Congratulations! If you're reading this, then that probably means you've seen and digested the three-hour superhero smörgåsbord that is Avengers: Endgame . That's exciting! We, too, have enjoyed its wonders—and, boy, do we have thoughts. For a comic-book movie, the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe flick was rich with themes, and arcs, and plots. It was also quite stellar. Yet, walking out of the theater, we all had questions, things we needed to process that may or may not include a deep love for Lebowski Thor and Carol Danvers' Power Lesbian Haircut. We assembled WIRED writers and editors Jason Kehe, Jason Parham, Peter Rubin, and Angela Watercutter to analyze all of the biggest themes of Marvel's franchise-defining movie.
Jason Kehe: The hot new thing to do to supervillains: shock beheadings! First was Snoke, but that came at the end of Last Jedi. Not to be outdone, the Avengers—specifically pre-Lebowski Thor—surprise-decapitate Thanos at the beginning of Endgame. That shut up the whole theater. Wasn't Captain Marvel supposed to deal the death blow? What about the Infinity Stones? Who's going to finish whatever Thanos left gently sautéing stovetop? (Thor, apparently.) Then they flash-forward five years. Cool! The whole opening sequence is basically a resounding This isn't the movie you thought it'd be.
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I was thinking about that when I read, in certain boneheaded, poopy reviews, that Endgame was designed—by machine algorithm, these critics seemed to imply—as pure "fan service." Huh? What do they think we're doing here, exactly? Hoping to be undone or challenged or forced to confront the existential miseries only true art can evoke? Insofar as Endgame is a reward, by turns energizing and moving, for fans who've watched these movies for years, then sure, it qualifies as "fan service," but I'm not sure that phrase was ever meant to be used pejoratively or dismissively. It's also not entirely accurate. We didn't ask for self-sacrificing Nat and Tony, or Pepper "Iron Woman" Potts, or Professor Hulk. (We did ask for the cat from Captain Marvel, or at least I did—where was Goose?) Also, the original idea of "fan service" involved, more often than not, anime boobies. Instead, Endgame gave us uglified Thor, fully clothed Hulk, and nary an objectified bod in sight. What am I missing? Was Endgame exactly the movie we thought it would be? Is "fan service" fair criticism?
Peter Rubin: Boneheaded and poopy? Gotta be some kind of award for pulling off that particular tonal exacta. The fan service, if you can call that, was exactly the kind we've come to expect from the MCU, an outfit that prefers meta-commentary and Easter eggs over broader forms of pandering. I'd call Professor Hulk fan service for that exact reason! Endgame doesn't have the post-credits scenes that have given us stuff like Howard the Duck and Adam Warlock teasers, so instead we got Banner's merged personality baked into the movie. Besides, "fan service" is about as cogent as "it failed to capture the spirit of the original," a phrase that is basically the freezer-burned Hot Pocket of critical insight.
Angela Watercutter: Thank you for that, Peter. I, too, was kind of baffled by the number of reviews calling the latest Avengers fan service. In the truest sense of the term, it's correct—it is a film that does fans the service of giving them things that make them happy—but the phrase, as it's used in fandom, is a tongue-in-cheek understanding of "giving the fans what they want." It's almost always about showing skin or turning fanfic ships into canon. To give you an example, if Endgame was Fan Service for Angela, then it would've ended with Carol Danvers riding off into the sunset on Valkyrie's pegasus. (Marvel, that idea is all yours, free of charge.) Instead, it slyly tied up a lot of the plots while giving nods to the characters and moments that made audiences stick with this franchise for so long. That's just comic-book moviemaking. Moreover, this is a Disney flick, people; making fans happy is kind of their whole deal. Scoffing at Endgame's quest to please people misses the point.
Jason Parham: But that's the thing about Endgame. It's not exactly fan service but it does do just enough, maybe more, to appease just about everyone in the theater (well, people who have a heart, anyway). It's just bad criticism—LOL at Peter labeling it the "freezer-burned Hot Pocket of critical insight"—and the kind that trivializes the incredible work the film accomplishes. To your original question Jason, Endgame wasn't what at all what I thought it would be: After Thor's surprise-decapitation of Thanos, which completely threw me for a loop, I knew we were in for a three-hour (!!!) joyride.
I will say, one thing I didn't expect, and didn't much like, was how the movie felt so much more like a Remember When We Did This? montage. I can almost see Kevin Feige in an early meeting with the Russos and their screenwriters like: "Guys, these ideas are great. Really great. I love 'em. But let's remind everyone all of the cool shit we did to get here!" I think a more self-assured film (yes, one even more confident than this one) wouldn't have relished in What Was as much. Of course, we're traveling through time, so it's unavoidable—it's the literal thread of the film!—but I wonder what more magic we could've experienced if it didn't dwell on revisiting everything we already know and love about the MCU. What kind of film would we have gotten if its eyes were forward? All of which is to say, in spite of that, I still found it endlessly enjoyable. Give me more Paul Rudd!
Watercutter: So, I already touched on this in our review , but to Jason's point, I was fascinated by the way Endgame used time travel as a storytelling tool. I enjoy a good time-jump movie as much as the next person, but so often those narratives can devolve into tropes. When I realized the only way the Avengers were going to beat Thanos after Infinity War was to rewind the clock, I got worried. If Endgame just felt like one long deus ex Iron Machina, it was going to be a letdown. There's nothing interesting about going back and fixing the past like "ta-da!"
