Monday, April 29, 2019

Avengers: Endgame

About a week ago, critic Todd VanDerWerff published an interesting article about spoiler culture and how it has changed, and been changed by corporate interests. His argument—which I find indisputable—is that companies have started using spoiler-mania as a way of drumming up enthusiasm for their products, creating the impression that you must watch a movie or a TV episode immediately, or risk losing all enjoyment from it through spoilers. What's particularly odd about this phenomenon, as VanDerWerff observes, is that it's often deployed to talk up works that aren't particularly spoilable—no major plot twists, no sudden betrayals or revelations, just the normal progression of story—to the point where even anodyne reactions like "there's a great fight scene!" or "I liked it" are perceived as something that can ruin your viewing experience. And that, ultimately, is what these works become. Not a story, not a chapter in a narrative, but an experience.

It's obvious why VanDerWerff published his essay last week, just days before the release of Avengers: Endgame, which is being billed as the concluding chapter of what is now apparently called the Infinity Saga (I am never calling it that, FYI). For weeks now, news stories have been coming out about the lengths to which directors Joe and Anthony Russo went to prevent plot details from the movie from leaking out, down to withholding the full script from most of the cast, and even giving some actors pages that only contained their lines, and only a few hours before shooting[1]. If you're like me, and you thought Avengers: Infinity War was, to quote myself, "barely even a movie", this probably wasn't the most enticing news. You probably went into Endgame thinking of it as the sort of experience you just want to get through.

Which turns out to be unfair, because Endgame might just be the least experience-esque of the Avengers movies. To be clear, I'm not saying that it is a great, or even particularly good, movie. Quality-wise, Endgame is... nice. It's better than most Avengers movies, maybe even better than the first (though I'm going to have to think about that, and I suspect I'll end up ranking it lower), but that still leaves it in the lower tiers of MCU movies. But it is by far the most plot-oriented of the team-ups—this is, for example, one of only a handful of MCU films to have a middle act. There are a lot of problems with it, including major plot holes, mishandled themes, an unwieldy running time, a deeply problematic ending, and one character death that is unbelievably misjudged. But unlike every other Avengers movie, Endgame doesn't feel like an excuse to spend tons of money to recreate the thrill of pounding your action figures together. You go into this movie expecting an experience, and instead you get a story.

One might argue we should have seen this coming. Infinity War was a relentless slog with too many characters and plotlines, but it left the MCU in the perfect position to tell an interesting story in its sequel. Not only are there fewer characters to keep track of[2], but for the first time, an Avengers film doesn't turn on destruction, on smashing big things into other, bigger things, but on finding a way to repair what has been broken. Perhaps the cleverest thing that Endgame does—and it is, I want to stress, quite shocking to me that I am using the word "clever" in the context of any MCU movie's plot—is to immediately get out of the way the most obvious response to Thanos erasing half the life in the universe. The solution that we all immediately thought of—steal the gauntlet from Thanos and use it to bring everyone back and defeat him—is prevented because Thanos predicted it, and used the gauntlet to rob the infinity stones of their power[3]. All that's left for the Avengers to do is fulfill Tony's promise to Loki from the first team-up film, killing Thanos in a completely insufficient act of revenge, after which they go home.

Flash-forward five years, and our heroes, nursing their grief and guilt, have mostly settled into post-snap lives. Some of these are genuinely affecting—Steve is working as a counselor for the still-shellshocked survivors; Natasha is coordinating intergalactic peacekeeping with the help of Nebula, Rocket, Okoye, Captain Marvel, and Rhodey while barely holding it together over the loss of friends and the weight of the responsibility on her shoulders; and Tony, having had a breakdown after his failure to defeat Thanos, has achieved a measure of peace, starting a family with Pepper and decisively putting the task of saving the world behind him. Others are gags that work to greater or lesser degrees—I was genuinely charmed by Professor Hulk, a midpoint between Banner and the smashier version of the Hulk who is surprisingly chill and happy-go-lucky; but I could have lived with a great deal less of depressed Thor, who has grown an epic beer belly and spends most of his days playing video games with some of his Thor: Ragnarok pals. And some are simply inexplicable—I don't think anyone, including quite possibly Jeremy Renner himself, was clamoring for a major Hawkeye subplot in which he becomes a vigilante who roams the world, murdering criminals who had the temerity to survive the snap while his family perished.[4]

