employed ultra-precise neurosurgery, a forge powered by a neutron star and AI-versus-AI battles.

Second: In Infinity War, Doctor Strange had figured that of the X million futures he had explored, the Avengers could triumph in only one, and for that Thanos had to win first. In this future, the Avengers could defeat Thanos by letting him win first, on his terms, and then recreating the conditions for victory and battling the titan on the Avengers’ terms. That’s clever.

But I can’t wrap my head around the fact that Doctor Strange could see into the future beyond the Vanishing itself, in that he could predict who would ‘vanish’ and who wouldn’t. The Vanishing is likely to have been random in terms of who ‘vanished’ and who didn’t because Thanos simply wished that 50% of life was killed, not which specific individuals. In effect, the Vanishing should have blocked Doctor Strange’s future-vision.

This matters because Endgame likely wouldn’t have been made if Stark, Bruce Banner and Scott Lang hadn’t survived. That they did in turn makes Endgame seem a bit contrived.

Third: I – and countless others – predicted that Endgame would have something to do with the quantum realm, and with time travel in the picture anything becomes possible. A lot of it is centred on one’s interpretation of time travel itself, but while Endgame handled it admirably, it wasn’t particularly impressive because the writers still kept the properties of the MCU quantum realm ambiguous and free from the responsibility to make sense. In effect, they could do with it as they pleased.

So kudos to them for not overdoing it (as Star Trek: Discovery often does) but at the same time no-kudos for resorting to an extremely predictable trope to simply reverse everything that had been wrought in Infinity War. To paraphrase Thanos, Avengers – like the Avengers – struggled to live with its failures.

Epic cinematic fantasy needs to stop wanting to go back in time every time anything goes belly-up. The writers did try to deflect this by referring to all the other Hollywood movies that used time travel wrong (and did something weird with Captain America’s final mission) but I don’t think the problem lies with how it is used, at least not anymore. The problem in 2019 is that movies need to stop using it altogether.

Featured image: A scene from the official trailer of Avengers: Endgame. Source: YouTube.