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Josh Reviews Avengers: Endgame!

In yet the latest feat of I-can’t-believe-they-did-it, Kevin Feige and the team at Marvel have stuck the landing.  Avengers: Endgame is a deeply satisfying, profoundly moving, and incredibly fun culmination to a decade-plus of movie-making.  They have woven together threads and characters from across an astonishing twenty-tone previous interconnected movies to create something which is oh-so-rare in entertainment: an ending.  Shall we dig in?  (My next several paragraphs will be free of any major spoilers, and I’ll indicate clearly when I start entering major spoiler territory.  But do yourself a favor: go see the film and then meet me back here, OK?)

I have always been impressed by the continuity between the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It’s at the core of why I love these films so much; why, in place of the usual franchise fatigue that sets in after multiple sequels, I only love these Marvel films more with each additional film.  Not only am I bowled over by the boldness of this enterprise, not only am I tickled by the incredible way in which these films emulate the interconnected feel of the Marvel comics I grew up reading (in which you’d often see, say, the FF’s Baxter Building HQ — or its later replacement, “Four Freedoms Plaza,” which was actually their HQ in the eighties when I fell in love with comics in general and Marvel in specific — in the background of a panel in a Spider-Man comic in which Spidey was web-swinging around NYC), but, as I have written about before, the cumulative power of these narratives build and build with each new film.  Because we have been following these characters across so many films across so many years, we invest more deeply in them and their struggles.  And so when we see heroes suffer and fall (as we did in Avengers: Infinity War and as we do again in this film), the impact of those moments is magnified immensely.

But, wow, this film took that continuity even more seriously than I’d ever dared to hope or expect!  Endgame is a love letter to the entire MCU, and the film is remarkable in the way it establishes that EVERY previous film in the MCU is important.  (Endgame is like The Wire: “All the pieces matter.”)  Holy cow, this film retroactively makes Thor: The Dark World — one of the MCU’s lesser entries (though I’ve always thought it’s a more enjoyable film than its reputation would suggest) — retroactively very important to the saga!  (I’ve had many delightful conversations recently with new Marvel fans, brought in by Black Panther or Captain Marvel, who wanted advice on what Marvel films they should watch to get caught up with the saga.  Obviously my preference is for people to watch ALL the films, but knowing that wouldn’t be realistic, I boiled my advice down to what I felt were the most key films.  I never in a million years would have included Thor: The Dark World on that list!  Bravo to the filmmakers for that unexpected surprise.  By the way, the two Ant Man films also prove to be surprisingly important!!)  The film is filled to overflowing with callbacks to films from across the saga.  Characters I never thought to ever see again return, and lines of dialogue are repeated with new emotional resonance.  Do you need to know that Cap-Bucky’s “don’t do anything stupid” exchange at the end of the film was a reversal of what they said to one another way back when Bucky first went off to war in WWII while scrawny Steve Rogers had to stay behind, from Captain America: The First Avenger?  No, of course not.  But for the fans who do know, the scene is infinitely more powerful.  The whole movie is like that.  Like Infinity War, I suspect Endgame will will be fun and enjoyable for those who are relative newbies to the MCU.  But for the long-time fans like me, who have seen every film (most of them multiple times), the film is that much more powerful and satisfying.

For a huge blockbuster in this modern era, I am hugely impressed at how much of this film Marvel was able to keep a secret.  The trailers didn’t show much of anything of significance from after the first fifteen-ish minutes of the film.  Going in, I truly had no idea where this film was going to go.  (I had my guesses, of course, some of which proved correct and many of which were proven wrong.  More on this below.)  But I applaud Marvel for being able to keep so much of the film’s story under wraps, so that the film was able to continually surprise me as it unfolded.

