When Avengers: Endgame hit theaters last month, it was met wtih an incredible, overwhelming degree of prise and enthusiasm, with euphemology like "It's not just a movie; it's an experience," etc. etc.
As the dust has settled, however, more people are becoming aware tht the film is not a flawless masterpiece, with at least one major issue being raised continually, with no satisfying response from the filmmakers.
Now, of course, one doesn't have to take away from all the postive, wonderful aspects of the film in order to say that it is far form perfect. The highs are still high, even it he lows are very much lows. Much of the purpose here is not simply to tear down, but to think about how such things could have, and can be, avoided, and how Marvel can positively build its films moving forward.
When we meet up with our heroes five years later, we see that the accords have been overturned, and that Black Widow is serving as a central dispatcher to a team of Avengers across the universe. She coordinates with Rhodey on remote missions and Okoye running Wakanda, as well as Carol and the team of Rocket and Nebula, who are out in space. Once an Avenger, always an Avenger.
So...What's Steve doing?
Well, he's a part of support groups, so that's good. But how about that whole being a super hero business? Has he totally left it behind? If so, that sounds like good material for a character arc. So, what's he doing instead? It's hard to really go along on an arc with a character when you don't even know what they're all about at this point in their lives, and as far as this version of Steve goes, it feels like we don't actually know much about him.
Unfortunately, the same can be said for Bruce Banner. Five years ago, he was finally free of the curse of the Hulk. It looked like he could pursue a simple life of science, complete with being with whatever woman he wanted to, whether that was Betty (seriously, what ever happened there?) or Natasha.
However, he has instead chosen to live life as a giant green behemoth.
"I always thought of The Hulk as the disease. Then I started to look at him as the cure." This rather anemic "explanation" shows us nothing as to why Bruce would choose to live this way, something that fairly alienates him from the rest of humanity and puts any thoughts of personal romance to bed (no pun intended).
Of course, being free of The Hulk also meant that the Hulk could not participate in the fight to stop Thanos. Even though Bruce found another way to be a superhero by using the hulkbuster armor multiple times, this seems to haunt him, and be the main impetus of his desire to live as a nine-foot-tall CGI monstrosity. So I guess his reasoning is so that he can better be an action hero, saving babies from burning buildings and the like?
Except that, by all indications, he's not doing that either. He was not seen as a member of Natasha's worldwide brigade, and by all observable evidence, he is actually living that simple life of a scientist...but with big muscles.
Again, it's hard to feel like you've gone on an arc with a character if you don't even feel like you properly know what's going on with them, or where they are in life. However, Bruce doesn't even appear to have much of an arc here, and even the relationships he has are, in this film, completely ignored.
The romance between Bruce and Natasha in Age of Ultron was one of the most unpopular aspects of the entire MCU, and the Russo Brothers seemed eager to do away with it. However, to have no acknowledgement of it whatsoever is an incredibly conspicuous absence.
What makes this more grievous is that it could have been handled with a single shot. As Bruce explains the way he has chosen to live, a cut to Natasha looking down and feeling dejected, with Bruce having chosen this life over her (and, for that matter, Betty) would have told us everything we needed to know.
It's incredible to think this hasn't been talked about more. The relationship between Tony and Bruce is, contrary to that of Bruce and Natasha, one of the most popular aspects of the series. Yet in three hours they do not share a single exchange.
Tony, after his falling out with Steve, has not spoken to him or, presumably, Natasha for five years. However, we have no reason not to believe that he is still on good terms with his two close buddies Bruce and Rhodey,, who likely would have attended his wedding and been well acquainted with his daughter throughout the last five years.
It may seem like all these additions that have been mentioned would add a lot of screentime, but most of them would take hardly a minute. Markus & McFeely have shown real ability to say lot with a little ("Where's the fight?" "On it's way"), and that could have been put to better use here. Besides, Marvel said they wouldn't let a runtime get in the way of good storytelling!
Tony and Rhodey at least get to share a couple of decent moments together in the film (which eat up very little screentime), but to end the series without this relationship having any bearing seems a tad bit disgraceful.
