That’s not a bad thing. I saw it last night, and overall, it was fun, but there was so much to criticize.
First, a few of my problems with the movie.
It’s a time-travel movie. Hollywood cannot make those — they screw them up everytime. It’s a plot device that they can’t use consistently, where they have to first point out the dangers and consequences of time travel and impose limitations on it, but you know at the first opportunity all of that will be thrown out. Endgame is no exception. It doesn’t have to be that way: Tim Powers’ novel, The Anubis Gates (the best time travel story ever) revels in the consequences and causality and the story is actually driven by the implications of time travel.
It’s too much to digest. This movie is the culmination of 22 other movies, and every character has to have a cameo. The first half it focuses on a manageable subset of the characters, but near the end, it has to pack them in. There are a couple of scenes where the action comes to a halt, and the camera wanders through the good guy army taking care to give everyone a moment. For example, Shuri gets a static shot standing there — she doesn’t do anything in this movie, but she gets a few seconds to be applauded. Sometimes it was too painfully obvious.
Every problem is solved with a fight. My wife got confused about who was who, but it wasn’t a concern, because every character’s main attribute was their ability to thump bad guys. And speaking of bad guys, Thanos is a terrible villain. He’s big, purple, and muscular, and his superpower is hand-to-hand combat. That’s it. He’s physically stronger than everyone, which somehow leads to him having an alien fleet and hordes of four-armed monsters fighting for him. It is not a spoiler to tell you that the culmination of the movie is a gigantic super-brawl.
Disposable ethics. Just as an example, Hawkeye (the bow and arrow guy) is so wrecked by grief by the conclusion of the previous movie that at the beginning of this movie, he’s rampaging through the criminal underworld, leaving warehouses full of dead bodies, that sort of thing. This horrifying behavior will never be addressed. He has demonstrated super bad-guy-thumping ability, so he’s embraced as a hero. It’s a conflict that would require an entire solo movie to explore and resolve, but this movie is so sprawling and over-full that it’s treated as an ignorable bump in the road.
Death is weightless. Several well-known superheroes die in this movie. Their deaths have relatively little impact, because, well, the whole movie is about reversing the deaths of trillions of intelligent beings with a time-travel plot contrivance, so why couldn’t there be another magic trick in a later movie to resurrect them? Nothing is final if we can just make a continuity adjustment in a sequel.
OK, those were my major complaints, but there’s something that unifies them all: they’re entirely genre complaints. This is what comic-book super-hero movies do. To see them as flaws is like complaining that cowboy movies will have a gunfight, or that a rom-com will have a moment where the protagonists love each other, or that a Christian cult movie will revolve around a really stupid argument that somehow brings people to Jesus. It’s like being pissed off at the hamburger you ordered at a restaurant because it contains ground beef. It is the nature of the medium.
That said, then, The Avengers: Endgame is a superbly well done genre movie. We have reached Peak Superhero. The MCU is a complex, experienced organization that is a sleek machine for pumping out movies that fulfill a social role for a huge community of nerds, and it is a master at meeting expectations professionally and with a nice shiny gloss, and it has also built up a phenomenal roster of personalities that it can slot into roles. It’s a powerhouse.
It works well.
I live in a tiny college town of 5000 people. I never have problems getting into movies — we have a limited number of screens so there are those constraints — but I’ll usually pop into the theater 5 or 10 minutes before show time, and I only show up that early so I can get the best seat. Even that’s not usually necessary because some times I’ll get there and there are only a handful of people present. This one, we got there a half hour early and there was a line half a block long. Unbelievable, for Morris.
It was a crowded theater. Half the fun of the movie were the crowd reactions. There were gasps and cheers, the audience was really into it all. That brief shot of Shuri that I saw as a pointless cameo? People applauded. Those weightless deaths of beloved characters? People moaned and wept.
The Avengers: Endgame was effective, skillful movie-making.
What it excelled at was two things that communicators of any kind ought to respect. It was all about narrative, masterful story-telling that made it easy to leap over gaps in the logic. Stupid time travel logic doesn’t matter when what you’re trying to do is sweep viewers along in a series of challenging events. The second piece of the genre is emotion. Those 22 preceding movies were all about building personal connections with characters, and this movie was about intensifying those relationships and running them through a wringer to draw out the feelings of the audience. It does that so well.
If you’re one of those horrible movie viewers who hates genre conventions and wants accurate science and rational plotting (I don’t know anyone like that, do you?), you should attend one of these showings and pay close attention to how it fosters audience engagement, as does the whole Marvel PR machine. You’ll learn things even if you are expert at maintaining objective distance.
I’ll be curious to see what happens next, though. This movie wraps up a huge multi-movie narrative arc, but Marvel is not shutting down, there are more movies in the pipeline, they’re going to make billions of dollars out of this one, and you know some executives somewhere are scheming about how to get the steamroller going again. I can’t believe this was just an accident, and I’m sure there are plans afoot to fire up another mega-blockbuster.