By Sonali Kokra
“Part of the journey is the end,” Iron Man warned us desolately in the very first promo that Marvel released for Avengers: Endgame. The end has arrived. And it is every bit as heartbreaking and emotionally draining as MCU fans feared. Not surprising, given that Avengers: Infinity War had already laid pretty strong groundwork for a full-powered emotional assault by wiping out half the superhero universe we’d grown to know and love over 11 years and 21 movies, in one fell swoop. Superheroes aren’t supposed to die — especially not with one resounding snap of the villain’s fingers. But they did.
Which brings us to the Avengers as they are today: broken, beaten down, angry, and drowning in sorrowful memories. Who could blame them, after the events of Infinity War? But to prevent readers from getting angrier than the Hulk at my ruining the Endgame experience for them, before we begin, let me declare this is a completely spoiler-free review, so you can keep reading even if you haven’t seen the movie yet.
Most of the Avengers, as detailed in the previous 21 films, have made painful personal sacrifices to keep the world safe. For non-MCU fans, Tony Stark or Iron Man has put himself in grave danger more than once for the sake of the greater good. Yes, all superheroes do that, but he is mortal and a superhero of his own making, unlike say, Captain Marvel or Thor, who are practically indestructible. Captain America’s entire journey is about honour, service to the country, self-sacrifice, and bravery. It’s how he ends up being a super-soldier in the first place.
I could recap every individual superhero’s story so far, but I’ll stop at Iron Man and Captain America because they’re steering the ship. That’s not a spoiler, because if you’ve seen the promos (how could you not), they make Captain America and Iron Man’s importance to Endgame amply clear. The point is, our superheroes are pretty glum in the present day. They couldn’t have given up so much to fail so miserably, right? Right. Obviously, Endgame is all about what’s left of the superheroes putting on a brave face and rallying together, even though they’re often riddled with doubts, to try and find a way to bring half of all life back so the remaining half doesn’t wither away with the grief of loss.
The first half of the film almost seems like a bittersweet reunion followed by a farewell of all the characters that have populated the Avengers’ individual stories over the last 21 films.
Image Credits: Marvel Studios
As Thanos (he’s the supervillain, for the benefit of those who haven’t seen any of the previous films in the MCU) says in a later promo, “You could not live with your own failure. Where did that bring you? Back to me.” Which means there’s some element of time travel involved. Again, not surprising, given that one very prominent and pivotal scene in Infinity War, where Doctor Strange goes through 14 million scenarios in his head to see if there’s even one in which life wins. There is, but the odds are 14 million to one. A few moments later he’s seen handing over the Time Stone to Thanos to save Tony’s life — something he swore he would never do. So we’ve known for a while that Tony’s survival is essential for life to have that one slim chance of hope. And current promos show us that Ant-Man, who was so far missing from all the Avengers’ films, is desperately trying to get the Avengers’ attention, mumbling something about a quantum realm.
Some words you’ll hear thrown about to explain how time travel becomes possible are quantum theory and the Planck scale. There’s also the EPR Paradox, but I found myself rather flummoxed by the movie’s explanation versus my own understanding of it, so either they threw it in to make the word salad of physics sound impressive, or I don’t fully get the paradox.
To begin with, the quantum realm is a scale where the principles of quantum theory start to apply. Quantum theory, in its simplest form, is the theory that explains the behaviour of sub-atomic particles in the microscopic world of atoms and their elements. The Planck scale is a universal limit — the smallest as recognised by physical theory — beyond which the laws of physics that govern the world as we know it start to break down. The EPR paradox is a thought experiment that shows that two quantumly entangled particles can communicate with each other faster than the speed of light, and that until they are measured they exist in all possible states, which means there is no concept of a definite reality. The way it is explained in the film, “Time goes through said character instead of said character going through time.”
TL;DR? With Ant-Man’s help, Iron Man is able to use the principles of quantum theory (in which the laws of space and time as we know them don’t apply) to create a machine to move the Avengers back in time to set in motion their plan to reverse Thanos’ universe-halving snap.
Building on what Infinity War started, Endgame unravels slowly and is often contemplative, even as its heroes try to puncture the space-time continuum.
The result is sometimes comical, but mostly poignant. Going back in time exposes our superheroes’ raw nerves, as they confront their losses through the years. The first half of the film almost seems like a bittersweet reunion followed by a farewell of all the characters that have populated the Avengers’ individual stories over the last 21 films. We also see the human cost of heroism as the Avengers struggle to not alter the past, while in possession of the knowledge of the horrors that await their beloved in the future. Marvel’s ability to quietly slip in hat-tips and call-backs to self-directed past jokes and plot points is one of the most effective ways in which it ties together the universe, and all of them coalesce beautifully in Endgame. A pretty compelling argument, in case you were debating watching or rewatching as many of the past films as you can possibly cram before booking your tickets for Endgame.
Like its predecessor, Endgame further deviates from the superhero movie formula and for a big part of its three-hour run-time, relies more on a rock-solid emotional core than effects-driven drama. It is also a significant milestone for a visibly evolved MCU that is obviously starting to invest heavily in the emotional arcs of its characters — from Carol Denvers in Captain Marvel to Thor in Thor: Ragnarok. Building on what Infinity War started, Endgameunravels slowly and is often contemplative, even as its heroes try to puncture the space-time continuum.
In the end though, what is a superhero film without extravagant acts of courage and epic battle scenes, and here too Endgame doesn’t disappoint. As one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year, simply avoiding leaks and keeping the several surprise twists in the last 45 minutes must have been a monumental task. Perhaps Game of Thrones could learn a lesson or ten from the folks at Marvel.
I left the theatre with tears streaming down my face. And the fact that we’ve reached the end of an epic journey was just one of the reasons for them. Oh, and don’t bother waiting for the post-credit scene — its absence is yet another cruel reminder that the Avengers initiative is well and truly accomplished.
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