Into this new normal erupts Scott Lang, who has finally emerged from the quantum zone where he ended up stuck at the end of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Scott believes that he traveled through time, and that the same technology can be used to steal the infinity stones from the past and create a new gauntlet that could undo Thanos's snap. There follow some getting-the-band-back-together shenanigans, and some handwaving about the particular form of time travel the film has invented and its implications—the latter probably doesn't entirely hold together but also doesn't feel worth investigating. In general, these scenes embody the strengths and weaknesses of the movie. On the one hand, this is a much looser effort than previous Avengers films, and the extra breathing room does the story and characters good—watching everyone brainstorm the places in time where the infinity stones can be snatched is the most fun and most natural these characters have felt together since the party scene in Age of Ultron. But on the other hand, the impossibly high stakes, and the audience's awareness that for some of these characters, this is going to be the final adventure, give writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely permission to be sloppy. Endgame is overlong to the point of self-indulgence, and while we might forgive the film the desire to spend more time than it absolutely needs with characters who are about to be sent off, a lot of that extraneous runtime is instead expended on increasingly unfunny jokes about Thor's weight, or Hawkeye's journey into darkness.

All of this, however, is in service of getting us to what is clearly the film's heart (and yet another reason why the spoiler-mania surrounding it is absurd, because it should have been one of the film's main marketing points), a journey back through the Avengers' greatest hits, as our heroes travel back in time to events in Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Thor: The Dark World in order to grab the infinity stones. This is such an established story beat that there's probably a TV Tropes page for it, and it's kind of exciting watching the MCU reach for this type of storytelling—as if we were watching proper science fiction. But the execution is of variable quality. I've already made my views on the Thor subplot known, so the fact that his journey back to his least successful movie is designed to let his mother give him a pep talk about being himself and reaching for his inner goodness and heroism (in other words, the exact same character arc he's had three times already) did very little for me. On the other hand, I enjoyed some of the scenes in the background of Avengers, particularly a completely over-it Steve brawling with his earlier, more stuffed-shirt self. The joke about Professor Hulk having to pretend to be regular Hulk, and half-heartedly smashing things while complaining that it seems gratuitous, was also delightful. And since the Guardians movies have never given either character enough room to be a real person, it was good to see a more evolved, more confident Nebula trying to talk a Gamora who is still under Thanos's thumb into rebellion.

But this sequence also includes the film's absolute nadir, and what I truly believe is the most misbegotten storytelling choice in all the MCU. Anyone who remembers Infinity War will have already pricked up their ears during the planning sessions of the infinity stone heist, wondering what our heroes were planning to do about the pesky requirement to sacrifice a life in order to gain the soul stone. It's a reasonably smart decision to dispatch Clint and Natasha on that mission—the two Avengers who have the fewest immediate personal connections except with one another—and it comes as no surprise when they get into a fight over which one of them gets to sacrifice themselves.[5] But the thing is, who in their right mind would want Natasha to win (or rather lose) that fight?  Natasha is a founding Avenger, one of the MCU's most magnetic characters, and oh yeah, one of only a handful of female MCU headliners. Clint is... Clint. It would be one thing for Natasha to die saving the world. But to save Hawkeye?

And look, even if you're not as down on Hawkeye as I am, surely it's obvious how creepy and wrong everything about this scene is. To go back to the place where, a year ago, Gamora was sacrificed, and recreate that sequence, right down to the disturbingly romanticized image of Natasha's broken body—it filled me with disgust. I think it's clear that Endgame intends for there to be a contrast between the two deaths—Gamora is murdered in the pursuit of a goal she vehemently opposes; Natasha sacrifices herself in order to save her friend and the universe. But like so much else about this perennially mishandled character, the writing isn't there to support it. I don't think anyone involved in making Infinity War understood how viscerally disturbing Gamora's death was, especially for women in the audience—to be murdered by your abuser in what he claims to be proof of his love, and to have the universe itself validate that proof by giving him what he wants in exchange. Not enough work is done to differentiate Natasha's death from that earlier one. Like so much else that has been tried with the character since Age of Ultron, there's a solid idea there on paper that becomes horrifying in the execution because no one involved (except maybe the actress) really understands how any of these tropes play when they're applied to a female character. And the fact that unlike Gamora, there isn't even a woman left to mourn Natasha only drives home how much she has been instrumentalized for the sake of her male counterparts, and how little room was left for her own humanity.[6]

