Well, this is going to be much easier to write than my non-spoiler review! Avengers: Endgame has so many twists, surprises, reveals and gasp-out-loud moments that it’s simply impossible not to talk about. So you, casual reader, have been warned! If you haven’t seen the movie yet – stop reading, leave, go see Avengers: Endgame and then come back.
So we’re just going to talk about the general plot, which has been, of course, a closely-guarded secret: I’ll probably have many other theories and interesting bits of news to share as more details about the movie come out, but for right now I think I should do my best just to explain everything that happened. It’s a very complex movie!
Endgame opens on the day of Thanos’ infamous Snap, with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) forced to witness his entire family get turned to dust, along with half of the world’s population. Then, the movie leaves him there, heartbroken and confused, so it can return to the really important stuff.
Did that sound unnaturally harsh to Hawkeye? Yes, intentionally so. He wasn’t my favorite character in this film, I can tell you.
So anyway, then we continue on, shortly after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and the murderous blue assassin Nebula (Karen Gillan) both stranded in space, getting along pretty well. Within a few minutes, they are rescued by Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) who carries their spaceship to earth, where Tony is reunited with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Together, the remaining Avengers put together their master plan to defeat Thanos and resurrect the Vanished. Everything goes smoothly: they quickly figure out where Thanos is hiding, on a planet called The Garden. Energy signatures suggest that Thanos has in fact used the Infinity Stones he collected in Infinity War again, but no one knows why. Therefore, the Avengers head off into outer space to find and defeat Thanos once and for all.
They find him on The Garden, an undefended paradise planet where the Mad Titan has taken up gardening and cooking as his chief hobbies. The Avengers blow up his house and hold him captive, demanding to know where the Infinity Stones are. The maimed and injured Thanos informs them that he destroyed the Stones not long ago, to prevent any chance of ever undoing the Snap. (This raises some important questions, such as: how does the universe survive without these apparently crucial elements of its existence?, but these questions aren’t answered).
Horrified by this answer, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) promptly beheads the Titan and leaves the house, striding away in silhouette.
This, of course, all happens in the first act of the movie, and then the screen fades to black, and the ominous words FIVE YEARS LATER slowly appear. That’s right, the rumors of a huge time gap between Infinity War and Endgame were correct: five years of grief and despair set in on the planet Earth, splitting up the Avengers once again and causing some bizarre stuff to happen. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) rather randomly merges himself with the Hulk, combining his brains and the Hulk’s brawn to create Professor Hulk, a somewhat unusual character who might have needed just a little more CGI magic; Thor gains weight and becomes an alcoholic living in a fishing village in Norway with the last refugees of Asgard – including Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who unfortunately has far too little to do in this movie, and Korg (voiced by Taika Waititi), who has even less to do. Conveniently, it’s never once explained how either of these characters got off the besieged spacecraft where we last saw them in Thor: Ragnarok, or how they got to Earth. Hawkeye gets a mohawk and tattoos, and decides to pursue a life of crime in the streets of Tokyo under the name of Ronin. This is honestly so irrelevant, but it’s worth mentioning because…scratch that, it’s just irrelevant. Captain Marvel heads off into space for unknown reasons. Tony Stark gets married to Pepper and has a daughter named Morgan, and the whole family settles down somewhere by a lake. Captain America (Chris Evans) joins a therapy group, which also happens to be attended by Joe Russo, Avengers: Endgame director, who makes a cameo here as a man struggling to find love in this bleak and hopeless world.
And at this moment, when all seems lost, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) shows up, saved by a stray rat. Having been trapped in the Quantum Realm for five years, Ant-Man knows nothing about Thanos, the Infinity Stones, the Snap – or the fate of his own daughter, Cassie. She turns out to be alive, in fact, but she’s now a teenager, nothing like the chirpy child that Ant-Man last knew in Ant-Man And The Wasp. His reunion with Cassie is one of the movie’s first truly emotional scenes, and sets the stage for what’s about to go down. He arrives at Avengers HQ with a new hope for the future: time travel is possible, but only by using the power of the Quantum Realm. His message revitalizes the Avengers in their darkest hour, and Captain America and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) start rounding up all their friends, seeking to reverse the Snap by going into the past and getting each of the Infinity Stones before Thanos.
Naturally, things don’t go exactly as planned. Tony Stark and Captain America don’t ever fully forgive each other for the Civil War they caused, which is one of the great tragedies of Endgame: Stark is unwilling to go back and reverse the Snap because he doesn’t want to lose everything he has now; his wife and daughter. Black Widow goes to Tokyo to find Hawkeye (or Ronin, or Irrelevant, or whatever you want to call him), and enlists him, while Professor Hulk manages to stir Thor from his drunken stupor in Norway long enough to get him back to Avengers HQ.
