I saw the movie this morning and had a feeling and some thoughts about it. Here are some extremely disjointed notes about that feeling and those thoughts about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, specifically its "conclusion" (except not but it's okay) in Avengers: Endgame. In list form, because I am way to tired to write coherent arguments in an essay format.
Oh yeah, there are spoilers in this post, this is your only warning.
- I went into Endgame grumpy and uncertain I was in the right mood for it. (For example, the first time I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie I very much like, I actually really hated it because I was in the wrong frame of mind. Being in the right mood for this stuff can sometimes make a big difference.) With that being said...
- So, wow, okay, this movie made me feel a feeling about Tony Stark. I ... did not think that was possible. He was not the egotistical man-child he was in his first handful of movies. One of my favourite moments of the film, after Tony figures out time travel, is that he goes straight to Pepper and straightfowardly lays out what he knows and can do, and seeks her guidance and permission to do it. For the first time his relationship with Pepper was solidly portrayed as one between equals. Also note Tony Stark doing dishes by hand, taking care of his daughter, and embracing Peter Parker fiercely. Those scenes spoke more to me than even his sacrifice at the end. We all know Tony can sacrifice himself for the greater good, as he showed in the first Avengers movie. But it's Tony being emotionally vulnerable and doing the work of being a good father, partner, and father figure that actually matters in this film and shows that he took his second chance seriously in the end, redeeming himself of his family's legacy of profiting of the construction of weapons of mass destruction for the most violent and dangerous country on Earth.
- In the first half of the film, there are stark and effective contrasts made between the extraordinary grief to what fragile and tentative healing does occur. Steve talking about the whales returning to the Hudson River around New York. Bruce Banner and The Hulk finding common ground in grief that allows him to finally move past his self-hatred and reconcile with himself. Tony Stark embracing his chance with Pepper and starting a family, despite everything. After the events of Thor Ragnarok, I was especially happy for Banner finding some sort of inner peace — a far cry from the Bruce Banner that tried to kill himself only for The Hulk to spit out the bullet. I'm admittedly fond of "finding better ways to cope after trying to commit suicide" because of my own history.
- I audibly gasped when Clint's entire family vanished. So: Clint Barton being the Best Adjusted Avenger in Age of Ultron came out of nowhere for me. Him being mature and stable enough to have kids and a wife was weird because we knew nothing about him compared to the bucket loads of drama and pathos we were shown about every other "main 6" Avenger. In the context of Infinity War + Endgame, that decision which came seemingly out of nowhere suddenly sharpens into focus. Clint Barton's fall in Endgame from Hawkeye to Ronin is shows us in many ways the ultimate outcome of a world post-Thanos: incredible violence inspires incredible violence. The cycle of Thanos' abuse continues through Clint, stripped of his family and all hope.
- I found Rhodey and Nebula bonding over their cyborg bodies completely fucking wonderful.
- Scarlet Witch fucking up Thanos was great.
- 2014-TL Loki peacing out with the tesseract was completely great and also felt like a wink to the Loki fanfic writers.
- Thor chops Thanos' head off, but the damage is done and his suffering throughout Endgame struck a really realistic chord. Thor's introduction in the MCU were all pretty classic coming-of-age type tales — Thor accepting responsibility for his role and, in Ragnarok, the full extent of his powers. Thor's struggle in Endgame is confronting overwhelming failure as an adult, and having to come to terms with the fact that who you are is not who you always thought you would be.
- I don't want to dwell on it because it makes me horrifically angry, but the gratuitous cruelty of the fatphobic jokes really bothered me. After we exited the movie, it was made even worse when my partner, who had to run up the stairs to join me in the theatre, told me that some men had yelled after him: "run, chubby, run." I draw a direct line between the fatphobic jokes in Endgame and the cruelty of our society in all its forms towards fat people. Thor Ragnarok's jokes, even those regarding Valkyrie's alcoholism, were never cruel. The jokes in Endgame about Thor struggling with alcoholism and depression were.