That bit of unpleasantness done away with, however, the Avengers return to the present with the infinity stones. And then Endgame does a second genuinely clever thing: the Avengers' plan works. They complete the gauntlet (along the way revealing that it takes great strength to activate and that anyone who isn't Thor or the Hulk would probably die from it; which seems pretty random, but, again, whatever) and with a snap of the finger everyone who was dusted by Thanos's snap is returned to existence. Only then does the shit hit the fan—Thanos of 2014, having discovered the time traveling Nebula and replaced her with his own, loyal version, has traveled to 2023 to attack our heroes, take the completed gauntlet from them, and start the whole thing all over again. And just as our heroes think that all is lost, a million portals open, as Stephen Strange teleports all the heroes who have been returned to existence, as well as the Wakandan army, the surviving Asgardians, the monks of Kamar-Taj, and Captain Marvel herself, to kick Thanos's ass.

And look, I'm not made of stone. It is genuinely moving when literally every superpowered person we've ever met in the MCU shows up to save the day. It's even more moving when Thanos nevertheless gains hold of the gauntlet and is about to destroy the whole universe with it, so Tony Stark grabs it from him and uses it to dust Thanos and his army at the cost of his own life, completing the self-sacrifice he attempted in Avengers. And this is the point where you have to decide what kind of fan you are, what kind of viewer you are. Taken on its own terms, this is a perfectly serviceable ending. It has grandeur, stakes, consequences. There are elegiac farewells and bittersweet partings. There is the promise of a bright future. It's a very appropriate chapter ending for the MCU and its eleven-year, 22-film project.  You could just leave it at that.

But if you're like me, you won't. At some point—maybe the next day, maybe on the way home from the movie theater, maybe even in the moment it happens—you'll have to wonder: wait, this was it? Isn't the way the Avengers defeat Thanos in Endgame basically identical to the way they lost to him in Infinity War, except with better logistics the second time around? And isn't logistics what Stephen Strange, who had the time stone and the ability to teleport people in Infinity War, would be perfect at? Wasn't this entire adventure just an awfully roundabout way of getting to a place where two beloved characters had to die in order to achieve something that was apparently just as achievable last year, before all this pain and suffering happened?

Once you start asking those questions, it's hard to stop. The fact is, once the gauntlet is assembled and in our heroes' hands, the film faces massive ethical and practical dilemmas that it is neither equipped to, nor particularly interested in, addressing. Why should the gauntlet only be used to resurrect those who vanished in the snap, for example? When Thor travels to his past and meets his mother hours before she's due to die in The Dark World, Rocket dissuades him from saving her by arguing that Frigga is "really dead", while the people who disappeared in the snap are only "sort of dead". Is that sort of hair-splitting really something we're comfortable with? What makes the people Thanos caused to crumble into dust more deserving of life than the ones he simply murdered, like Drax's family, Gamora's people, or the Asgardians? And even if you accept that you can't cancel every tragic death in history, what about the people who died as a result of the snap? As everyone pointed out after Infinity War, the consequences of suddenly removing half the people in the universe (or, as later statements from Marvel had it, half the biomass—so, animals, plants, insects, bacteria, etc.) would be a catastrophe almost equal to the snap itself. People would die in the millions, maybe even billions, from accidents, starvation, industrial collapse, wars, refugee crises, suicide. How do our heroes justify not bringing any of them back?

And finally, what about the consequences of simply restoring everyone removed by the snap, to a world that has only just figured out how to feed, supply, and house the people it has left? Wouldn't the result, once again, be accidents[7], starvation, industrial collapse, wars, refugee crises, and probably also suicides, of people overcome by the cruelty and capriciousness of the ridiculous universe they live in? Obviously, a better use of the gauntlet would be to cancel out the last five years (which we know is possible because that's how Thanos was able to get the mind stone even after Wanda killed Vision to destroy it at the end of Infinity War). But that entire realm of possibilities is closed off by Tony, who doesn't want his daughter to be wished out of existence. Which is a sympathetic motivation, obviously, but not one that should be accepted without any discussion, as the film does.

