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Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

Review: Why I can’t love Avengers Endgame

With never ending stories and, calculated execution, all Endgame gives us is heroic actions punctuated by infuriatingly short glimpses of what could have been.

May 4, 2019

Editor's note: This article contains spoilers.
At the end of Avengers: Endgame, an aged Steve Rogers sits on a bench overlooking a lake. A few moments prior, we see a younger him vanish, travelling into the past to put the infinity stones back in their rightful places in time. The whole process is meant to take a few seconds. But then the clock runs out and no one reappears. His friends panic. Then, one notices the old man sitting nearby – Rogers. We realize, has chosen to take the long way back. Endgame is a film premised upon the malleability of timelines and its grand contribution to Marvel Cinematic Universe is vetoing the tragedy of Infinity War by rendering reality reversible. Under these circumstances, it is jarring to see time catch up with Captain America.
Captain Rogers’ character has had its arc. In seven films, over eight years, we have seen him go from an idealistic symbol to a flawed hero. From easy choices made in a world of black and white to painful attempts to do good in a reality of grey. Having completed this laborious transformation – through conflicts ranging from the personal to the universal – Captain America is left exhausted. And the Russo Brothers, in a moment of unusual tenderness, let him make peace with the person he has become. After eight years of character development on-screen, world-weary Steve Rogers finally puts down the shield and gets to live like everybody else – with no one watching. The audience gets closer as they witness him dancing with his love, not on the battlefield, but at home.
If only there was more of it.
Avengers: Endgame is the denouement to a decade-long narrative. It should be bursting with impactful finalities as characters the fans have grown to know bow out of the MCU. But for a film marketed as a conclusion, there is no pervasive sense of an ending. In fact, the plot hinges on reducing the potential for any permanent death. This is the grand problem of serialized storytelling.
While staying dead, for characters like Spiderman will always be harder than staying alive, it is because the narrative can never afford to end. Marvel has created a profit-making juggernaut of over twenty-two films and they told us reassuringly that there would be a twenty-third even before Endgame came out. So, where are the stakes, really?
In a movie where our heroes try and undo Infinity War’s depopulation, I want the Avengers to shed their aura of invincibility. I want to see this as a last-ditch effort to save the world, without knowing that the world will ultimately be saved. There is a staleness to the generic autopilot that Marvel has entered. Once, they pioneered a novel kind of storytelling and now only flashes of that innovation are realized in their templated screenplays. A pinch of humor to dilute tension here and a dash of half the universe brought back from the dead there – while amusing, these tropes don’t truly grip the audience with the gravity of its plot.
Marvel is aware of this when Endgame opens with the ravaged Avengers killing off Thanos upon realizing they are too late to save the world. It’s unexpected, original, and gives me a glimmer of unconventional hope. Within a few scenes however, this hope is diminished as we have returned to the safety of the status quo. Ant-Man posits the ultimate cinematic cop-out: time travel. This ploy of reversing death further dilutes already watery consequences. What does this leave us with? A universe whose stories do not inherit loss.
Marvel has become too big, too successful and too bogged down by characters for its own good. So much so that the last installment halved the cast. If our heroes are supposed to be relatable in their humanity, they also need to lose sometimes. Because people in real life don’t always make it back. Escapism is a respite but Ned Stark’s head lolling off catapulted Game of Thrones to global success because it embraced uncertainty – not as a gimmick, but as a plot device. The fear of failure and lasting death can be a powerful tool in the cinematic arsenal. Marvel killing off two main characters bears witness to this. If only they weren’t merely casualties to prop up an illusory conclusion that needs sentimentality to please its audience.
The superhero genre needs a reintroduction to mortality.
Sadly, all Endgame gives us is set-piece after mind-numbing set-piece, indestructible heroic actions punctuated by infuriatingly short glimpses of what could have been. By the time we reach the climactic clash, where the Wakandan forces and almost all the Avengers rush to meet Thanos and his minions, I am inundated by déjà vu. The craning camera rises to encapsulate the scale of the grandest stock battle in MCU history. I know how this will end. Desensitization to such spectacle is inevitable if all we ever get are unoriginal melees. Superhero fatigue has caught up with me. I feel it is an inevitability for us all, given the direction Marvel is taking.
One can argue that the mainstream films, with budgets in the hundreds of millions, have too much riding on them to take risks. Marvel has a winning formula that critics and fans enjoy. And superhero movies should be about the triumph of good. But I wonder, why should we not ask more from our media? Conventions are rules to be subverted. Deadpool works because of its self-awareness, Logan was willing to walk away from a property. Even Game of Thrones, back in its heyday, killed people off. I want realism in my fantasy, I want tonal continuity with seriousness not quips – more than anything else, I want my endings to stick.
When a film like Endgame is marketed as a finale, Marvel is gaming the system because it knows what fills theatres. I only wish they had actually followed through. The deaths are not revelations – Robert Downey Jr.’s contract was ending, and Scarlett Johansson’s demise is nothing but hype for her upcoming Black Widow prequel. It is sad indeed when money becomes the sole dictator of story, especially given that cinematic events like Endgame have the cushion of filling theaters anyway. I want more. I want to leave the movies with a heavy heart and a content mind. A decade of waiting cannot gloss over sadness. To do so is a disservice. Forgive me if I desire all art, even popular cinema, to experiment. To take risks. Challenge its audience. Surprise them. Perpetual open-endedness, like all things, can get unbearably blasé.
The problem with Endgame is that it is not brave enough to be great. It is so cocky in its adequacy that I wish it were bad. Mindless story beats that serve to check things off a director’s blockbuster-making list are an affront to the creative process. What stings is that Marvel knows the potential it has, yet refuses to act. Damning passive self-awareness that manifests in Captain America’s arc. Sadly, the stifling stagnation that breeds comforting mediocrity peaks in the security of being good enough. And Marvel has mastered the “good enough”. So, as time unravels like a yarn of messy wool and the consequences of death are rendered impotent for all but a few, a film that should be a closing chapter sounds like a sales pitch for another phase of billion-dollar cash-ins.
I, like Steve Rogers, am not going back for more.
Karno Dasgupta is a contributing writer. Email him at
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