Endgame is an enormous spectacle with extraordinary visual effects.  But it’s a film that, rightly so, is laser-focused on its characters.  Yes, that crazy action in the film’s final 30 minutes, featuring pretty much every single surviving character of any importance from all previous MCU films, was hugely fun and a visual effects triumph.  But the film’s most memorable moments — and they are myriad — are the smaller, quieter moments between these characters.  Endgame goes to some very emotional places, and there were multiple times in the film when I was truly moved.  I got, ahem, misty-eyed when Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang first sees you-know-who through the screen door of his old house; and when Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton quietly begs “please” to I-can’t-tell-you; and when Chris Evans’ Cap catches a glimpse of you’ll-have-to-see-the-movie-to-find-out-who through the glass window; and when Sam sees I’m-not-gonna-tell-you sitting on that bench; and in so many other moments in the later sections of the film.

But this is also a movie that is surprisingly FUN!  I’d expected the first hour or so of this film to have a far more somber, elegiac feel.  And while the film does (somewhat) explore the devastating, world-shattering impacts of Thanos’ snap, I was surprised and impressed with how fun and funny the film was, all the way through.  I shouldn’t be surprised, because fun and funny have been key elements in the success of all of these Marvel films ever since 2008’s Iron Man.  And directors Anthony and Joe Russo have tremendous comedic chops (they directed multiple episodes of Arrested Development, you know).  I probably could have forgiven them had this huge climactic film wound up feeling a little overly-serious and self-important.  But they never let that happen.  There are so many moments in this film that are so, so funny.

As you probably know, Endgame is, at three hours and two minutes in length, by far the longest Marvel movie.  But the Russo brothers and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have made a film that blows by.  There was not a single instant in which I was ever bored or antsy.  One might have feared that Endgame would be bloated and overlong but, and I know this sounds crazy to say about a three hour long film, I thought it was lean and mean.  I didn’t feel that scenes meandered or wasted time, and it’d be hard to point to a single moment in the film that I didn’t think was essential to the story being told.  Creating a satisfying ending to twenty-one previous movies requires a certain amount of real-estate, and I am delighted that Marvel didn’t truncate the story to meet an arbitrary run-time goal.  Endgame is exactly the length it should be, and while you should definitely make a pre-emptive bathroom trip right before the film begins, I don’t think fans will find the length to be problematic in any way.

Ok, friends, let’s really dig into the film.  SPOILERS ahead, so if you’ve made it this far without having yet seen the film, please STOP here and come back after you have!

One of my the film’s strongest choices, in my opinion, was to have the heroes quickly be able to regroup and find and confront Thanos on the planet to which he’d “retired” in the final moments of Infinity War.  I’d expected that the film would take a good long while before our heroes were able to make their way out into space to confront Thanos.  I LOVE that they did this so quickly, and then discover that Thanos has destroyed the stones.  It takes away that “easy out” that, otherwise, we’d have been impatiently anticipating.  This allows the audience, along with the characters, to be thrown back to square one.  It’s a great choice.

My big question going into the film, of course, was how Thanos’ snap would be undone, and whether that re-set would be satisfying.  There was never any question in my mind that the snap would be undone.  We saw Black Panther and Spider-Man die, and we all know there will be more Black Panther and Spider-Man movies.  (The next Spidey film, Far From Home, is coming out in a few months!)  In the original Infinity Gauntlet comic book series (written by Jim Starlin and illustrated by George Perez & Ron Lim), the surviving heroes assembled to take on Thanos and all died gloriously, albeit all in a feint to allow another character to slip the Infinity Gauntlet away from Thanos and use the stones to reverse everything he had done.  Because the Gauntlet contains infinite power, it was clear to me that, here in Endgame, the Gauntlet itself would be the key to undoing the end of Infinity War — and, because we know that the Time Stone controls time, that could easily be the source of any time travel used to reverse things.

