Since its release, Avengers: Endgame has swept the internet, along with everything else on Earth (I’m pretty sure the Senate asked Barr what his favorite Iron Man moment was at one point), and nobody can stop talking about it. This week I appeared on Fresh Geek Context, a great podcast that talks about movies, video games, and all our favorite pop culture happenings, to chat with hosts Jace and Josh, as well as fellow guest Noah, about the big finale to the first leg of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as some other topics. This is my third guest stint on the show, as I’ve previously talked with the guys about Doctor Strange and Avengers: Infinity War. It’s always a fun discussion on the show, and I hope you’ll listen to my appearance, and consider subscribing to Fresh Geeks Context on their website or iTunes.
A movie as big as Avengers: Endgame always demands more dissection, however, and I’ve seen it twice now, so I’ve got a somewhat better perspective. I love the movie, and liked it even more the second time, but I still have some issues with it – albeit fewer than after my initial viewing. So here are my three main problems with Avengers: Endgame and, to be constructive, how to fix them.
The word “shoehorned” is coming up a lot when people talk about Captain Marvel in relation to Avengers: Endgame, and the MCU as a whole, and with good reason; the character’s solo outing and her inclusion in this film are very forced. Her own movie is a slapped-together mess without a character arc for its hero, and her appearances in Endgame, brief though they are, stop the movie cold and make it clear that something outside the narrative is happening. More a tool – in particular a deus ex machina – than a character, Carol Danvers shows up to bring Tony Stark and Nebula to Earth, then to take out Thanos’ relentless spaceship during the climax. She then gets to take a (mercifully unsuccessful) shot at the master villain in order to solidify her importance to future phases. She’s slightly less smug than she is in Captain Marvel, but she still isn’t fun or nearly as cool as they desperately want us to think she is.
Moreover, her big contributions would have been better left to characters we love. Wouldn’t it have been more satisfying, for example, to see Tony Stark figure out how to get himself back to Earth instead of having someone else come in at the last minute and take him home? How much cooler would that big girl power moment at the end have been if all those women – who are actual characters who’ve earned their places in this movie – taken on Thanos together rather than backed up the embodiment of a cause?
This is the easiest of the three fixes; just leave her out of it. There’s no reason for Carol Danvers to be in Avengers: Endgame and her presence diminishes that of others who should be more important to the narrative. Considering the retconning and inconsistencies in her film (Steve Rogers superfan Phil Coulson suddenly has no memory of Captain America?), she really should have just been saved for the next phase altogether, without pointlessly setting her origin before Iron Man. Without her, the film flows better, and the Avengers can stay in focus.
There are two problems with the depiction of the Incredible Hulk in Avengers: Endgame and both are serious detriments to one of the core Avengers. Both have to do with his new persona, “Professor Hulk.” After Hulk’s departure from the Avengers – and, as we later learned, from Earth – at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel teased a big character arc that would begin in Thor: Ragnarok and end in Endgame. In Ragnarok, the separation between Hulk and Bruce Banner had grown more (Tony) stark, with Hulk remaining in his monstrous form since the finale of Age of Ultron and Banner only coming out about halfway through Ragnarok. Moreover, the two sides are afraid of each other, and of being forever banished in favor of their counterpart. Infinity War found the Hulk thoroughly defeated and, whenever he’s called upon afterward, refusing to come out and smash some bad guys, leaving Banner to rise to the occasion using his wits (and some Stark Tech). His final line to his gamma-infused alter ego is, “Hulk, we got a lot to figure out, pal.” It’s the perfect setup for the next leg of their development.
Unfortunately, there’s no payoff, because the resolution of Hulk and Banner’s feud happens off-screen. When we catch up with Marvel’s Jekyll and Hyde, they’ve already found the solution to their problem, having merged into one entity that comic book fans refer to as Professor Hulk. This new entity has Hulk’s body and Banner’s mind, becoming “the best of both worlds,” as he puts it, and it’s a reasonable next step in Banner and Hulk’s evolution together. But we don’t see it. We never get the satisfaction of watching Banner figure out how to mend the broken bridge between his warring personas, to see the trial and error that must have occurred as he worked to merge man and beast. Professor Hulk is just there, a jarring new form of one of our heroes, and there’s never any evident growing pains through which he must work to maintain his idealized evolution.
Secondly, Professor Hulk just isn’t very fun. The joy of the Hulk is in watching this unstoppable force let loose in a fury of rage-driven violence, smashing evildoers and releasing the tension all of us feel in our Banner-like lives. He also loses the pathos inherent in the dual personalities; even when in control of his anger, Banner is always afraid that the Hulk will come out and hurt innocent people, a fear Age of Ultron capitalized on to great effect. Professor Hulk eliminates both of these crucial facets to the Hulk’s character; Banner no longer need fear losing control, and the Hulk can never let loose and wreak the havoc we crave to see. When he travels through time to the Battle of New York, and Cap tells him to smash some things to blend in, Professor Hulk can barely muster up the enthusiasm to pretend, looking embarrassed as he throws some debris. It’s a funny scene, but it’s hardly as enjoyable as watching the Savage Hulk on a rampage. And he almost completely sits out the final battle with Thanos’ forces, never getting a rematch with the Mad Titan who so humiliated him in Infinity War. He is the one to reverse the Snap, so at least he does play a key role, but that doesn’t make up for a good smash.