When I wrote about Infinity War, I complained that its ending, in which the heroes fail with horrifying consequences, was clearly little more than sequel bait. The whole thing, including the deaths that took place in it, was obviously going to be rolled back in the next chapter. I wasn't alone in making that prediction, and I have to wonder if Markus and McFeely anticipated those criticisms, because they have clearly worked hard to make sure that the method they came up with to undo Thanos's evil leaves noticeable consequences on the world. It's just that those consequences are much greater, and more horrific, than the film is willing to acknowledge. The world that the Avengers "save" is possibly even more broken than it was before, and the note of triumph that concludes Endgame can only feel earned if you ignore that.[8] It only takes a bit of craning past the frame the film imposes, with its elegiac, extremely well-attended funeral for Tony Stark, to wonder whether the entire exercise wasn't more about salving our heroes' wounded pride than actually doing the most good.

Does this make Endgame a bad movie? I have no idea. I think we all know that going forward, the MCU isn't going to acknowledge any of the inherent problems with the film's ending, or even the trauma that the world endured during those five years that everyone was missing. Hell, it's kind of doubtful whether it's even going to come up that half the world is five years younger than they should be—how is it that all of Peter Parker's schoolfriends appear to be the same age in the Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer, for example? It is possible to simply roll with what the film wants us to believe, not ask too many questions, and accept that most of it won't matter in the long run. I just think that maybe the MCU, and these characters, deserved better. When Infinity War ended, I just wanted to forget its existence and pretend that none of the team-up movies were real. But Endgame is something else. It's probably the best version of what an Avengers movie can be. And even that turns out to be silly, sloppily written, and to require massive amount of suspension of disbelief. Is it really too much to hope that Marvel stops debasing its characters and stories with events that can never live up to the MCU's individual pieces?[9]



[1] I can't decide if it's a testament to how well the impeccably cast roster of MCU stars know their characters that the film doesn't feel as cobbled-together and emotionally incoherent as this approach would seem to guarantee, or if it's a sign of how little the acting or dialogue matter to making these movies, and especially the more action-oriented team-ups, work.

[2] Though, as Samira Nadkarni points out, this also makes Endgame one of the whitest, most male-dominated MCU movies in some time.

[3] In other words, the resolution of a very similar storyline in the second season of DC's Legends of Tomorrow. Which I mention mainly because it gives me the opportunity to say that Legends has been firing on all cylinders for several seasons now and is a ton of fun. Also, that the DC superhero shows usually do a much better job of superhero team-ups featuring interesting plots, coherent character arcs, and palpable stakes than the Avengers movies.

[4] This is apparently a comics storyline, but in the context of the film, not nearly enough time is spent addressing the fact that Hawkeye has apparently become such a vicious murderer that Rhodey and Natasha start to seriously consider taking him out. When he inevitably rejoins the fold, his murderous past is barely brought up again, as if it were little more than a costume, an excuse for Hawkeye to get tattoos and an undercut. And, to quote Samira again, it feels very telling that this walk on the dark side involves Hawkeye traveling to Japan to kill non-white people.

[5] I'm not sure this is how the soul stone works, but whatever. Also, remember how the leitmotif of Infinity War was "we don't trade lives", in stark contrast with Thanos, who did sacrifice a woman he claimed to love as a daughter in order to achieve his monstrous goals, and everyone assumed that that difference was going to be crucial to how our heroes would defeat him? I guess we're just not doing that anymore.

[6] But hey, later in the movie there's a scene of the surviving female MCU heroines surrounding Captain Marvel as she prepares to fight Thanos, so girl power! This type of empty-calorie signaling is rather typical of Endgame, which has also been patting itself on the back for a scene in which a nameless one-off character mentions that he dates men, even as it features two exchanges—one between Nebula and Gamora, another between Sam and Steve—that basically amount to "as we both know, you're straight".

[7] Remember all those cars and planes crashing in the final minutes of Infinity War? Now imagine the people who disappeared from those vehicles reappearing, in the middle of highways, or 30,000 feet in the air.

[8] As does Steve's decision to take a well-earned rest and spend his life in the past, reuiniting with Peggy Carter. I am, however, mostly pleased by this development, because I've been predicting it for months, but I imagine the Steve/Bucky shippers must be royally pissed.

[9] Yes.  Yes it is.

23 comments:

Brett said...

It's an issue with comic book media world-building in general. Nothing about these worlds or Earth make sense once you really start to look at them - just think of the impact of all of Tony Stark's inventions on humanity, for example. Or even just knowing that there are a ton of aliens out there, and alien technology on Earth (the closest we get to a reaction on that is SHIELD building those super-carriers in Winter Soldier). You just kind of got to roll with it at some point if you still want to enjoy the stories, the character beats, and the special effects.