Curiously, Endgame relies on an entirely different source for time travel as an opportunity for our heroes to have a second chance, namely: Pym particles and the Quantum Realm.  I like that the Quantum Realm (seen in Doctor Strange and the two Ant Man films) proved important, and I like that the film made this unexpected choice.  The problem — as is often the case when films like this make use of time travel — is that it provides a way too easy “get out of jail free” card for any future film in the MCU.  If our characters can so easily use Pym particles to bop around in time, why can’t they now use this in any future film any time something bad happens?  Why couldn’t they use it more effectively in this film to save some of the characters who weren’t resurrected at the end?  (For example, couldn’t they easily go back and grab the Vision right before he was destroyed?)  It’s a small problem in this film and a huge problem for future films.  (I felt the same way about, for example, the Harry Potter series after they used a time turner in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to fix everything at the end.  Why couldn’t they keep using that device in all the future stories??)

I was a little dubious about the time travel plot logic used in the film, but in the end I think it mostly works well enough.  If they were actually able to, in the end, return the stones to the exact point from which they’d removed them from the past, then I can believe that the timeline could continue uninterrupted.  (This is a very different version of time travel than the one from Back to the Future, in which characters vanish any time a change is made to the past.  I’m not sure it quite makes sense, but it makes enough sense that I can live with it.  Also, I love that the characters actually make jokes about Back to the Future and other time travel films.)  This all hinges on the stones successfully being returned to the past, and it requires a pretty large suspension of disbelief that Cap, alone, could actually return all the stones without anyone being the wiser — seeing as how it took the entire team, with a ton of problems encountered along the way, to grab the stones in the first place.  But I can sort of live with that.  It’s much harder to explain how Steve could, in the end, go back and live a full life with Peggy without totally altering the timeline.  (As just one example: we’ve seen, in a handful of MCU flashbacks and in the Agent Carter TV series, how much important work Peggy did, and how a lot of that was driven by her grief over Steve’s death.  How could any of that still happened?  Did Steve ever tell Peggy about any of the dangers he knew she’d encounter over the years?  Did he somehow not spill the beans to her that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been co-opted by Hydra early on??)

I adore the idea of the characters having to travel back into the previous movies, allowing us to revisit old friends and places and get to see new moments that happened before/after/around what we’d previously seen.  But I don’t understand the logic of that at all.  Rhodey makes a (funny) “why not kill Hitler as a baby” joke, but I don’t actually understand why they couldn’t do something like that.  If they know, for example, that the space stone is on Morag, why go get it on the same day that Peter Quill stole it?  Why not, you know, just drop in the day before?  I think the idea was that they had to travel to certain days where the characters already were, or certain moments that they actually lived through, so that they would know exactly what happened and could plan accordingly for how to act in order to get the stones with a minimum of difficulty and without disrupting the timestream.  But I still think that, with the knowledge the characters had of the stones’ locations in the past, they could have easily come up with a much better plan for when/how to get the stones with far less trouble.  (I think the film needed to have given us a stronger reason, maybe something made up about quantum entanglement, as to why the characters HAD to go back to days/moments they had actually lived through.)

I like that the film’s ending isn’t a total re-set.  I am very happy that all of the characters retained the memories of what they’d lived through — that was critical to not making the snap-reverse feel like a cheat and that the events of these two movies didn’t, in the end, matter.  (Far too many time travel stories make that mistake.)  I am less certain that I love the choice to preserve the five post-snap years that everyone on Earth (and, indeed, the entire UNIVERSE) lived through.  It prompts a LOT of questions that this film didn’t answer, and it feels like it presents a ton of unnecessary problems for future films if half of the planet lived through these five horrible years and the other half skipped right over them without aging.  Consider a marriage in which one’s spouse vanished in the snap and, at some point in the intervening five years, the surviving spouse remarried — only to now have the thought-dead person magically return.  This is actually a horribly wrenching thing to consider; not quite the happy ending the film presents.  Or consider the next Spider-Man film.  Half of the kids in Peter Parker’s grade should be five years older, while the other half didn’t age.  But the previews show all the main kids from Homecoming are back in Far From Home, all still the same age and still the same grade.  How can that be?  So, this choice has a lot of needlessly problematic ripple effects.  Whether future film are able to deal with this or if they just ignore it will color my feelings significantly about this ending.

