A critical conversation about Avengers: Endgame
Over the weekend, Avengers: Endgame made a billion dollars and inspired considerable conversation across the world. Here, Entertainment Weekly movie critic Chris Nashawaty and TV critic Darren Franich discuss the three-hour cosmic adventure in epic detail. Yes, there are spoilers.
CHRIS: So, Darren, after 11 years and 22 movies, the end has finally arrived. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve both blown hot and cold on the various MCU installments (oddly, usually when you were hot, I was cold, and vice versa). But I really thought that Avengers: Endgame pretty successfully stuck the landing under unusually difficult circumstances by giving fans exactly what they wanted — no, what they needed: some sort of grand communal resolution.
I think we were both curious how the Marvel brain trust and the Russo brothers would walk back (or weasel their way out of) the apocalyptic, billowing-ash cliffhanger ending of Infinity War. And of the thousands of ways they could have gone, the one they chose felt right (although I was still halfway hoping that Thanos would walk into a New Jersey diner where the Avengers are sitting in a vinyl booth listening to Journey on Peter Quill’s Walkman).
Do you agree? I saw the movie early with a roomful of jaded critics, so I’m also curious what the experience was like for you having waited to see it with a “real” audience on opening weekend. I’m assuming there were some audible sniffles…
DARREN: Were those jaded critics laughing as much as this critic at Chris Hemsworth as a boozy thunder god in ruins? My capacity-crowd Sunday afternoon screening was respectfully quiet during the bummer vibes that started and climaxed Endgame. But I sensed an energy spike whenever Hemsworth — or the actors tapped into his goofball wavelength — took the screen.
Then again, I would say that. I prefer the cosmic-comic shenanigans of Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy to the gray-corridors-of-SHIELD style of the earthbound movies. And Endgame spread its focus democratically enough to satisfy any sub-franchise partisan. I lost interest in Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man after he left Malibu, and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye was grim enough without the mohawk. But somehow, one of the highest-grossing films in history is a movie that stars TWO DIFFERENT KAREN GILLANS. Nebula was already a personal favorite after Guardians 2 — and she had the most lysergic science-fantasy moment in Endgame, killing her past to save her future.
I generally enjoyed the movie, Chris, though some sequences worked more than others. Were there standout characters or set pieces that especially hit for you? Or scenes that could’ve been chopped off the long runtime? I’m not sure we needed Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One PowerPointing us through time-travel logic, but I’m genuinely stoked Rene Russo finally got a great scene in this series.
And I understand if this is the part where you say you couldn’t stand Beergut Thor!
Chris: Darren, if you’re looking for me to go anti-Beergut Thor, you’ll be disappointed. I thought his gone-to-seed Asgardian Lebowski shtick was one of the standouts of the film, along with the dad-ification of Hulk. Those two get my MVP nods. Yes, Hawkeye was grim, but I thought his über-grim opening to the film was surprisingly emotional. I lost all interest in Iron Man/Tony Stark a while ago — although I did dig his time-traveling “very special” reunion with his dad (played by stealth MVP John Slattery) and some of his fatherly moments with Spidey.
I could have used more of Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Thor’s deadpan Kiwi comic relief sidekick, Korg (I’m kind of ready for the Korg standalone movie). Felt there was just the right amount of others (Michael Douglas, CGI-ed back to the China Syndrome era, Robert Redford, and Rene Russo). And could have used less of others — I mean, didn’t it seem like Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel had someplace much more urgent to be? The imbalance of her powers compared to the others is a real sticking point for me.
As for standout set pieces, I liked Cap fighting Cap, and I especially liked the sequence where he went off into the Quantum Realm of a Cocoon sequel to live an entire lifetime — slow-dancing with his sweetheart and all — in just a handful of seconds. Although it’s slightly odd to me that in a movie that was three hours and two minutes long, they didn’t manage to come up with one really killer battle royal fight scene that stuck with you the way the Leipzig Airport one did. Where’s Endgame’s Helm’s Deep? Where, Darren?!
I guess the thing I’m most curious to hear your take on, Darren, is how satisfied you were with the whole “time heist” solution to the Infinity War’s cliffhanger? I was mostly fine with it, but it did feel like a bit of a fairly simple cheat straight out of an early Star Trek episode. If you’re going to literally have one of the characters refer to getting all the Infinity Stones as a time heist, let’s see some Ocean’s 11-style intricacy…
DARREN: You made reference to the ending of The Sopranos earlier, Chris, and the chrono-tripping plot reminded me of another sacred TV series finale. Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “All Good Things…” cross-stitched Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard into a past-present-future triple adventure. That episode successfully unified all three timelines into one complicated climax — and I missed some of that intricacy in the Endgame time heist.
I dug the whimsy, don’t get me wrong. The Cap-on-Cap fight was delightful. And the return trip to The Dark World almost seemed like an elaborate goof on that unloved movie (complete with a Natalie Portman appearance that looked imported from alternate-take footage).
One frustration with the time-travel plot: Some of the worst aspects of earlier MCU movies were reheated without improvement. No more digital de-aging of Michael Douglas, Disney, never again! And I thought the Red Skull’s Precipice of Sacrifice looked goofy in Infinity War, so returning there with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Hawkeye felt cheap, even clip-show-ish. (Last movie, one major character died on this cliffside — and now, it’s happening again!) Our fellow critic Leah Greenblatt noted in her great Endgame review that the Russos stuffed the film with cameos, and so much of the time-heist sequence depended on familiar-face jolts of recognition. The HYDRA guys in a glass elevator, again! Chris Pratt dancing, again! That’s a feat of scheduling, not filmmaking.
If there’s a Helm’s Deep moment in the movie, Chris, it’s the extreme long shot showing Cap standing alone against the invading Thanos army (ugh, the Chitauri again!). I got choked up when the great mass of Marvel heroes mega-portaled in to fight alongside him. And there was that one triumphant shot presenting the female heroes firing their way across the battlefield. I do wonder, though, if that moment would’ve felt more powerful if most of those women had larger roles in this movie than briefest-of-brief speaking roles. (Hello again, Michelle Pfeiffer, hopefully you’ll finally have something to do in Ant-Men and the Wasps!) This movie was a sendoff for longtime characters, but my favorite moments in Endgame pointed toward the future. Iron Man is dead; long live Nebula!
Avengers: Endgame (2019 movie)