- Since the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, I've firmly held the position that Thanos is, among other things the representation of trauma, toxic masculinity, abuse, and the need to inflict pain, violence, and cruelty. He is quite literally an abusive and cruel father as well as a genocidal maniac. A lot of Endgame had me thinking about the cycle of abuse and violence. Clint Barton reproduces this violence as well, though the movie argues he is redeemable. When, during the final scene, Thanos taunts the original Avengers and says: "You couldn't live with your failures and it led you back to me" The line distilled a core symbollic theme of Thanos. When you are grieving, when you are suffering, you have a choice to continue the cycle of abuse or break it. But it was an especially interesting line because instead of using his knowledge of the future to change his own outcome, 2014 Thanos came to the Avengers, betraying his fundamental motivation — the need to dominate and inflict violence. He takes the behaviour of the OT Avengers personally, is even offended by it, because in true abuser form he cannot abide anything less than gratitude and subservience from the people he inflicts suffering upon. I suspect watching Infinity War and Endgame back to back will show his character arc in even sharper relief, and make sense of some issues with his motivation as a villain from the start.
- I've jokingly referred to the MCU (and the DC movies) as the Daddy Issues Universe, as everything keeps coming back to "daddy" or masculinity issues. (Thanos being an abusive father and the biggest villain of the series is not a coincidence, I think.) So it was quite refreshing to see mothers, sisters, and women in general taking on incredibly important pivotal roles in this film, even if they were shafted a bit to leave room for the wrapping up of Tony Stark, Steve Rodgers, and the core 6 Avengers' arcs. Frigga's return as Thor's mother gives the most important bit of wisdom of the MCU to date: you will crush yourself trying to meet the destiny and expectations placed upon you, and instead you have to do the work to look inwards and decide for yourself who you want to become. Valkyrie has taken charge of the Asgardians (a role Thor eventually cedes to her completely in recognition of her leadership and competence) and her reclaiming of her role as Valkyrie is complete in this film. Pepper's participation in the final battle is determinant of its outcome. Gamora and Nebula's healing of their relationship in Gardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 ends up possibly saving the day, as Nebula is able to use her kinship with Gamora from the original timeline (OT) to convince 2014-timeline Gamora to switch sides against Thanos. Then, of course, Captain Marvel's raw power was very satisfying to watch — except is Marvel now in the Quantum Realm? Her "exit" from the battle scenes leaves it somewhat ambiguous what happened to her.
- That being said: Okoye was, frankly, underutilised.
- Time travel usually bothers me in narratives because it removes the peril and stakes of conflict, and cheapens or destroys the hard necessary work of healing through loss and trauma. I think Endgame did a sufficient job of keeping the consequences of Infinity War and the last dozen movies intact. Thanos' genocide is undone, but many of the consequences of what has happened are not erased. Natasha, Vision, and Gamora's deaths are permanent, irreversible, and unfair. Tony's death, in a way, hits me less hard — he at least was able to self-actualize, heal a little and redeem himself along the way. He got to say goodbye to Pepper, and his daughter, too.
- It was heart-wrenching to watch OT Nebula and 2014-TL Gamora together, knowing OT Gamora is permanently gone, and that Nebula had no hesitation in sacrificing herself (literally, even though it was herself in another timeline) to save her sister from another timeline.
- Speaking of OT Gamora's permanent death... I am tentatively really looking forward to the third Guardians of the Galaxy, because I found Vol. 2 had really insightful things to say about abusive parenting and found family, and when you decide to forgive abusive parents and family members (Nebula and Gamora, Peter Quill and Yondu) and when you decide to not forgive family members (Nebula and Gamora and Thanos, Peter Quill and his father, Ego). It was very clear that while they were never healed enough to be in a proper romantic relationship in volumes 1 and 2, Infinity War showed that when Peter was willing to selflessly put Gamora's needs over his own, that was when Gamora and Peter were able to admit their love for each other. Tragically, it's a doomed love, as Gamora is irreversibly sacrificed for the Soul Stone. So, where does that leave Peter? All that said: I am kind of looking forward to Thor, Peter, and Rocket reforming the Guardians of the Galaxy. Because I think both Thor and Peter (and Rocket) have a lot of healing to do. That being said, I'm hoping 2014 TL Gamora does not become a swift love interest replacement for OT Gamora, as that would completely cheapen the character development that OT Gamora and Peter went through in previous movies. But in a weird way, I'm kind of looking forward to the angst, and the healing and resolution of that angst.
I'm going to wrap this here because it's past midnight, even though I actually have quite a few other thoughts about Endgame.
Have you seen the movie? What did you think? Feel free to leave a comment or find me on Twitter/social media. Thanks for reading!