If you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame yet, well get out there and watch it! Also, stop reading this, because I have some opinions and I’m about to share em!
First off, I want to say that I think this was a great movie. I really enjoyed it, even at the butt-numbing length of three hours, it felt complete, epic, and creative. The time travel aspect really helped to create a sense of completion for so many characters, we got to see so many actors from all of the movies, and I liked the movie’s focus on trying to save everyone, rather than trying to undo the previous movie. Endgame even succeeded in getting me to care about Tony Stark, which is impressive all on its own!
Now, as a storyteller, I do have some thoughts, but I want to couch these as critiques, not as failures. I think this is an excellent movie, and I want to see it several more times! However, especially with movies, there always seem to be places that we can discuss that could have been done better, and here are some of my thoughts on brining people back, on Thanos’ confusing power level, on the conspicuous absence of the military, and on the movie’s cocky failure to time travel without paradoxes.
Welcome Home, Half the Universe! I had my own theories of how they would reverse the events of the last movie, but was also very worried that that’s what they’d do – find a tricky way to undo everything. Which, would have been horrible storytelling… You’ve seen it before, a story messes with time travel and undoes a whole slew of things that were meaningful events for you, the reader/viewer, and the experience ends up feeling cheap (I still refuse to count Hitchiker’s Guide #4 and #5, for exactly this reason). Endgame’s way of brining everyone back, while still having them definitely having been “gone” for five years, was a brilliant balance. All of the growth and pain that the survivors felt for the previous five years is still valid and important, while we do in fact get everyone back. Well, almost everyone, Hulk just leaves Vision and Loki dead, and suddenly in THIS movie, anyone sacrificed to get the soul stone cannot be brought back, even with the omnipotent powers of all six stones combined. What a convenient detail… A detail that seals the deal on us never getting a Black Widow movie, by the way. It was absurd and a bit disgusting that they took a DECADE of Avengers movies AND the success of Wonder Woman before they even attempted to create a female-led hero movie. And forget the morality of it all, how would a Black Widow movie NOT make money?!
How Powerful is Thanos, Anyway? In the last movie, a group of about seven Avengers beat Thanos, and only lost because apparently Quill is not just adorably stupid, but dangerously. Now, we meet Thanos from five years previous, and … he is more powerful? What? In fact, this previous version of Thanos is strong enough to beat Captain Marvel easily, without his gauntlet. This is terrible story telling, folks. We should demand better from our stories that we pay for. When telling stories with super powers, the audience needs to know EXACTLY what those powers are, or it becomes just “whatever the scene needs.” When telling fantasy stories, things need to be even MORE realistic than movies based on day-to-day life. That’s a well established key to writing good speculative fiction (fantasy, horror, sci-fi, etc).
Where’s the Beef? If half the population of the world vanished, you can be certain that in the following five years, the ONE thing that America would rebuild would be our military. In fact, it would be bigger and stronger than ever, and for good reason! So, where were they in that final battle? In fact, where are they in ANY battle? We see Shield sometimes, and Wakonda at least has a military (albeit, it’s like 100 people and four rhinos), so…. where were the US troops? Jets? Missiles? Helicopters? Anything! Imagine in that final battle, if a helicarrier had come through a mystic portal to battle Thano’s ship! And the thing is, you can kill troops and blow up jets by the buckets, and all it does it make it even clearer how dangerous these villains are. The helicarrier could have been ripped in half by the Maw, and I would have loved it.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Endgame. At it’s core, this is a time travel movie, and it knows it. The heroes have a whole conversation about time travel movies where they mock them, which… if it weren’t for that bit of arrogance, I’d let this go. But this movie falls into the most obvious of time travel mistakes – if you time travel and by doing so, remove the reason that you time traveled in the first place, then you never would have time traveled, and you now have a paradox. In this movie, they made sure to dodge that bullet by having the stones and hammer returned to the right times, BUT…. what about Thanos and his army? They go back in time five years, and then are wished away… meaning that Thanos and his army will never attack in the first place. So, then what? See? And the real sad part is, this could be explained away if they’d just taken a moment to do so – Tony could have wished for Thanos and his army to be returned to their time, with no knowledge of what just happened, so that they could fulfill what they need to do. BUT, that’s not what happens in the movie. Not to mention that if you try to ret-con that, you have problems like Gamora and Nebula problem – they would have to vanish, too. As it is, the Gamora of the past is alive and Nebula is dead, and now neither will be around to do what they did, such as being sacrificed for the soul stone. And future Nebula killing her past self, I mean just think about that. This movie is riddled with problems like this.
Time travel can be written and done well, and I think a fantastic example of this is the Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure movie (which they make fun of in Endgame). It’s packed with time travel, but watch it carefully – no paradoxes are ever created. When they go back in time, they don’t change anything, they fulfill things that have already happened – from Joan of Arc having her religious experience, to Ted stealing his dad’s keys. That’s how going into the past must work – either, you do things that in your future have already happened, OR, you are not in YOUR past, but some other tangental alternate reality, meaning you aren’t changing YOUR future anyway.
It’s also worth pointing out that now Dr Pym has the ability to time travel as much as he wants. Forget shrinking tech, this is FAR more powerful!
Conclusion: How one would wrap up a story that took 20 films to build up to, I honestly don’t even know, but this was an incredible way to do it. They used time travel, something I’d have argued against at the start, but they used it in a creative and original way, and to be honest I didn’t think of these critiques until far after seeing the movie. In the moment, it all worked! I have a hard time imagining another movie being made with this kind of momentum and this dizzying array of incredible actors, all brought together for one final epic. I am critiquing it, but I know for a fact that if this was left to me to do alone, Id have come up with something magnitudes worse! Of course, movies are made by armies, so that gives us some wiggle room, and these critiques are all useful for storytellers of any level. Like I said before, we should expect more from the stories we pay to consume. Novels don’t get away with a quarter of these issues – readers tend to be more demanding than movie goers. So, hopefully these thoughts of mine will help you with your own storytelling, and if you have your own ideas about these points, or anything else, I’d love to hear about em!