(Frankly, I’m not sure the entire Five Years Later jump was the right choice.  These sorts of flash-forwards have become a bit overplayed after Battlestar Galactica did it so shockingly years ago.  And I don’t feel the film took the time to really explore the impact on the world, or on the characters, of that time jump.  This could have just been a jump of a few months, and I don’t think anything in the film would have changed, and that would have prevented the problems for future films that I just described.  The only real reason for the Five Years Later jump was to see Tony with a daughter.  While critical to the film, I feel there might have been another way to accomplish that.  Having Pepper pregnant, or having just given birth to a baby (maybe she WAS pregnant like Tony thought she was at the beginning of Infinity War, so a time jump of only a few months could still work here), might have been enough.  OR, I think at the end when Banner/Tony snapped, they should have found a way to reset the world and the universe back to five years ago, while 1) preserving the characters’ memories and 2) preserving Tony & Pepper’s daughter, both of which should have been easy to do with the infinite power of the Infinity Stones.)

So, OK, the film is not perfect, and I do have some problems with the plot mechanics.  I wish they had solved these issues a little more precisely (particularly since I think all these issues WERE solvable, via the suggestions I made above or other ideas).  If they had, I’d think Endgame was one of my very favorite movies of all time.

But while the film falls a little short of that, this does not mean I am not absolutely in love with this film.  The film works because every moment, and I mean literally every single moment of this three-hour film, presents a fantastic character moment — funny and silly or sad and moving — featuring characters who I have grown to love.  This film (as did Infinity War before it) does right by nearly every single member of this huge (and I mean HUGE) ensemble of characters.  The film allows all of these characters to have many great, memorable moments, allowing us to see how they have grown and changed over the course of this series.  And, for the most part, I was 100% satisfied with where everyone was left at the end.  When I write about the series finales of TV shows, I always talk about how a critical element in whether I am pleased or disappointed is how I feel about where the show leaves the characters I have grown to love while watching the series.  The same thing is at play here, and I love the choices Endgame makes.

Although it’s a bit of a contrivance that all of the original Avengers survived Thanos’ snap, I love that this film focuses in on the original core Avengers characters, giving them each a chance to shine.  I suspected that Tony and/or Steve (or both) might not make it out of this movie alive, and indeed that winds up being the case.  But I thought the ending for both characters were absolutely perfect.

Let’s start with Tony.  Wow, even though I really did expect him to die, I was still surprised when it happened!  What a journey this character has gone on.  Let’s remember that all of this, the entire MCU, exists because of how perfect Robert Downey Jr. was in that first Iron Man.  (Gotta give a ton of credit to director Jon Favreau, as well!)  This was a very sad ending but it felt right. I loved seeing the “proof that Tony Stark has a heart” again.

And Steve Rogers: I have been thinking, for years, that someday/somehow the series would find a way for Steve to make it to that date with Peggy that he missed because he sacrificed himself at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger.  I wish the end of Endgame had more directly referenced that specific missed date, but even without that, it was immensely satisfying to see old Steve sitting happily on that bench, having lived the life with Peggy that they’d both thought was forever denied them.  I am delighted that Hayley Atwell was brought back for this film; she is so amazing in the role, and just seeing her on screen for an instant (like in the wonderful moment when Steve, in the past, sees Peggy through the window) was as emotional for me the audience member as it was for Steve.  (By the way, I thought the old age make-up on Chris Evans looked surprisingly great!!)

I was also happy that this film resolved the Steve-Tony schism from Civil War in a satisfying way.  I was surprised, watching Infinity War, that this wasn’t really addressed (other than in the funny scene in which Banner is shocked to learn the Avengers broke up), because Steve and Tony were separated for the entire film.  Here in Endgame, when an emaciated Tony stepped off of the ship (and, wow, how creepy was the CGI effects work, showing us a shrunken Tony?  None of that effects work was present in the shots of Tony shown in the film’s trailers), I expected him and Steve to hug and for bygones to be bygones.  Instead, I loved that Tony still held a grudge against Steve, and that they still played out their argument (and also refer to their argument from Avengers: Age of Ultron regarding Tony’s dream, born from fear, of building a suit of armor around the Earth) for a good part of the film.