Personally, I'm more fascinated by all those branch timelines where they changed stuff. What happens to the timeline with No Thanos after 2014, or the one where Steve probably tells Peggy everything about Hydra in SHIELD?

VariousVarieties said...

But the thing is, who in their right mind would want Natasha to win (or rather lose) that fight?

Markus and McFeely have done an interview in which they talk briefly about the decision to have Natasha die instead of Clint. (From what they say, a female VFX producer was very passionate that it should be Black Widow.)

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Brett:

What happens to the timeline with No Thanos after 2014, or the one where Steve probably tells Peggy everything about Hydra in SHIELD?

Based on Bruce's conversation with the Ancient One, all the alternate timelines are cancelled out when the infinity stones are returned to them. The 2014 timeline that Thanos travels from is an obvious problem, because the film's time travel mechanism doesn't account for traveling into the future. But in theory, since Thanos left the timeline after Rhodey and Nebula stole the stone, the timeline should be destroyed before Thanos's departure happens.

The only remaining timeline is the one where Steve reunites with Peggy, and since as you say he'd be bound to tell her about Hydra and try to rescue Bucky, I suspect that world is in much better shape than our own.

VariousVarieties:

Ah, "a random woman told me to do it". Never heard that one before.

At any rate, the people whose names are on this movie are the ones who bear responsibility for the choices it makes, not some person who may or may not exist, and may or may not have said what's ascribed to her.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

There is also the timeline where Loki escaped with the tesseract, which happened before they got the time stone, so it might still exist (also providing an explanation for the upcoming Loki tv series).

David said...

I was surprised the Russos didn't do more with Natasha's death. Unlike Infinity War where the viewer has no idea how to get the Soul Stone and so the fact that someone must be sacrificed comes as a tragic surprise, everyone knows what Clint and Natasha are going to have to do. There's a tension that comes from the viewer knowing information that the character doesn't, but I didn't feel it here so I was waiting to see how/if the sacrifice would be done and I was disappointed; Natasha dying fell flat. I think part of the reason for that is Natasha has always been the most mysterious Avenger with large chunks of her past being unknown. We don't know what she was like before or during her Black Widow days, we didn't know that she didn't know her dad's name or what her goals are, so it's tougher to reflect about her hopes and dreams for the future as opposed to Tony and Steve. I think a solo Black Widow movie that explored a current assignment that related to her past (basically a prequel/sequel movie ala Godfather Part 2 or Wonder Woman) would've really added pathos to that scene. Clint and Nat were told the sacrifice had to be made and instead of thinking of a better way to do it, they just agreed.

Other than that, I really enjoyed Endgame. It's not as exciting as Infinity War, but it is pretty satisfying and if the MCU ended right now, it'd be a well-told story. One of the saddest moments was when Morgan Stark was sitting next to Happy after Tony's funeral, with Happy trying to cheer her up; it sucks to grown up without a loving parent. I wonder if she'll become Ironheart later?

George said...

"even as it features two exchanges—one between Nebula and Gamora, another between Sam and Steve—that basically amount to "as we both know, you're straight""

You think it's weird that two sisters and two best friends are aware of each other's sexuality?

3Phen said...

She's referring to the how the filmmakers chose to feature these characters specifically declaring that fact.

brencahill said...

My comment seems to have been eaten up by blogspot, sorry if it's a repeat:

I largely agree with your points but I don't think it's true that they had an option to resurrect other dead characters like frigga etc. Maybe it could have been more clearly spelt out, but it seemed clear to me that the infinity stones didn't have power over life and death - they could undo an action they themselves had made but any death by non-infinity gauntlet-means was permanent (note that Hulk says he definitely did try to bring Black Widow back, but wasn't able to).
It might have been possible to use the time stone to go back & stop the Snap, but surely there's enough inherit reasons that would be dangerous (a massive 5-year reversal / undoing several time-travel trips by different method / bringing 2 lots of infinity stones into the same place and time) that the film doesn't need to spend time bringing it up.

While we're debating imaginary physics, I also had a different read on the chat with the Ancient One. I don't think that alternative timelines are cancelled out when the infinity stones are returned, they just carry on as 'healthy' timelines, safe from dark supernatural forces getting in,
So there's a timeline where Thanos' army just plain disappears forever, but if the stones aren't returned to the same point in time, it will eventually become a 'dark' timeline.