At this point in the movie, things are looking pretty terrifying: literally, as well as figuratively – Hawkeye looks awful in a mohawk, and Thor is not exactly the tall and muscular Norse God he once was. Tony’s hair is graying, and Black Widow’s hair is so many colors I’ve lost count.
But finally, after much trial and error (and Ant-Man getting turned into a baby, and some brief discussion about murdering a baby), the plan is ready to go. It’s best to just ignore how the time travel in this movie works – something about how changing an event in the past doesn’t actually change the future, but instead causes an alternate reality, which is itself dangerous, but not as dangerous as, say, accidentally murdering yourself in the past (a real concern of Nebula’s, as it turns out).
Tony Stark, Captain America, Professor Hulk and Ant-Man travel back to the Battle of New York, a crucial event in the first Avengers movie, in search of the Space Stone, Mind Stone and Time Stone. War Machine and Nebula (a bizarre pair, but rather endearing) set off to the planet Morag, where, in Guardians of the Galaxy, the Power Stone was once located. Thor and Rocket Raccoon hunt for Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who was possessed by the Reality Stone in Thor: The Dark World. And Hawkeye and Black Widow are sent by Nebula to the planet Vormir to find and win the Soul Stone.
I’ve already mentioned Portman, but it’s incredible how many actors and actresses have reprized roles from previous Marvel movies: Robert Redford shows up as the HYDRA operative Alexander Pierce from Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Frank Grillo is Crossbones once more, and has a truly fantastic encounter with his future enemy Captain America in an elevator very much like the one where, in Winter Soldier, he and his cronies beat up the Captain during the HYDRA takeover of S.H.I.E.L.D. This time, however, Cap is able to escape by whispering the password “Hail Hydra”, in a clever nod to the previous movies. Tilda Swinton puts on her saffron robes and bald-cap once more to play the Ancient One, who died in Doctor Strange, but is still keeper of the Time Stone during the Battle of New York, and has a great conversation with Bruce Banner before relinquishing the Stone, entrusting him with a promise to return all the Infinity Stones to the exact time and place they were taken from after they’re used to reverse the snap – didn’t I say, just ignore the time travel science? Rene Russo also appears as Thor’s dead mother Frigga, and is able to impart some wisdom to her misguided son (including, but not limited to, “eat a salad”). Their appearances here are brilliant nostalgic callbacks to the First and Second Phases of the MCU. And you never get the sense that they’re just replaying what they did in those prior films: each of them brings something new to the table. My personal favorite, though it was the briefest, was the mostly offscreen attack on Jane Foster by everybody’s favorite trash-panda, Rocket Raccoon, who runs off with the Reality Stone just in time.
Thor and Rocket are the luckiest of the team. Captain America ends up coming face to face with himself in the past; Tony Stark gives himself cardiac arrest; and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) escapes with the Space Stone, forcing Tony and Cap to go further back in time to 1970, where they have to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters: there, Tony runs into his own father, Howard Stark (John Slattery) and gives him parenting advice, and Captain America accidentally ends up in the office of his former girlfriend Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) – plus, there’s an awesome Stan Lee cameo, and young Michael Douglas playing the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym.
Meanwhile, on the planet Vormir, Hawkeye and Black Widow’s story suddenly reaches the conclusion that nobody even knew was still coming – after all, Hawkeye and Black Widow haven’t been a couple for years, and there’s never been much of a concerted effort to get them back together, or even to hint at any shared romantic tension between them. Which is part of the reason that the following plot point falls rather flat – no pun intended, as you’ll soon see. Yes, because to get the Soul Stone, you must sacrifice that which you love – specifically, you must throw the person you love over a cliff. Hawkeye and Black Widow suddenly find themselves in an emotional mess, as both of them try desperately to commit suicide and prevent the other from also dying.
The fight that follows is actually really dramatic, and I was on the edge of my seat wondering how they were going to find a way out of the inescapable scenario. But I soon realized there was no happy ending – just as Hawkeye takes the leap, Black Widow jumps on him, and both accidentally fall off the cliff. Hawkeye just barely manages to get out his grappling hook, and they find themselves hanging in mid-air. Black Widow pleads with Hawkeye, telling him that he has a family that needs him, while she has nothing to live for. Finally, she lets go of his hand and falls to her death.