How great was the newly-merged Banner/Hulk identity?  It’s an amazing idea (inspired on a development during Peter David’s long and wonderful run on The Incredible Hulk comic book series) and a great payoff to the Banner-Hulk relationship we’ve been following through the films, brilliantly executed by terrific special effects.  How great is Mark Ruffalo in this role?  He’s the unsung hero of these films.  Banner/Hulk gets to be very, very funny in this film but also to convey some powerful emotional beats (such as his shock when Clint returns from his mission without Nat).

Speaking of Natasha/Black Widow, I loved seeing Nat as the woman keeping the entire Earth together for five years.  Scarlett Johansson plays the depths of her despair and loneliness while also showing us her rock-solid core of strength.  I loved the scene, post time-jump, in which Nat video-conferences with her Avengers team spread across the planet (and, in Captain Marvel’s case, space).  I wish that the Nat-Banner relationship, which was such an unexpected surprise in Age of Ultron, had factored more heavily into this story, but I do love that, instead, they focused on her long friendship and partnership with Clint Barton.  Their fight over who will sacrifice themself for the soul stone was wonderful.  I love that, in the end, Nat is stronger than Clint (both physically and emotionally) and that it’s she who gets to go out in glory to save the day.  It’s a wonderful moment for this character, and I like that they didn’t magically undo this at the end, even as at the same time I hate that this wonderful character has been killed off!  (What does this mean for the rumored Black Widow film?  Is that not actually happening?  Will it be set in the past?  Or will they bring Nat back somehow?  I think they could easily do that, as there’s precedent in the comics for characters existing within the soul stone and being rescued… and we maybe saw Gamora existing within the soul stone at the end of Infinity War, so the films did lay track for that possibility…)

Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton was unexpectedly absent from Infinity War, but he got a lot of attention here.  I loved the very clever choice of opening the film with his family, and recapping the epic horror of Thanos’ snap through the simple, small moment of his family vanishing.  I liked the idea of Clint using the Ronin identity (a nice reference to Brian Michael Bendis’ run on the Avengers comic-book series) to violently wreak havoc on criminals who survived the snap (though I do wish that we’d seen Clint wrestle a little more, after Nat brought him back in, with all of the killing he’d done — did he regret any of that?).  I mentioned this above, but wow did Mr. Renner sell Clint’s moment of desperation, quietly begging Nat “please” to let him be the one to die, rather than her.  I’ve enjoyed Hawkeye in all the Avengers movies, but he’s always been one of the more peripheral characters.  Here, in that moment, he grabbed center stage and knocked it out of the park.

Fat Thor.  What can I say?  This was the biggest surprise of the film for me.  It’s such a funny and unexpected choice.  (Though clearly someone involved with this film was inspired by Ron Moore’s reimagined Battlestar Galactica, because they mimicked both the Baltar time-jump and also Fat Adama!!)  There were moments in which just the sight of Fat Thor threatened to undermine the drama of the scene, but I adore the filmmakers’ boldness in going for this big-swing joke.  And Chris Hemsworth was able to keep just the right note of sadness and heartbreak in his performance — while still landing all the jokes — that it all works.  (I like that, while Thor was somehow magically able to braid and style his hair at the end before going into battle, he stayed fat all the way through the end.)

