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If Infinity War was the Empire Strikes Back of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then Endgame was poised to be the MCU's Return of the Jedi. RotJ was a "good enough" capstone on a legendary film series, and that's pretty much where my expectations for Endgame sat. Endgame exceeded my expectations. It's far more than just a "good enough" sequel, though it's still not as good as Infinity War.

Endgame could very easily have just been a movie about all the heroes picking themselves back up after being knocked down in Infinity War, coming together, going after Thanos, and beating him up for two hours. Then they get the Infinity Gauntlet and snap all the dead heroes and people back into existence. No harm done, happy ending for everyone.

Not the case.

Several of my friends suspected that Thanos would remain the point-of-view character, and that he, himself, would be overcome with grief and regret over having killed Gamora. That Thanos would actually be the one to undo everything, redeeming himself in a way similar to Darth Vader. That didn't happen either. The point of view has shifted completely back to our heroes -- what's left of them.

Thanos' grief is not the subject of the movie, nor does he spend the movie gloating. Grief is, however, the overarching theme of Endgame, which handles the subject with maturity and nuance -- at least, up until its morally muddled ending (more on that later). The Marvel movies have always included themes of family, and the lengths one would go for family. Endgame explores how we deal with the loss of family, the grief and depression that comes with tragedy, the trauma and guilt of failing to protect those you care about. It's powerful stuff, and it pulls no punches.

The end credits went full-blown Star Trek VI.

And I totally cried when the movie went full-blown Star Trek VI with its end credits. It's too bad they didn't include the Stan Lee marvel logo that was included in Captain Marvel. This being the capstone MCU movie that everyone is going to see, I feel that tribute would have served this movie well. Or maybe put that tribute at the end of the movie, along with the other credits. Ah well.


It's hard to talk any more about this movie without going into spoiler territory. So I'm going to start with minor spoilers and work my way up to the more major ones. If you haven't seen the movie yet, then you can close this page now and know that I give it my fullest recommendation. Otherwise, feel free to read on, but know that things are going to get increasingly spoiler-y as I go on. Feel free to stop if you feel like you're about to read something you don't want to hear.

The remaining heroes must deal with the grief and guilt of having failed to stop Thanos.


Getting through grief and depression

As I said above, this is not Return of the Jedi. The heroes don't rescue Han Solo from Jabba's Palace in the first 30 minutes and then go on to team up with teddy bears to topple the Galactic Empire and save Darth Vader's soul.

Um... spoiler alert?

When our heroes catch up with Thanos, he's already destroyed the Infinity Stones. There's nothing more that can be done. It's over. The good guys have lost.

The movie flashes forward to five years later. The world is decrepit, and a mere shadow of what it used to be, and those who are left are coping with the loss in their own ways. I do wish that the movie had given us a glimpse at what happens to these characters during those five years. Maybe in the form of a montage of the characters grieving and picking up the pieces. But the movie is already three hours long, so I can understand why they decided not to include any of that.

This also would have been much more effective if Marvel and Disney had the artistic integrity to put Marvel movies on hiatus for a few years to let Infinity War sink in with audiences, instead of going on to announce sequels to Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Thor is perhaps the worst off of our heroes. He feels the most guilty because he had the chance to go for the killing blow on Thanos, but he stabbed him through the chest instead of cutting off his head or hand. While the other characters are managing to push through their grief, Thor is wallowing in it. He's become a pathetic, washed-up shadow of his former self. It's sad, but (in typical Marvel fashion) the writers also throw in some levity, and Thor's beer belly becomes the runaway star of the movie.

Thor's beer belly was the run-away star of the movie in my theater.

Pudgy dads everywhere can rejoice! Between the washed-up Peter Parker in Into the Spider-Verse and beer belly Thor, you too can now be a superhero for Halloween!

It becomes pretty apparent fairly early that there will be no hard reset. Tony Stark absolutely refuses to do so, as he has made a family in the aftermath, and he won't do anything to reset the timeline and lose his daughter. Others haven't been so lucky. Even if the good guys win, everyone is going to have to live with the consequences of what Thanos did.

These themes of grief and guilt run throughout the movie, along with the theme of picking up the pieces and moving on. This idea is reinforced by the fact that the Avengers don't go back in time to reset everything and stop Thanos from killing everyone. Those five years in which half of all life was just gone, still happened!

Paradoxically happy ending?