And, yeah, that’s how she dies. Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff, the first (and for a while, the only) female Avenger, dropped from a cliff so she can serve as a cheap tool to move the story along. Hawkeye gets the Soul Stone, and leaves Vormir, abandoning Natasha’s broken body on the rocks – a woman deprived of a character arc for years, now suddenly is forced back into an old romance so she can get killed off at the first possible opportunity, far from her home planet, somewhere in the desolation of space where no one will ever bury her bones. It’s not just sad and shocking, it’s a death that shouldn’t have happened, and it’s already become a topic of much controversy.
It’s hard to move on from something like that, but of course Black Widow’s death is not the most significant event here: that would be too much to ask for. Her death doesn’t move the plot except to deliver the Soul Stone into Hawkeye’s hands, and the Soul Stone is just another part of the Infinity Gauntlet, which now only requires one more Infinity Stone.
We left Nebula and War Machine on the planet Morag, and here we find them again. War Machine manages to escape with the Power Stone, but Nebula is unable to get away from the planet. Turns out, she’s not the only person looking for the Stone at this time – Thanos, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula are here too. Yeah, Thanos: this is 2014, and the Mad Titan is still on his hunt for Infinity Stones. And this other Nebula is Nebula before she turned against her father. This Nebula (we’ll call her Evil Nebula) ends up revealing visions of her own future to Thanos, who thus sees everything from the Avengers’ plan to his own death. In an attempt to change his fate, Thanos abducts Good Nebula and holds her captive, while Evil Nebula disguises herself as Good Nebula (by attaching one strip of metal to her head), and travels forward in time to join the other Avengers. This time travel stuff is confusing, but it sure is exciting.
The Avengers are reassembled at their headquarters and start inserting the Stones into their new Infinity Gauntlet. I have to hand it to Mark Ruffalo here – for an entirely CGI construction, Professor Hulk manages to convey the most despairing reaction to the news of Black Widow’s death, and he is the one who picks up the Gauntlet and wields it: immediately, he is tortured with agony as he tries to snap his fingers. He just barely has the strength. While this is going on, Evil Nebula is busy messing with the controls of the time machine, which nobody notices. We hear a snap, something goes flying up from the time machine and smashes through the ceiling, and then all is silent.
Until Hawkeye’s phone starts ringing. For a fraction of a heartbeat, I thought it was somehow (impossibly) Black Widow on the line, but no, it was Hawkeye’s wife, Laura. Outside, birds start singing. But just as you thought you were out of the Soulworld –
The entire building explodes. That thing that Evil Nebula summoned through the time machine? That was Thanos’ spaceship, and he arrives in full glory, blowing up Avengers HQ and crushing everyone under rubble and debris. Far below the building, War Machine and Rocket Raccoon are frantically struggling to escape while Professor Hulk holds up the ceiling of a collapsed room. Hawkeye grabs the Infinity Gauntlet and runs, but quickly realizes he’s being chased by Thanos’ horde of alien monsters. He ends up running into Evil Nebula, who tries to take the Gauntlet from him, and there’s a confrontation in the tunnel with him, her, and also Good Nebula and Gamora herself, who has decided to betray Thanos. Evil Nebula gets shot, which (oddly) has absolutely no effect on Good Nebula, and they all get out of there safely.
Meanwhile, Tony Stark suits up as Iron Man and goes to find Thanos himself, followed by Captain America and Thor. There’s a lot I could say about the confrontation with Thanos, but I’ll keep it brief. They start fighting, obviously, and things starts going badly. Tony gets tossed aside, and Thanos grabs Thor’s own weapon, Stormbreaker, and drives it slowly but surely into Thor’s chest.
And then, suddenly, Captain America jumps in wielding – double take – the Hammer of Thor, Mjolnir, the hammer that can only be wielded by one who is worthy. Thor speaks for everyone when he yells excitedly “I knew it!”. The theater burst into applause at this moment. This is a moment that Marvel fans have been waiting for since it was teased in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and only now have we finally received the payoff. The next few moments are just a blur of lightning and thunder as Captain America goes up against the Mad Titan wielding Mjolnir and his vibranium shield – which soon gets broken to pieces by Thanos’ battle-ax. Thanos steps back and admires his handiwork, and then begins to monologue, as he always does in these types of situations, talking about how he once thought he could save the world. But, he realizes now, there is no chance of that anymore. The world – the entire universe, in fact – must be remade. Entire armies of alien monsters and the full force of the Black Order disembark from Thanos’ spaceship and march towards Captain America, who stands alone against them all.