Along with Clint Barton’s Hawkeye, Paul Rudd’s Ant Man was the only other major MCU hero who sat out Infinity War, so I was very pleased that he had such a large role to play here in Endgame.  As always, Mr. Rudd is so funny.  I loved his return to Avengers HQ.  But Mr. Rudd also brought the drama — his reunion with his daughter Cassie was beautifully played.  In the early-going of Endgame, I thought that the film would create more tension between Tony — who above all does not want to erase the last five years, because of his daughter — and Scott — who I’d assumed WOULD want to erase those years, so his daughter wouldn’t have had to grow up without him.  I’m surprised the film didn’t go there (and I’m bummed that, if there is another Ant Man movie, the wonderful young actress who played Cassie in the first two Ant Man films won’t be able to return).  But, on the bright side, who would have predicted that the sound of Luis’ van’s silly honk would be one of the biggest cheer moments in Endgame?!!  (As I noted above, I never would have predicted that the two Ant Man films would suddenly be so critical to the larger MCU narrative!)

Similarly, I never in a million years would have predicted that Karen Gillan’s Nebula would prove to be such an important character here in Endgame.  What a wonderful payoff to this character’s journey across the two Guardians of the Galaxy films and Infinity War.  When I saw the first Guardians of the Galaxy, I wasn’t sure that the complicated relationship between “sisters” Gamora and Nebula, and their “father” Thanos, was adequately fleshed out.  But boy how that has changed.  I loved they way Nebula’s story played out; I loved the use of the two Nebulas in the story; and I loved the resolution to the Nebula-Gamora relationship.

I wish we’d gotten a little more of Gamora in this film.  I’m very surprised we didn’t get any follow-up on the intriguing glimpse of Gamora within the soul stone from the end of Infinity War.  I’m happy to see Nebula back alive (at least, I think that 2014 Gamora is still alive in the post-Endgame timeline, though I’m not 100% sure) but I’m sad that the Nebula-Quill relationship has been erased, as the 2014 Nebula did not live through those experiences.  (While I enjoyed the Thor-Guardians scene at the end of the film — and the “Asgardians of the Galaxy” thing was genius — I was shocked we didn’t get a final scene with Peter Quill and 2014-Gamora.  I really needed to see that.  I guess we’ll have to wait several more years until a third Guardians film to see how that relationship plays out in the end.)

I was also a little surprised how little Thanos was actually in this movie.  It makes sense, because while Infinity War was Thanos’ movie, in this film it was the original Avengers who were back as the main characters.  Still, somehow I would have liked Thanos to be more involved in trying to stop the Avengers before we got to that big fight at the end.  But, again, Josh Brolin was fantastic as the character, and the CGI work that brought him to big purple life were, again, very impressive.  That final shot in which Thanos realizes that he has been beaten was amazing.

I loved Don Cheadle’s work as Rhodey.  (Back in Iron Man 2 I missed Terrence Howard, but at this point it’s difficult to imagine anyone as Rhodey other than Mr. Cheadle.)  I loved the moment late in the film in which he reminds Nebula (and the audience), that he two is part mechanical now (after being crippled in Civil War).

I loved that Rocket got to fight and be a hero along with the Avengers.  As always, Rocket’s snarky attitude was so funny, and fun to play against the other Avengers characters.  The combination of Sean Gunn (who played Rocket on set), Bradley Cooper (who voices Rocket), and extraordinary CGI effects have again created this fantastic and unique character.

I loved seeing Brie Larson as Carol Danvers.  I wish she was in the film more, but I understand why she wasn’t (both the logistical realities that her scenes for Endgame were actually filmed BEFORE they made Captain Marvel, and also that it’s right that this film focuses on the original Avengers cast).  I was worried that her rescue of Tony and Nebula at the beginning would be her only role in the film, but I was thrilled that she came back at the end to demonstrate her enormous power, destroying Thanos’ ship and getting some good licks in when battling the big purple guy himself.  (The Infinity War post-credits scene of Fury contacting Carol, and the release of Captain Marvel between Infinity War and Endgame, led many fans to speculate that Carol Danvers would be key in defeating Thanos.  In the end, that didn’t prove to be the case, which on the one hand is a little disappointing, but on the other hand it makes narrative sense.  This was the final swan song for most of the original Avengers characters.  Carol will hopefully have plenty more chances in future movies in which to shine.)