Much like Betty Ross and Sharon Carter, Avengers: Endgame neglects the opportunity the let anyone know what ever happened to Sif. With her, however, it's more major because this is now the third film in a row to refuse to acknowledge her existence. To have a major character just be forgotten about in a puff of smoke, then not even seen or mentioned in the film that is literally the last chance we have, seems neglectful, and is a sad portent of more neglectful things to come.
"Fat Thor" seems to be a topic of some controversy these days, but to be honest, it needn't have been so divisive. All it needed was a little more subtlety.
The writers and directors have been vocal about how Thor's downward spiral was an appropriate response to the events of his last couple of films. And, to be honest, it is interesting to see a character so well-known for his physique be taken to the opposite end of the spectrum for his darkest hour.
However, much like Thor's diet, they offer us too much of a good thing. This starts with our introduction to Thor, in which it is shown that, not only is he overweight and alcoholic, he is an absentee king who neglects and shirks his duties. He is then made the butt of a hundred jokes so that it becomes harder and harder to take this apparently tragic story arc as much more than a Farrelly Brothers comedy schtick.
The scene establishing Thor as fat and depressed could have worked just as well without the implication that of his being a poor king. Rather, a subtle suggestion that he is bored and unsatisfied as king of a small town, in addition to his other depressing factors, would have made his arc at the end (leaving Asgard in Valkyrie's hands to be who he is, not who he is supposed to be) much more of a poetic and sensible arc, instead of just making him look like a completely unsympathetic a-hole.
This kind of treatment continues as we get into the main adventure. Having a chance to reverse Thanos' actions and save the universe, Thor has a panic attack and runs away. This one scene is actually the perfect microcosm of his entire treatment in the film.
Thor having a panic attack: Funny, surprising, subversive, and fully appropriate.
Thor running away: Stupid, inappropriate, overly comedic, and murderous of our ability to take him or his arc seriously. Additionally, the scene could have worked just as well without it.
"I'm still worthy!" - But Thor, we just saw serious evidence to the contrary.
At this point, for certain filmgoers, the inability to take Thor seriously was having an impact on the ability to take the film seriously. Flashforward to the final battle, and his ludicrous appearance becomes an ugly asterix hanging over what is otherwise a highlight in the annals of action movie history.The man-bun doesn't help much either. (I'm sorry, maybe bringing up aesthetics is a bridge too far, but if bat-nipples can be an egregious area of contention, then this sure as heck can be too!)
Are we really to believe the filmmakers thought that seeing a flabtastic Thor who has let himself go would simply not get their point across as well as a Thor with a forty-inch waist that would negatively impact the final battle? Had they used a degree of subtelty, I can't honestly suspect anyone would be protesting "He's not fat enough!"
It turns out Miss Cleo is not the only happy medium that you can easily reach
Unfortunately, the simple aesthetic problems surrounding Thor's character are nothing compared to what we've skipped over. Indeed, one of the greatest flaws in the film, and most ludicrously asinine plot holes of recent (or otherwise) cinematic history, had already occurred under our noses. Now we go from what could be called nitpicky gripes to a scene that is so unbelievably unsound it is actually beyond belief that it would make it in any professionally-made film, let alone one of this scale.
Thor appears in Asgard with the plan of distracting Jane Foster, even wooing her, as Rocket puts it. The only problem is, he still bears a remarkably different appearance that no one bothers to address. He literally didn't even bother to change clothes. Heck, the baggy nature of Asgardian robes would be perfect for hiding his extra pounds, yet the filmmakers can't even take advantage of this tailor-made (no pun intended) opportunity.
"What's wrong with your eye?" How much more effective would that line have been if Thor had actually been in disguise, with a contact to cover up his new eye, but inadvertently revealing it as he wipes away his tears? Instead, he tries to cover up the fact that he has a six-inch beard and is wearing sweatpants.
356 million dollars, and no one in the production thought to get rid of the sweatpants.
Although their intentions with the character were overall laudable, this scene is a painful failing, where the filmmakers were so intent on getting their comedy in that they let it get in the way of even halfway-decent filmmaking.
Thor and Rocket's plan is to easily remove the Aether from Jane Foster's body as she is distracted. Great plan!
Except that literally the entire plot of Thor: The Dark World is based around the fact that they can't get it out of Jane.
