A few years ago, when the sheer number of characters who were to inhabit the final two “Avengers” movies was revealed, I immediately saw red flags everywhere. Given that these movies were to be the culmination of a decade-long journey in the MCU, it wasn’t exactly surprising that all of the heroes would play a part, but I balked at the size of the cast. Even with an extra-long runtime, it would be well nigh impossible to tell a cohesive story, tie up loose threads from previous films, give each character the time needed to be fully fleshed out, and simply tell a decent enough story to make a good movie without becoming an amorphous garbled mass of random scenes that would have made Frankenstein revolve in his grave. I saw hints of the stress on the gears in “Captain America: Civil War,” and sooner rather than later, it would just split at the seams.
But then, I saw “Infinity War,” and it seemed that the filmmakers had been well-aware of the pitfalls and hazards of what they were endeavoring to achieve. The movie was well-made, impactful, and surprisingly intimate for a film about the fate of the universe. The situation of “too many characters” was actually resolved by adding one more into the mix: Thanos. The main character, with perhaps the most significant character arc was, ironically enough, the villain. The other characters, though significant, were in secondary roles, and it made for a well told story with a consistent and fairly straightforward plot. Needless to say, I was relieved, and rebuked myself for my previous doubts.
Looking back, I owe myself an apology.
If I made a checklist of everything I thought would be wrong with “Infinity War,” “Endgame” would have ticked off every box, and a handful of others I hadn’t even considered. It is a bloated collection of scenes whose main purpose seems to be not to tell a story as much as to remind the viewer how awesome the MCU is. It is difficult to get invested in a story when every other scene seems to be saying: “Remember when we did that one thing that was cool? That was really cool, wasn’t it? Take a few minutes to remember how awesome it was. And look at that character! You know he’s great from that other movie, so we won’t bother with establishing his character.”
Now, I know what you are saying, and you have a point. If anyone has earned the right to be a little self-indulgent in the crowning monument to a decade of work, the MCU has certainly earned the right to do so. That I will fully grant. But it is not too much to ask that, in addition to basking in the glow of its own stage lights, the movie, you know, also tells a competent story.
I would describe the film with an analogy, which is that “Avengers: Endgame” is to cinema what a scrapbook is to literature. It can be extremely enjoyable to look through old photos of the best moments in your life, but it would be incorrect to call it a story. There are elements of story to those pictures, but they don’t have the consistency or plot structure that a well-told tale should have.
In the same way, there is a good deal of enjoyment to be had in the movie. There are some well structured scenes, and an (over)abundance of call-backs to some of the best moments from previous films in the series. But good scenes do not a movie make, and when looking at the film as a whole, it is just a loosely organized mess whose plot meanders as it relies on the goodwill of the audience to carry the day.
One of the most remarkable steps backward from “Infinity War” is in the character of the villain Thanos. Where before he was an understandable, if unhinged and misguided, antagonist, in “Endgame” the plot throws the baby out with the bath water and Thanos remarkably regresses into a paint-by-numbers villain who exists simply to get in the way of our intrepid heroes. In the same way a good deal of the promise of “Infinity War” fizzles in this most recent offering from Marvel.
A final peculiarity of the film, which is just the last nail in the coffin, is that it is full of scenes, plot points, themes, and ideas which sound great in the abstract or on paper, but for one reason or another never live up to their potential. The “time travel” theme offers many characters unexpected encounters with people significant to them, but rather than being moving, most of the scenes simply inspire a wish that they had been better executed.
Perhaps I am being too harsh. The movie can, after all, be an enjoyable experience. Perhaps it can be allowed to rest on the laurels of the good work it took to get to this point. But I must disagree, for, in the end, what should be the most profound emotional punch of the movie does not land, precisely because it is not well handled. The subject matter of that scene, like much in the movie, has been built up over the course of a decade, but none of that matters when you don’t tell a good story. It can be enjoyable. It can be impactful. It can even, at times, be moving. But it is so concerned with being the capstone and climax of a series that it forgets to be its own story.
I write these reviews because I love film, storytelling, and cinema as an art in pursuit of truth and beauty. On a more personal level, I simply like writing and thinking about the themes and ideas of movies. However, if you would like to support me in this endeavor, I do greatly appreciate your support!