I also wish Danai Gurira’s Okoye had a larger role.  I was hugely surprised to see her on the poster, so I’d thought that meant she’d have more to do in the film.  For the character, it makes sense that she’d stay in Wakanda to oversee things there, rather than fighting crime with the Avengers elsewhere.  But still, I was hoping for more.  (By the way, this leads to yet another series of questions posed by the Five Year Later jump.  What’s been happening in Wakanda?  Has M’Baku been king for the past five years?  How’s he going to feel about T’Challa’s return?)

I was so happy to see Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Taika Waititi’s Korg — survivors of Thor: Ragnarok who weren’t seen when Thanos attacked the Asgardian ship at the beginning of Infinity War — back!  I particularly loved getting to see Valkyrie in battle on her white flying horse — and I love the idea that she’s made queen of the surviving Asgardians at the end!  (My only quibble is I don’t buy that she’d have allowed Thor to be a fat/drunk layabout for five years — I feel like she’d have gone in and kicked his ass long before that.)

I’m glad that Gwyneth Paltrow was back as Pepper Potts, and that she got some strong moments in the film.  Pepper was curiously missing from the scene in which the Avengers come to pitch Tony, at a cabin with his daughter, on helping them with time travel.  But I loved that she was right there when Tony returned to Earth, and she got some wonderful tender moments at the end.  And, of course, how great was it getting to see her kick ass during the final battle in the Iron Man suit she got in Iron Man Three??  Amazing!!

There were so many other characters from previous MCU films who I was so surprised and happy to see again!  I loved seeing Tilda Swinton back as the Ancient One (from Doctor Strange)!  I loved seeing Rene Russo back as Thor’s mother Frigga (from the first two Thor movies)!  I loved seeing John Slattery (from Iron Man 2 and a flashback in Ant Man) back as Tony’s father!  (Wow, Endgame made BOTH Thor: The Dark World AND Iron Man 2 — generally considered two of the weakest MCU films — retroactively so important!)  I loved seeing Robert Redford back as Secretary Pierce (from Captain America: The Winter Soldier)!  I loved seeing Michael Douglas (de-aged via CGI and a goofily shaggy wig) as a seventies-era Hank Pym!  I loved seeing Maximiliano Hernández and Frank Grillo back as Jasper Sitwell and Brock Rumlow, and I loved how that scene recreated the famous elevator fight from Captain America: The Winter Soldier!  (And while I was braced for a re-do of that great fight, I loved the twist of Cap’s using “Hail Hydra” to walk right out!)

(Also, I read on-line that the kid Tony befriended in Iron Man Three was present at Tony’s funeral!  Wow, what a nice touch!!  I’ll have to look for that when I see this film again.)

I was also SHOCKED to see Natalie Portman back as Jane Foster!!  This character has been ignored and written out following Thor: The Dark World.  (I believe this has mostly been driven by Natalie Portman’s disinterest in returning to the character.)  It was a delight to see her again (and she made it into the film’s character-highlighting closing credits, too), though I suspect that scene was created by using deleted scenes from Thor: The Dark World, rather than new footage.  Seeing Natalie Portman primed me to expect a Thor-Jane reunion and a better on-screen resolution to their story, though sadly the film didn’t go there (instead giving us Thor’s reunion with Rene Russo’s Frigga).

I was so happy to see the great Linda Cardellini back as Clint’s wife (reprising her role from Avengers: Age of Ultron), and I loved seeing Clint’s eldest daughter training with the bow and arrow.  Between her and a now-aged Cassie Lang, methinks a Young Avengers movie lies in our future…!!  (Maybe the boy from Iron Man Three can be on the team as well!)

But all these call-backs pale before my very favorite surprise cameo appearance: seeing James D’Arcy back as Jarvis, who he played on the Agent Carter TV series!!  Amazing!  This was the first (and so far ONLY) time that a character from any of the Marvel TV series (all of which are supposed to be in continuity with the films) actually appearing in one of the MCU films.  This made me so, so happy.