Instead of retrieving the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos and just snapping everyone back into existence, the Avengers must come up with a plan to use Ant Man's quantum technology to create a time machine. The plan is to jump back in time, recover the Infinity Stones before they were destroyed, use them to resurrect everyone that Thanos killed, then put the stones back where they belong in order to preserve the timeline. This allows them to go back and revisit moments from the MCU history, as well as gives dead characters a chance to make one last appearance. It also opens the paradox flood gates.

The time-travel plot opens the floodgates for paradoxes.

The characters make a big deal about needing to avoid paradoxes (even name-dropping Back to the Future on at least two occasions), yet disrupting history and creating paradoxes is exactly what they end up doing. Captain America gets in a fight with his past self, Tony Stark screws up at retrieving the Tesseract after the events of the first Avengers movie and allows Loki to recover it and escape. And a few other minor sequence breaks happen, which would likely have ripple effects across the timeline.

The biggest paradox, however, is with Thanos himself. Thanos is killed right at the start of the movie. The Thanos that the Avengers fight later on is actually a version of Thanos from the past (before he had acquired any of the Infinity Stones). That past Thanos comes into the present [future?] and is killed, meaning that now there is no Thanos to ever collect the Infinity Stones and cause all this mayhem to begin with.

Yet they still make a big deal about needing to return the Infinity Stones to their original times. This is where the movie's logic starts to break a little bit. Do only the Infinity Stones cause the divergent timelines and paradoxes that Tilda Swinton describes? What about all the other little paradoxes that I just mentioned? Do those have no effect on the timeline and causality?

Didn't Peggy have a daughter?

Heck, Captain America goes back in time and lives a full life with his old girlfriend Peggy Carter. Didn't she have an adult daughter in Civil War? Does that daughter just never exist now? Or was Steve Rogers her dad all along, and this was a pre-destination paradox from the beginning?

I guess we're just not supposed to think that hard about it. The characters make a big deal about referring back to other time travel movies, and then insisting that time travel works differently than those. So I guess they were trying to tell us that those sorts of paradoxes just don't happen in this universe? Fine. Whatever.

I would have preferred if they had ditched the time travel concept and instead, they go searching for quantum remains of the Infinity Gems. In the beginning of the movie, Thanos said that he destroyed the stones, and that they are nothing but atoms now. I expected that they'd use Ant Man's tech to shrink down to the quantum scale and recover those atoms to reassemble the stones.

I was also disappointed that Captain Marvel wasn't in more of the movie. She shows up to save Tony Stark in a deus ex machina, and then buggers off for the rest of the movie before swooping in at the last instant to foil Thanos. She gets no further development. Did the writers even think that she's too powerful? With all the time travel antics, would it have even mattered?

Life moved on

In the end, the heroes don't go back in time five years and bring everybody back. They just snap everyone back into existence now (five years in the future). The movie pretends that this wraps everything up in a nice happy bow, but this is another area where the movie's logic buckles. It's one of those things that gets progressively worse as you think more about it.

Life moved on for those who were left behind.

All the people who were disappeared in Infinity War are snapped back into existence five years later. The remaining people have since moved on with their lives, and five years is a long time. Peter Parker should be going back to school with half of his former classmates having already graduated and gone off to college or gotten jobs. Parents will be returning to children who are five years older, having missed those precious intervening years. Lovers may have moved on and found new partners and started new families, only to have their lost lover suddenly magic-ed back into existence. What about children who were orphaned by Thanos? Those parents might be returning to find a child that is five years older and living (perhaps happily) with a foster family. Awkward...

Worse yet, someone might return to find that their loved one has died naturally in those intervening five years (or was murdered by a vengeful Hawkeye). Sorry if you had a pet dog over the age of 5 or 6, because that dog is probably dead now. And worse still, what about the tragedy of all the people who may not have been able to overcome their grief (in the way that our heroes do), couldn't go on without their loved one(s), and committed suicide in those intervening five years. I'm sure that thousands -- if not millions -- of people on Earth alone are coming back to such heartbreaking and tragic circumstances.

In that sense, the heroes still didn't win. This is a lose-lose. But I doubt that Marvel is going to take that reality seriously, and will instead proceed as if a hard reset happened. I guess we'll see when Spider-Man: Far From Home hits theaters later this year. If that movie actually addresses this issue, I will be very surprised. And if it does so in a satisfying way? Well, heck, that would be a miracle.

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