No words can ever express my shocked, baffled joy when I heard the long-silenced voice of Falcon (Anthony Mackie) saying “On your left” to Cap, as a ring of glowing orange light suddenly opened in the air next to the lone hero. First on the battlefield are Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Shuri (Letitia Wright) representing the country of Wakanda. The Vanished are returning. Falcon appears, and Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), and M’Baku (Winston Duke), and then another portal opens: and there’s Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Drax (Dave Bautista), Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), and Spider-man (Tom Holland). Wong (Benedict Wong) is there, and Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Valkyrie, Korg, and Pepper Potts herself. Every Marvel superhero is gathered to fight alongside Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. Ant-Man rescues the Avengers trapped under the building, and so he, War Machine, Rocket Raccoon, and Professor Hulk all join the battle as well. Hawkeye, Nebula and Gamora show up too.
The following fight is the greatest battle in a superhero movie, ever. Every character here has so much depth and so much development that’s been established over so many movies – you know each and every one of them as if they’re old friends, as they charge into the fray. The Infinity Gauntlet is the focal point of the battle, as one hero after another grabs the precious object and tries to get it away from Thanos: even Spider-man has it at one point! You’ve never seen a fight scene with this many characters, this many character arcs coming to a conclusion. There are some great moments here: an especially notable one, in my opinion, was the grand entrance of Captain Marvel herself, as she hurtled through the earth’s atmosphere and plowed through Thanos’ spaceship, before leading all of the Marvel heroines into the thick of the fight. Women were the standouts here: from Gamora’s fantastic reunion with Star-Lord (whom she doesn’t even remember), to Scarlet Witch’s encounter with Thanos, who mockingly tells her that he doesn’t even know who she is. “But you will,” she responds, as she tears away his armor and easily disarms him.
But, alas, these good things cannot last. Thanos gets the Infinity Gauntlet at last, and prepares to snap his fingers and destroy the earth. But Captain Marvel grabs his hand and holds his fingers apart with superhuman strength, as she absorbs power directly from the Gauntlet – so Thanos simply punches her with the Power Stone in his other hand, and sends her flying. The last duel is between him and Tony Stark, the rematch of their fight in Infinity War. Things seem hopeless, and Thanos isn’t oblivious to that fact: “I am inevitable,” he boasts.
Tony realizes he’s unable to get the Infinity Gauntlet off the Titan’s hand – so, using his wits, he simply grabs the Infinity Stones and fits them into his own armor. “And I am Iron Man,” he says, and snaps his fingers.
You know what happens next. You have to know. The Stones are too powerful for anybody to wield, much less a mortal. Tony lives just long enough to see that his sacrifice was not in vain, as Thanos and his minions fade away into dust and vanish. Surrounded by his friends, and with Pepper at his side, Tony Stark, who started these ten glorious years of Marvel history, slips away. The battle is won, but it cost us everything. The world has been saved, but not for Tony. The arc reactor implanted in his chest that has kept him alive all this time…goes dark.
After that, there’s really not much left to say. There’s a funeral, of course, for Tony, and all the Marvel characters are in attendance. Characters get fitting conclusions, for the most part. Thor passes on the rule of Asgard to Valkyrie, who looks particularly majestic and resplendent as she accepts his offer and becomes Queen. Thor then sets off with the Guardians of the Galaxy as they go to look for Gamora, who mysteriously disappeared during the battle. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 obviously has a lot of explaining to do. Spider-man goes back to school, which is presumably where Spider-man: Far From Home will pick up when it comes out a few months from now. Captain Marvel’s whereabouts are currently unknown. Ant-Man’s family is reunited. Hawkeye returns to his wife and children.
And as for Captain America, he gets the most bittersweet ending. He feels it’s his duty to go back in time and return all the Infinity Stones to their proper timelines, so as to avoid, you know, the destruction of the universe. He’s only gone for a few seconds, but it’s a few seconds too many. He returns as an old man, and informs his comrades, Falcon and Winter Soldier, that he was actually gone for years: he lived out the rest of his life with his old girlfriend Peggy Carter, and he finally got to dance with her – after ten years of waiting, it finally happened. Now, as an old man, he’s passing on the Captain America mantle to someone new: he chooses Falcon, Sam Wilson, to be the new Captain. And there the movie ends.
This is only a synopsis, of course, not a full review, but I hope it’s illuminated some aspects and made everything a bit clearer to understand. I’ll have more stuff to share about Avengers: Endgame probably in the coming days and weeks. The fates of each of the characters definitely deserves more attention, so I’ll be exploring that in greater detail very soon! Stay tuned!