Stephen said...

A few (mostly minor) thoughts:

1) Both the OP & David above assume that the Avengers knew they'd have to sacrifice someone to get the soul stone. That wasn't my sense of things. They knew that Gamora had died there, but not why. After Red Skull tells Clint & Natasha that one has to die, they spend some time debating if it's true. They wouldn't do that if they had known going in.

2) What comments are you thinking of where the straightness of Nebula/Gamora and Steve/Sam is asserted? I must have missed them.

3) The above debate on whether there are timelines or not — I read, as Abigail Nussbaum does, that there weren't, but I've seen a few versions of this argument so it seems clearly ambiguous — is all part of how completely nonsensical the time travel is in this movie. They just don't explain it — not well, or basically at all. Which I agree is basically fine. The meta point from the citations of Back to the Future I take to be: look, you've all seen this, just let it go & let us tell our story, ok? And honestly this movie was never going to be a solid time-paradox: it's doing other things.

SF

McAllen said...

Re: Endgame not thinking through the implications of its plot. I felt that strongest with the way it brought Gamora back--or didn't, as it were. The Gamora we knew met a miserable death and cannot be brought back; this new Gamora has the same backstory, but none of the experiences we saw. That MIGHT be interesting, if still questionable, if they actually took that plot seriously, but I very much doubt they will, beyond running through the romance with Quill again.

Retlawyen said...

I was right there with Black Widow when Captain America was like "well, there are more whales now, less pollution, you know?", and she is visibly angry.

Like, half the human race, 5 years, and you want to give the killer credit where its due? Straight up, as one Avenger to another? GAH.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Some overdue replies.

Unknown:

There is also the timeline where Loki escaped with the tesseract, which happened before they got the time stone, so it might still exist (also providing an explanation for the upcoming Loki tv series).

If I understand Hulk and the Ancient One's conversation, returning the stones to the point where they were taken cancels out the alternate timelines, including Loki stealing the Tesseract. More importantly, Loki absconding with the Tesseract isn't the same as our heroes stealing it. He's still operating within his own timeline, the one created by the Avengers' interference, in which he's moved the Tesseract to a different point in space. It's the fact that our heroes use time travel to make changes that creates a new timeline.

On the other hand, there's been a lot of conflicting information coming out of Marvel about the consequences of the film's time travel scheme, and I suspect what will eventually settle the argument is any use the company has for characters who are deceased in the original timeline. So you may be right that this is the method by which Loki will be returned to his own TV show. The fact that this is a Loki who is deep into his Nazi phase, and hasn't undergone any of the character growth he experiences in The Dark World or Ragnarok, should be of some concern.

David:

The reason that none of the Avengers can know what getting the soul stone entails even though the audience already does know it is that if they did, they'd have to do something about it. We'd have to have a conversation about who needs to sacrifice themselves (and, in slight fairness to the film, that would step over the similar conversation about who risks dying by wielding the gauntlet). More importantly, we'd have to face up to the fact that after a whole film in which the byword for our heroes was "we don't trade lives", trading lives is exactly what they're going to have to do in order to win. Which means that, as with the final battle, there's a very good chance that this entire rigmarole was completely unnecessary, because if Steve is willing to sacrifice someone to get the soul stone, why couldn't he have just let Vision be killed at the beginning of Infinity War - as Vision himself was begging him to do - and prevented Thanos from ever completing the gauntlet?

brencahill:

it seemed clear to me that the infinity stones didn't have power over life and death - they could undo an action they themselves had made but any death by non-infinity gauntlet-means was permanent

If that were true, Thanos would never have been able to get the full gauntlet. As I say in the review, the fact that he's able to use the time stone (just the stone on its own at that point) to wind back Wanda killing Vision and destroying the mind stone means that all bets are off in terms of rewinding death. On the contrary, Natasha's death is the unusual one - because her life was the price paid to win the soul stone, the gauntlet that it powers can't be used to bring her back. That would be cheating.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Stephen:

What comments are you thinking of where the straightness of Nebula/Gamora and Steve/Sam is asserted? I must have missed them.

Nebula to Gamora, when they meet Quill and Gamora is appalled that they were romantically involved, "it was either him or the tree". Implying that Gamora would resort to fucking plants before she considered being with a woman.