Other thoughts:

After making us wait and wait and wait, how satisfying was it to finally hear Cap declare: “Avengers Assemble”???  What a great payoff to all the teases (particularly that great cut-off at the end of Age of Ultron).

That final battle was amazing.  Seeing that insane assemblage of characters was thrilling.  Who didn’t get chills when T’challa led the Wakandan “iban-bey!” chant??  I loved seeing Wong again, and all the other sorcerers.  And how great was that assembly of all of Marvel’s female heroes?  Phenomenal!

I loved seeing the “big three” Avengers characters (Cap, Tony, and Thor) go into battle against Thanos.  Those have always been the three most central Avengers characters across many decades of the comic book series, so I loved that they got this moment together.

I loved seeing Leitita Wright as Shuri in the final battle, and I was so happy that Evangeline Lily’s Hope van Dyne got a great moment on the comm to Captain America, much to Scott’s smiling satisfaction (a great payoff to Hope’s frustration in Ant Man in the Wasp that Scott hadn’t involved her in the Civil War airport fight).

Tom Holland and Robert Downey Jr.’s two scenes together were both perfect — I loved seeing Tony hug Peter, and my heart broke when Peter desperately said “Mr. Stark, we won!” to a dying Tony.

I loved the assemblage of characters at Tony’s funeral at the end.  Great to see Marisa Tomei as May Parker (was she living without Peter for five years, or did she too disappear in the snap?), Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, William Hurt as General Ross, Angela Bassett as Ramonda, and Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne amongst all the other characters.  And, of course, I was delighted that Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan got a moment.

Alan Silvestri’s score was very solid, with nice callbacks to the main Avengers’ characters’ themes.  (As always, I wish the MCU films had better and more distinct character themes.  But it was still cool to hear the Avengers theme as well as themes for Cap, Dr. Strange, and others woven into the score.)

There were so many funny moments in the film that I haven’t mentioned: seeing what the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy would look like to someone NOT hearing the music Peter Quill was listening to; Thor’s calling Ant Man “Normal Sized Man”; the kids who take a selfie with Banner/Hulk not recognizing Scott Lang; Hulk’s furor at having to walk down the stairs of Stark Tower; Fat Thor tiptoeing past Loki’s cell… I could go on and on…

I was surprised we didn’t get a callback to the “we don’t trade lives” refrain from Infinity War.  Speaking of which, I was surprised that Vision wasn’t resurrected at the end.  I don’t see any reason why the stones couldn’t have brought him back.  (Plus, I thought that Shuri would in the end be able to separate the Vision’s personality from the stone, as we saw her working to do in Infinity War.)  What does this mean for the announced WandaVision TV show?  Will that be set in the past (perhaps during their time on the run between Civil War and Infinity War)?  Or are they just saving Vision’s resurrection for that show?  (Perhaps it’ll be a slightly different Vision who is rebuilt/resurrected, a la John Byrne’s fantastic Vision Quest storyline from the West Coast Avengers comic-book series from 1989-early nineties.)

I was VERY surprised we didn’t get a post-credits scene (just the clanging sound of Tony forging his first Iron Man armor).  I understand Marvel’s wanting to firmly position this film as an ending to what has gone before.  I wouldn’t expect a tease of future movies here.  But I did expect some sort of button to Endgame.  I think it was a mistake to disappoint all the fans who have been accustomed to sitting through all the credits of these Marvel movies.  After three terrific hours, why end on a note of frustration and disappointment for all the fans who stuck around in the theater?

I could keep going (“I could do this all day”), as there is so much more I can say about this film, but I don’t want it to take as long for you to read my review as it is to actually see this film.  One final time, let me applaud Kevin Feige, Joe & Anthony Russo, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, this incredible cast, and the hundreds of other men and women who brought this film — and all of the MCU to this point — to life.  I treasure this series, and I am delighted that this first decade of stories has been brought to such a satisfying conclusion.  I know this isn’t really the end, and I can’t wait to see where the MCU goes for the next five or ten years, and beyond.

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