Solution? Have a throwaway line during the exposition scenes where Rocket whips out the doohickey that he picked up on his way to Earth from their old pal Eitri (who's already shown he can create material that can control the stones). This also would have been a nice callback to the memorable character of Eitri, seeing how he's been doing, and including a funny zinger like "I gave him a hand!"
While the ability to conjecture a solution to this glaring plot hole has just been exemplified, the fact is that without a quick line like this, what we see just come across as incredibly lazy writing.
Thor also steals Mjolnir from an alternate version of himself that's really going to need it soon. Then he allows the coming battle to happen and his mother to die, even though it's an alternate timeline where he is free to prevent it. That could have made for a brief and funny sequence, as a forewarned Asgard easily blows the Dark Elf ships out of the sky before cutting back to Thor talking to Mom. Of course, a very quick line of Thor promising to return Mjolnir as soon as he uses it to save the universe would have also helped.
Among all the consequences of the so-called time heist, none is quite so grievous as the fact that Tony, Steve, and Scott's adventure essentially puts the Avengers of this new timeline back to square one.
Loki escapes with the Tesseract. Among the many crazy shenanigans he could get into with that thing, the most likely seems to be...well, exactly what he was intending this whole time: Give it to Thanos. This, naturally, would result in another Chitauri armada (of which Thanos seems to have oodles) being granted to subdue Earth. The Avengers are once again screwed!
For a film that purports to tie up all loose ends, this seemed an odd inclusion. Wouldn't a decent alternative be to have the Tesseract instead slide over to the Hydra people, who then slip away with it? Perhaps that wouldn't have set up television spin-offs as well, but it would have made for a better stand-alone movie.
The stakes that the filmmakers try to get us to buy into in this film is that there are only enough Pym Particles for 10 round trips through time (even though this means Ant-Man shouldn't be able to shrink). However, Tony then has a brilliant idea: Go back and get some more! Even then he strangely acts like they have to find a time and place where both the Tesseract and Pym Particles can be found. This is, of course, nonsense, as all they need to do is get the Pym particles and then go back in time as many times as they darn well please!
So, really, no one in the Avengers thought of this? Not even one of the two super-geniuses said "Oh, wait, let's just go back in time and grab as many Pym Particles as we need!"
I usually try to offer an alternative that would have made the film better, but I have to admit, here I am stumped. This is just kind of what has to happen to make the plot progress. So if this were the only major plot hole in the film, I wouldn't be sitting here typing this entire article. But it's, you know, not.
Unfortunately, we live in such a poisonous society these days that one can't feel free to speak up about such objectively irrational material without having it be politicized.. However, it must be stated that even many the most forward-thinking people in the world today immediately called out this shot as straight-up condescending garbage.
The writers themselves admitted they struggled with the scene. "Is it delightful or is it pandering?" Foregoing the obvious answer that if you have to ask it's probably the latter, they probably should have been more worried about whether it made any spacial sense in the scene at all!
James Gunn should probably not have thrown in the line at the end of Guardians that Drax was out for Thanos' blood, blaming him for the death of his family. It only promised a plot thread that would never be delivered upon, seeing as Thanos was meant as the villain of the Avengers series.
Nevertheless, the least thing that could have been thrown our way was a quick shot panning to Drax just after Thanos crumbles to death, before we cut over to Tony. Maybe even throw others like Hawkeye (even though he got his family back) in there with him, to add a bit more emotion.
Again, this is a tricky one because of the nature of the beast. Where, among all the hubbub, could one put in a quick scene of Peter Qull taking in his surroundings on the planet he's finally returned to?
The answer would seem to be right after Thor's discussion with Valkyrie, and Rocket's line "Move it or lose it.". A quick scene of Peter also standing outside the ship, taking a deep breath, and telling Drax that none of it means anything without finding Gamora could have slid in there perfectly.
You knew this was coming.
I'd like to say that it is totally unprecedented for a film to spend its entire runtime building up an internal logic of time travel only to throw it out the window without explanation to get the ending the writers wanted. Unfortunately, this gave me deja vu of the 2006 Denzel Washington film Deja Vu, which, incredibly, does the same thing.