Sam to Steve when he sees his wedding ring, "want to tell me about her?" Implying that the only person Steve could have married is a woman.

I find the Gamora moment more egregious, because while Steve grew up in an extremely heteronormative time (and traveled back to one that was only slightly less so), Gamora is an alien from outer space. The notion that she'd be governed by an extremely restrictive form of 21st century sexual mores doesn't hold much water. But apparently even in space, queerness isn't a thing. Gay people are only allowed to be miserable and sexless (not to mention nameless) for a few seconds before the story starts.

McAllen:

I hope that one of the things GOTG3 focuses on is reintegrating this new version of Gamora with the team. On the other hand, given the extreme secrecy with which Endgame's script was handled, not to mention the shenanigans between James Gunn and Disney over the last year, it's entirely possible that he wrote the script for the movie without knowing that much about what these two films were going to do to his characters.

Retlawyen:

I saw that as more of a general observation on the state of the world than a call to give Thanos credit - remember, at that point Steve is five years past the point where it seemed like there was anything he could do about Thanos's actions. Though when you consider that Infinity War approached Thanos's Malthusian claptrap with far more seriousness than it deserved, perhaps a different observation might have been gone over better.

Marshall Ryan Maresca said...

"If I understand Hulk and the Ancient One's conversation, returning the stones to the point where they were taken cancels out the alternate timelines, including Loki stealing the Tesseract. "

No, those are still alternate timelines. Hulk doesn't explain it great, but the gist is, with how this time travel works, you're not actually going to "your" past. That's why Rhodey's "can't we just kill Baby Thanos" won't work.

Similarly, returning the stones isn't to fix history in those timelines, but just to not doom them to a dark future without the stones. Specifically, in the case of the Time Stone, that Ancient One was essentially saying, "If I give you the Time Stone, then Dormammu is going to win here. And, dude, I still have to live here."

Retlawyen said...

It made me a bit sad that they felt the need to namecheck Dr. Zola in the scene set inside Peggy's headquarters. Like you said when you were reviewing the Peggy Carter series, we know that her life's work is an utter failure, that her organization is infiltrated under her watch, but did it have to get so blatantly called out?

Ditto for Ant Man being like "How could anyone not know these guys are evil?". Like, that is the fan's attitude, because we have seen them be terrorists and fascists for a bunch of movies. To Ant Man they should just look like ordinary cops, Gah!

Cheap Wino said...

I find these debates about the coherence in time travel movies/shows funny. Time travel should be coherent and it's just that the writers didn't do it right? Hah. I choose to take the scene where they explain how 'time travel doesn't work like that' as a wink toward admitting that time travel plots have holes and you're just gonna have to deal with ours. So, I'm generally okay with a large amount of incoherence in settings like the MCU. It's inherent in the project and I'm there to be entertained. I was even plenty happy with the absurdities involved in Guardians 2, I still had fun watching.

I'm easily pleased by these movies and even the least interesting of them I find entertaining and, overall, I enjoyed Endgame just fine -- much more than Civil War which I found tedious. But there are a few things that stuck in my craw. The first being the stupid Black Widow death, both as a plot point and the scene. Abigail, you say, ". . . and it comes as no surprise when they get into a fight over which one of them gets to sacrifice themselves." But I was thinking, "I wonder how they're going to work their way through this one," never thinking they would stoop to such a shallow self-sacrifice plot. I mean, this is comic books, make something up! Then, not only do they kill off the much more interesting character but they do it in such a contrived, tired manner that has the seven millionth film example of two people hanging precariously over a cliff while one is holding the other by the wrist. Then it's followed by the dead, broken body shot (again)? That's some seriously lazy writing.

The other thing that bothers me is related and you mentioned it also. The absolutely insulting scene of all the women (somehow) coming together for a girl power poster moment. So dumbfoundingly contrived. But I could have overlooked it if the conclusion didn't end up being that Captain Marvel, the undoubtedly most powerful of all the heroes (who somehow is late to the party for no reason whatsoever), cannot defeat Thanos but Tony Stark gets the redeeming hero glory? And then we're treated to his tearful, extended, emotionally moving funeral attended by every notable while with the other death, of one of the most interesting woman characters, was just a shot of her broken body and barely mentioned after that?

