My problem with “Avengers: Endgame” is not that it isn’t well-paced or well-shot, or that the story is not well-conceived, or that the action isn’t amazing, or that the actors didn’t deliver great performances, or that the creators failed to bring to life a comic book in a truly eye-popping and heartfelt fashion. To the contrary, the film nailed it on those counts. In fact, as cinematic achievements go, “Avengers: Endgame” is a visual feast filled with some of the most incredible comic-book action ever committed to film, wrapped around a clever plot that, had it not been for my disappointment with some crucial character decisions, would have left me standing on my chair cheering as the credits rolled. My ability to enjoy the many otherwise excellent elements of this movie, however, was insurmountably handicapped by some storytelling choices to which I could not object more.
And so, without further ado, I give you:
“What ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Did Wrong and How It Could Have Been Awesome, According to Some Random, Old Dude with a Blog Who Has Never Created a Comic Book, Nor a Movie, Nor a Comic-Book Movie, Let Alone the Top-Grossing Comic-Book Movie of All Time.”
HULK (DOESN’T) SMASH
The manner in which Mark Ruffalo’s Banner/Hulk story arc was handled over the course of the last two Avengers movies should be punishable by law. His turn in “The Avengers” was pitch perfect. Likewise in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” And, sure, he was a more comedic character in “Thor: Ragnarok,” but that humorous portrayal was in keeping with the overall tone of that particular film. What they did with Banner/Hulk in “Infinity War,” however, was an utter waste (with the notable exception of setting up Stark’s “Dude, you’re embarrassing me in front of the wizard” line) … but it was a waste I was willing to tolerate based on my assumption that the filmmakers would do right by him in “Endgame.” They did not.
Tony Stark put it best when meeting Banner in the first “Avengers” movie: “Your work on anti-electron collisions is unparalleled … and I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous, green, rage monster.”
Bruce Banner is not supposed to be a slapstick buffoon (see “Infinity War”); he’s supposed to be a brooding genius with a wry wit, and a conflicted, ticking time-bomb of a man who might explode at any moment.
Similarly, The Hulk is not supposed to be a clownish goofball (see “Endgame”); he’s supposed to be a brutal, rage-filled weapon of mass destruction who tears open entire cases of whup-ass at the precise moment when entire cases of torn-open whup-ass are most needed.
More importantly than all of that, though, is this: if there is one thing both Bruce Banner and The Hulk are supposed to be, it is angry.
Yes, I know the Professor Hulk character is canon in the Marvel Comics universe … but, if you were going to use that particular iteration of The Hulk, this wasn’t the time to do it. No one in their right mind wanted to see a glasses-and-cardigan-wearing, academic, sheepish, timid, sort-of-Hulk-like character dabbing and clowning his way through the final “Avengers” movie. He deserved a more serious treatment … and he’s not the only one.
GOD OF THUNDER (THIGHS)
If we can agree to view as a misdemeanor the manner in which Banner/Hulk was handled in “Endgame,” then the way in which Thor was handled is a first-degree felony.
Thor Lebowski is a great idea — for a “Saturday Night Live” skit. Turning the mightiest Avenger into a fat, drunken, weepy, buffoonish burnout for an entire movie that represents the culmination of a 20-plus-film, decade-long odyssey, however, is a misstep of epic proportions.
I don’t have any problem with clever, lighthearted, comedic moments — the judicious use of such moments is, in fact, one of the best things about Marvel films — but turning Thor’s struggle to reconcile his failure against Thanos into a two-hour-long punchline that relies heavily upon a fat suit to deliver laughs is an idea whose existence should never have made it out of the brainstorming stage.
I’d argue that they nailed the right look and vibe for him at the beginning of “Endgame”:
Sure, make post-snap Thor a drunk. Sure, make him a shut-in. And, sure, give him long hair, an overgrown beard, and some funny lines/scenes. And then give him a serious, redemptive storyline that allows him to once again deliver the goods as the Thor everyone wants to see. You know, this one:
And, yes, he was awesome in the Big Three fight scene near the film’s end (the greatest fight scene in Marvel history) … but it would have felt significantly more meaningful had he not spent the preceding two hours doing a mashup of Bluto Blutarski and Fat Bastard.
And now it is time to address the most unforgivable decision in the history of movie-making:
I HATE YOUR ENDING 3,000
Pro Tip: When your 22-movie, decade-long, comic-book-superhero opus ends with a funeral for the most beloved character in the franchise, you’re doing it wrong.