What's amazing about this is that it makes so little sense the writers and directors can't even agree about it. The Russos outright admitted that the ending has nothing to do with the internal logic built up in the film, and that Steve must have somehow found a way, offscreen, to cross over back into the main timeline. This might be a weak explanation based entirely in conjecture about offscreen events, and therefore definitionally bad storytelling, but the writers couldn't sit for it. Christopher Markus gave a statement where he said "I reject the 'Steve is in an alternate reality' theory." But his reasoning is...Well, it's not reasoning.
"The Ancient One specifically states that when you take an Infinity Stone out of a timeline it creates a new timeline. So Steve going back and just being there would not create a new timeline."
Because Steve altering his and Peggy's entire lives is "just being there." This does not even address the fact that the timelines he is travelling to are already alternate ones.
Faced with the fact that they had openly contradicted their directors about the logic, or lack thereof, of the ending, they later referred to the conundrum as "a question with many answers," which gives one the mental image of them throwing their hands in the air while yelling "Whatever!"
If one really wanted this fate for Steve, a more sensible way would be to have only his shield appear back on the time machine, with a handwritten note to be read offscreen by Steve (a la the ending of Civil War).
It seems obvious that, like the material with Thor, the filmmakers were intent on getting the scenes they wanted, whether or not it made any internal sense whatsoever. The results are two of the most incredible plot holes one may bear witness to in a given lifetime.
None of this even addresses the other obvious issues of the fiasco. Foregoing the already-established-as-nonsense-idea that Steve was her husband all along (which must have been awkeward ducking out of her nursing home whenever your younger self came to visit), Peggy had a husband who Steve totally screwed over. Even if she didn't, if this did all take place in an alternate timeline (which is the only explanation that makes a lick of sense), then Steve actually screwed himself over, as that alternate version of him in the ice is going to wake up to discover he's in the exact same boat!
The fact is that Steve remaining in the past is just not good storytelling anyway.
The filmmakers have laid out their case multiple times in several interviews, that Tony's arc is one of going from selfishness to selflessness while Steve's is one of going from service to self-actualization. The issue is that this was not the only way to show self-actualization.
The writers have even apparently tried to rewrite their own history, stating this was somehow always their plan, in spite of the fact that they were only hired on the Avengers franchise in 2015, time travel was only cemented as a plot device around that time, and they went out of their way to develop a new love interest in the meantime.
The writers liked the Steve/Peggy romance. You liked the Steve/Peggy romance. We all liked the Steve/Peggy romance. This does not make it the only conceivable way for Steve to be happy, or negate the fact that going back to her after six films was just shear character regression, going backwards as storytellers instead of forward.
Steve has spent six films forging ahead in a new world, with new friendships and new purpose, and even a new (if underdeveloped) love interest, only to throw it all away because of a woman he only even kissed once. Not only does this fly in the face of the very nature of storytelling as an art form, but it also shows Steve as engaging in some very unhealthy personal idolatry on the part of Peggy. Man, it's gonna suck if they get divorced!
That said, a benefit to this ending is that it definitely puts cap on Cap's story, confirming that the book is closed and it's time to move on. The problem is that, in practice, it just doesn't work.
As far as alternatives, there are an infinite amount. Literally putting in any other arc for the character to go through is a superior alternative (short of being a HYDRA agent all along), and one that should have been considered by the writers.
What a sweet, poetic, and well-thought out story it would be to have our Avengers only be able to save the universe by traveling back through time, where the main three are forced to confront figures of their past, through which they incidentally receive the closure they needed.They came so close to doing this! In fact, they got 2/3rds of the way there. Tony and Thor both make their peace by encountering spirits of their past (both parents). Bewilderingly, Steve does not get this same treatment, only seeing the figure from his past briefly, and saving their encounter for an ending that would make Lewis Carroll say "No, come on now!"
Imagine if, after Tony encounted his father, we cut back to STeve finally getting that dance with Peggy, and through her, finally getting the closure (and probably the sage-like advice) needed to truly move forward and complete his own character arc.
If only. If only.
Ryan T. Murphy is a contributor for ReelTime. See his exclusive interview with Avengers: Endgame sound mixer John Pritchett here...
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