The best fix for this is to keep his first scene after the time jump intact. Professor Hulk can still have happened off-screen, but throughout Avengers: Endgame, we find that this amalgam is not as ideal as Banner initially thought. At key points in the plot, we find that Professor Hulk is not as strong as Savage Hulk and not as smart as Bruce Banner. During the time travel portion of the movie, Professor Hulk is unable to make some technical aspect of the mission work and, with everyone’s life and the universe itself on the line, transforms back into Banner to figure it out. After, he tells the others that he’s beginning to feel the separation again, that Hulk is once more afraid that he is less important than Banner. Then, when Thanos unleashes his death-from-above spaceship attack during the finale, Professor Hulk realizes that his friends are going to die, but he’s not strong enough to take down the ship… so he once more becomes the Savage Hulk, lets out a hearty “HULK SMASH!” and launches himself at the airborne mega-weapon, tearing through it and bringing it to the ground in a flaming heap. (See? No need for Captain Marvel!) Now, there are two options: Hulk can either fight Thanos once more and clean his clock, or he can walk out of the wreckage and beckon to his foe, who would take a deep breath and head in the other direction (a nod to the comics, where Thanos has said that he does his best to avoid fighting the Hulk). The point of all this would be that, instead of a compromise in which each identity sacrifices part of what makes him special, Banner and the Hulk become secure in their own strengths and weaknesses, comfortable with sharing the same body as their full selves. We’d get to see the arc play out in the movie and be treated to some satisfying Hulk action.
Thor has a wonderful character arc in Avengers: Endgame. Angry at himself for letting his thirst for vengeance cloud his judgment at the end of Infinity War, he first takes final revenge on Thanos for the Snap, then spends the next five years wallowing in self-loathing, drinking himself into a stupor and whiling away his days and nights playing video games with Korg and Miek while the remnants of Asgard forge ahead in his relative absence. When the Avengers ask him to come back and help them set things right, he’s a shell of his former self, in a perpetual drunken haze and fearful of screwing up yet again. A time-travel meeting with his mother Frigga sets him straight; she assures him that failure is something everyone experiences and that a hero picks himself up and does the best with what he has. Thor returns to Midgard desperate to rectify his mistake, and while he isn’t able to undo Thanos’ universe-wide massacre – that duty falling to the Strongest One There Is – Thor marches into battle with his fellow Avengers, helping to defeat Thanos and save the day instead of merely avenging it.
This arc is perfect for Thor, as it ties into the theme of all of his movies, where he learned to be a hero instead of just a god. But it’s undermined by the ridiculous sight gag of a big beer belly hanging off the once marble-chiseled body of the God of Thunder. Thor spends the entirety of Avengers: Endgame as an out-of-shape shlub, even after he resolves to be the hero he thought he never again would. This is undoubtedly a result of Ragnarok’s popularity; I imagine the Russo Brothers had a mandate to shove some broad comedy into Thor’s sections of the film. This was more organic in Infinity War, where he was teamed up with the Guardians and could play off of their zaniness (something that, if his exit from Endgame is any indication, may happen again in the future). It also serves as a sort of reference to the comic book Thor of the tail end of the 80s and early 90s, where the real Thor was replaced with a guy named Eric Masterson; Masterson is the version of Thor present in The Infinity Gauntlet, the comic book story on which Infinity War and Endgame are largely based. Beer Gut Thor’s beard is even shaped like Masterson’s.
There are two potential solutions to this. The first is simplest: just leave it out. Let Thor’s depression be a darker subplot, with the Odinson a mess of booze and regret, but still retaining the physicality of a god, a constant reminder of what he is and what he failed to live up to when it counted most. But, if they just had to go for the laugh, they could have had him shed the excess weight in time for the showdown with Thanos so we would at least be able to take that seriously. For example, Thor could call down the enchanted lightning he uses in combat and make it function as a supercharged version of those weight-loss pulse devices that (supposedly) shock the body into burning calories, leaving himself in his traditional godly state before the big fight. (This would also be the perfect opening for Tony Stark to refer to him as “30-Second Abs.”) Then Endgame could have avoided the awkwardness of the audience thinking, “This is pretty cool, but I think I’m still supposed to laugh at his weight.”
All in all, Avengers: Endgame is a massive achievement, and an immensely satisfying resolution to a cinematic saga we’re not likely to see successfully replicated, and certainly not equaled. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the spectacle and enjoyment while overlooking the film’s flaws, or, conversely, to focus too much on the few missteps and ruin your good time. I’ve found that multiple viewings are the perfect elixir for this, and the more I watch this fantastic movie (hopefully in IMAX soon!), the more I imagine I’ll appreciate it. Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out Fresh Geek Context!