This past Sunday, Avengers: Endgame passed Avatar to become the highest-grossing movie of all time. It is currently sitting at just over 2.8 billion dollars globally, about one million higher than the 2009 blockbuster. (It did not, however, break the domestic record set by Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015, which beats out Endgame domestically 930 million to 855).
Our review can be found here. I did not actually write that review, and while I agree with much of it in substance and conclusion, I am much less of a fan of Avengers: Endgame. It’s not as good as Avengers: Infinity War, and it’s a cut below the top tier of the Marvel Cinematic Universe more broadly. Avatar is probably a better movie as well. Also, Avatar will probably be released before Avatar 2 is released in 2021, which will probably push it ahead of Endgame once again.
My problem with Avengers: Endgame is that the movie is a long train of conveniences and plotholes designed to move the plot forward in a way designed to make me cry. For example, at the beginning of the film, Steve Rogers goes tries to recruit Tony Stark for their mission to go back in time and save half the universe. Tony tells him that it can’t be done, but he then solves the problem of time travel overnight. Before the Avengers go back in time, they can’t make any more Pym particles, but they just so happen to have enough for one round trip for everyone. Later, when Tony and Steve go back to the 1970s to get the Tesseract, Tony just so happens to run into his father, who just so happens to be preparing for the birth of Tony? Meanwhile, Steve just so happens to duck into the office belonging to his 1940s girlfriend (who hasn’t aged in 25 years), who just so happens to walk into the adjacent office at the very moment? When they procure all six infinity stones, Tony can just put them into an Iron Man glove, even though heretofore that required a specially made Infinity Gauntlet?
Or take Tony Stark’s daughter Morgan. At the beginning of the movie, we find out that Tony has built a family with Pepper and Morgan, and that he is unwilling to jeopardize the life he’s built even to save the world. However, as soon as he rejoins the team, Tony Stark the rest of the movie functions like Tony Stark in any other movie. The movie presents this interesting conflict involving Tony as a father, but it doesn’t bother cultivating it. Morgan ultimately ends up an insert into a couple scenes in an artificial attempt to make me care more. It’s the same trick Fox played with Magneto in X-Men Apocalypse – I didn’t respect it then, and I’m not going to respect it now.
I could go on. The point is that the only logic Avengers: Endgame pays homage to is what will make fans the most emotional at the movie’s end, even if it forces them to forego logic or consistency and feels forced. And since it’s a celebration of 11 legitimately impressive years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it doesn’t really offer anything new. This doesn’t make Endgame bad, it just makes it a standard Marvel offering, just with a bigger cast and a more epic finale.
As for the epic final battle, it’s glorious. When I first saw it in theaters, I freaked out a little bit. Actually a lot. But in hindsight, it’s a very nice show that’s short on substance. There’s no strategy, we know nothing about the relative strengths of the two forces, and we really have no idea who’s winning at any point. It’s just two really big groups of superpowered beings running at each other and punching one another while playing keep the Infinity Gauntlet away from Thanos. The only strong character moment, at least until the end, is when Scarlet Witch confronts Thanos, which is the best scene in the battle. But the purpose of the fight is to have a big and climactic ending battle that you walk away from in tears, not to accomplish something.
Compare that to the gold standard of these types of battles – Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, in which the battle exists on two levels, the first the actual fight, and the second being a personal cycle for our main characters of arrogance, defeat, despair, desperation, and salvation. None of that exists in Avengers: Endgame.
I liked Avengers: Endgame. It’s an eight out of ten and probably the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. But I’m unwilling to consider it the genre’s, or even the series’ best, just because it has a big battle, Tony Stark dies, and all our heroes come back to life, especially when the emotional build-up to these points is so forced. Congratulations to Marvel for having the highest-grossing movie of all time, even if it’s an ultimately unspectacular film. But I must give credit where credit is due. All hail Avengers: Endgame.