There was no good reason to kill Tony Stark. There was no good reason to end this mostly amazing superhero film on such an unforgivably low note. I will not be swayed on this. I could have lived with the aforementioned disappointments if the filmmakers had not also decided to rip out everyone’s heart for no good reason.
This is not how you end an Avengers movie:
This is how you end an Avengers movie:
Look, I get it: One of the key things that has made Marvel movies so successful is the way in which the stories have taken seriously the fantastical superheroes around which they revolve. That said, though, comic books and movies based upon them are rooted in escapism. Real life often is a drag, and real life in the Trump era is a never-ending hellscape of horrors from which Marvel movies have been, for me, a reliable, feel-good distraction … which is why I truly hate the handful of awful gut-punches “Endgame” delivered, particularly Tony Stark’s death. It felt like a gimmick … like a way to exploit the audience’s emotional attachment to this character that Robert Downey Jr. has so masterfully portrayed for more than a decade. It felt like a cheap and unnecessary sucker punch.
Now, I realize that some of you might find completely ridiculous and immeasurably silly the idea of a grown man caring this much about a comic-book movie. Here’s the thing, though: I’m not only a geeky, child-like, amateur film critic; I’m also a dad … and I’ve come to realize that the sadness and disappointment I feel about “Avengers: Endgame” has to do with far more than simply my own love of Marvel’s characters and movies.
For years, Marvel movies have been one of the few things over which my now-14-year-old daughter, now-16-year-old son and I have all bonded, and about which we have enjoyed a shared excitement. We’ve watched almost every one of the 20-plus films at least three or four times. We’ve avoided watching every trailer for every movie prior to its release in order to be completely surprised by everything we saw once we viewed the full-length feature in the theater. And, sure, this obsessive-compulsive behavior I’ve encouraged probably will lead to both of my children one day laying on a therapist’s couch while talking about what a lunatic their dad is … but, in the meantime, we’ve had a lot of fun treating these movies as significant life events.
Furthermore, whereas my son and I spend plenty of time also bonding over sports, it has become increasingly more difficult for me to find things about which my teenage daughter gets excited to do with her dad. Watching Marvel movies has been one of the only such things. So, first, imagine my dismay when Black Widow, the only female member of the original Avengers team and a character whom my daughter loves, plunges to her death … and then imagine my additional dismay when I learned that, on the day the movie opened, some inconsiderate little shithead at my daughter’s school spoiled for her the fact that Tony dies (a detail she kept to herself until after I had seen it happen). Basically, my daughter spent most of “Endgame” crying. So, yeah, that sucked.
It’s been more than five months since we saw “Endgame.” We have not since rewatched any of the previous Marvel movies, and we currently have no plans to give “Endgame” a repeat viewing any time soon, if ever. Instead of generating feelings of fun and excitement, the films now generate feelings of sadness … because that is the predominant emotion with which the filmmakers chose to leave us at the conclusion of “Endgame.”
I don’t love “Endgame” 3,000 … and I don’t feel heartened by the post-“Endgame” fad of slapping that cutesy little “3,000” thing onto every Iron Man-related reference on social media. And, yes, I know I’m a fragile little teacup, so I’m sure I’m more sensitive about things like a fictional character’s death than most grown men would and should be … but, I mean, fer crissakes, these movies are, to a large extent, for children … and I think the filmmakers should have given that more consideration when they were deciding whether or not to kill Iron Man. Sheesh.
And it’s not like they weren’t aware of what they were doing, as co-director Joe Russo made clear in an Entertainment Weekly interview during which he discussed Iron Man’s death:
“There are a lot of sick kids who really look up to that character, and it’s hard because we’re trying to tell a story about heroism,” he said.
Um … Dear Joe: It’s not that hard. Here’s how to make it a little easier for yourself, for us, and for the sick kids who really look up to Iron Man:
Step 1: Don’t kill Iron Man.
Step 2: See Step 1.
That’s it. That’s literally the whole list: Don’t kill Iron Man. Hell, don’t kill Black Widow, for that matter. In fact, I’m so sensitive that I don’t even want to see Old Cap. Let Steve tell us he’s decided to go back and be with Peggy, show him bidding farewell to the team, and then end on him as you did, finally getting that dance. But Old Cap? No thanks. Hard pass. Old Cap bums me out. Killing Black Widow bums me out. And killing Tony Stark bums me and everyone else right the hell out. Bad call, bro.
I look forward to the Russo brothers taking the notes I’ve offered here and fixing in the director’s-cut edition of “Endgame” these storytelling crimes I’ve just prosecuted. I think everyone would really love it. In fact, I think they’d love it 3,000.