Stark is fundamentally an asshole. Yes, he's one of the good guys, and yes, we were treated to his character rehabilitating, humanizing scenes as a father and how much he loves his own father. But he's still mostly been a jerk for umpteen previous movies. I find it exasperating that his character is deified so blatantly right after such a cheesy, contrived girl power moment and in concert with how Black Widow's death was handled and forgotten. It definitely affected how much I like the movie.

Moira said...

I think not reverting time was obviously the best choice for, oh, every child under five in the entire universe.
[and Nebula's joke wasn't counting Drax or the raccoon either, not just Mantis]

McAllen said...

I think giving Stark the final blow makes sense if you think of Endgame as the end of the first saga of the MCU--asshole or not, Stark has been its central figure since the beginning--but not if you think of it as the end of Thanos's storyline. To put it another way, it's not so much letting Stark get the big heroic moment that's the problem, it's who has been emphasized throughout the MCU and who has not.

Colin Ryan said...

Gamora's story in these movies is miserable. She rebels against her tyrannical and abusive father, has the thankless role of being team mom to a bunch of childish goofs, and then gets pitilessly murdered by said abusive father after ineffectually resisting him. And that's it; that's the end of the Gamora we knew for three movies. The Gamora we have now is basically a new character.

I don't even understand how the old Gamora worked in light of what we have seen. In GOTG it seemed like she didn't know she was stealing an Infinity Stone; that the Collector revealed what it was, and that's when she decided to protect it rather than sell it. But in IW and Endgame it is implied that he told her his plans. So why was he shocked to find she was selling an Infinity Stone to the Collector? I feel like no one spent even five minutes fiuring out what Gamora is even about.

Retlawyen said...

I took the 'Stark gets killshot' bit as the answer to our host's point about what's different this time around.

This time around the glove is made of the good guy's nanotech, so it can hand over the gems.

Like, if just being stronger than Thanos was enough Dr. Strange presumably could have warped Captain Marvel in for the fight the first time around. Or just more people, or whatever, he had 14 million chances to try stuff, and nothing worked.

Thanos was unbeatable on his own terms. They had to trick him. Stark doesn't 'defeat' Thanos, he just sort of distracts him a sec while the glove trojan horse does its work. If it had been the original glove he would've failed just like Captain Marvel. Thanos was just that fierce.

Fangz said...

Given it's been weeks now and no one will read this maybe... I think it's actually justified that Natasha dies on Vormire.

Why?

I think people don't really understand Natasha.

Natasha's *flaw* is that her solution to everything is killing people and she's surrendered her agency. The implication of the scene in Age of Ultron where she talks about being made into a 'monster' by being rendered sterile (notable, while she and Banner are both being envious of Clint's family) is not simply a literal 'if you can't have a kid you're a monster', but rather a point about Natasha's conception of herself as unable to create, unable to love, but only to use weapons and be a weapon. Natasha's trauma is the mindset behind the Red Room, and it's a trauma that she's never been able to shake off.

Natasha has 'red in her ledger', but how is she actually clearing it? Well she switched from the nefarious russian agency to be an assassin for Shield, noted for being 'comfortable with doing anything'. Except that Shield is *also evil*! So then she switches allegiances once more, to Captain America... and then Captain America fails her as well, breaking up the Avengers, and directly causing the defeat to Thanos. (By refusing to allow Vision to die.)

So we go forward to Vormire, and Natasha has to choose between Clint and herself to die. To me, it seems obvious that *of course* Natasha has to die here. If she lives, it's one more bit of red on her ledger, one more person dead because she doesn't see a different solution. If she dies, she dies retrieving the family she always wanted but couldn't have. She goes from pushing Banner over the edge of the pit to use him as a weapon, to throwing herself off. The alternative is a tragedy.

Colin Ryan said...

While I sort of see a possible attempt at a visual connection between pushing Banner vs. Natasha throwing herself off a cliff, I think that's overshadowed by the much more obvious and direct visual parallel of Gamora being thrown off the cliff. What they are attempting to do is show a difference between murderous sacrifice and self-sacrifice, but it ends up being kind of gross--in both cases the camera lingers on a woman's body.

The problem with Natasha's self-sacrifice as an end to an arc of a killer is that her past as an assassin is only implied; we have seen much more of Clint Barton as a ruthless killer, particularly in this very movie. The film seems more judgmental of the fact that Thor got fat than that Barton is a serial killer of nonwhite people.

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