I was relieved and surprised. Although it still had a few exposition scenes where a bunch of characters argue about quantum physics and screwing up the past, Endgame was also self-aware enough to acknowledge them. (Scott Lang saying "So Back to the Future is a bunch of bullshit?" was a highlight.) The time travel also allowed for a good third of the movie to be about going back and revisiting the films that came before it. Normally this would lead me to James Harden levels of eye roll, but it was nice. Some of these characters may not have solo movies after this, so why not visit their worlds one last time? (Also, those cameos.) It was a blatant ploy to serve fans (see above), but it's also a comic-book movie. I say, bring on the schmaltz! What'd you guys think?
In 2019, apparently, destruction comes with a side of deconstruction.
Rubin: Two things I loved about the movie's thick coating of time travel—call it temporal tempura? Fine, if I have to—were how it placed the MCU more squarely in the real world, and especially how it allowed the writers to to fend off solutions like "just kill baby Thanos!" Playing with time and consequence is so fluttery that you should only take it on if you're willing to redefine it, right? Otherwise, you're left playing in a sandbox that's all wet with whatever The Butterfly Effect left behind.
It has to be said, though: If I had the power to go back and change one thing in this movie, it'd be forcing a better explanation of how Iron Man was able to pickpocket the Infinity Stones out of the damn gauntlet. What the hell was that?!
Watercutter: Seriously, I don't know. I also don't fully understand how Tony was able to wield those stones when doing the same thing nearly flattened gamma-powered Professor Hulk. Sure, the effort took a huge toll on Stark, but Hulk was barely able to put his fingers together, let alone snap them, even when wearing an Iron Man glove. But again, this is a comic-book movie; logic is a fool's errand.
Kehe: Well, Hulk does have thicker fingers? I don't know. (Speaking of the green man's hands, though: One of my favorite scenes was Hulk giving Ant-Man two fresh tacos out on the tarmac. They looked so nice and tiny.) What I'll say about the time traveling in Endgame is that it never felt forced or done out of narrative desperation. There were any number of ways the Avengers could've destroyed Thanos and un-raptured the masses. Time travel felt like the right decision, even a creatively inspired one, in that it allowed the movie to quite literally celebrate the time we've spent with these characters. It also gave us two of the movie's more ingenious solutions: geriatric Cap (lovingly rendered, with Clint Eastwoodian eye twinkle) and alternate-timeline Gamora, who still has that great love-hate relationship with her sister but has to fall for Quill all over again.
Finally, time travel lets the movie reflect on itself in a not-obnoxious way. So much superhero-style metamodernism (Guardians, Deadpool) feels winky and ironic—a sensibility that hasn't exactly aged well. Here, there's a subtlety and suaveness to the self-awareness. A coolness, really. I see Endgame has having finally nailed this particular tone, whether it's Pepper (as Gwyneth) reading about the science of composting, Ant-Man wishing he were in as much selfie-demand as Hulk, or Captain America getting annoyed at his own past self's in-battle catchphrases ("I could do this all day").
Rubin: Can't forget Hulk's begrudging smashy-smashy when they go back to the Battle of New York—complete with commentary. In 2019, apparently, destruction comes with a side of deconstruction.
Rubin: Post-movie conversations start from one of two places: "What'd you think?" and "What were your favorite parts?" When Jason Kehe and I were walking back to the office from the screening we attended, we ended up with the latter, and almost immediately the conversation turned from the movie's obvious shocks and pleasures—Thanos losing his head in the movie's first few minutes, Lebowski Thor and Korg's Fortnite woes, that group shot of the MCU's phalanx of superpowered women—to the things that had gone a little deeper. Specifically, we kept coming back to the idea of family and redemption.
Thor and his mom on the day she died. Tony sharing an unexpectedly candid elevator ride with his dad in 1970. The final shot of Steve and Peggy dancing. Clint's agony and ensuing nihilism after the Snappening. Even that moment at the end between Clint and Wanda, each of whom had in some way been responsible for the loss of hugely important people in their lives. These all could have been empty, or cloying, but instead helped remind us that these are real people—gods sometimes, sure, but people.
One of Endgame's toughest challenges was to build a movie around the core sextet that also encompassed dozens of others, and to the Russo brothers' credit they did exactly that. What I didn't expect was for the treatment of that sextet to be so satisfying at a character level. The original Avengers have always enjoyed banter and shawarma, but the heroes who hadn't already crossed from comics into the popular imagination—Natasha/Black Widow and Clint/Hawkeye especially, since they don't have their own origin movies—never got to be much more than black-clad mercenaries with dark histories. Until now. In fact, all of them got the treatment they deserve (except Hulk, I guess, but now that Banner found a way to stabilize himself into something like Merged/Professor Hulk, I'm hoping we'll get more of him in the future), and much of that came from seeing them confront their own pasts.
Is that putting too much on a movie like this? I mean, of course it had the burden of saving the universe and wrapping up a handful of story arcs, but with each passing day I find myself a little more impressed with how it did so.
Watercutter: I'd also add Scott Lang's arc to this mix. He didn't go back in time like Tony or Thor to do it, but considering he lost five years in the Quantum Realm, seeing him track down his daughter and have that moment with her felt right. Scott trying to do right by his family has always been a big part of the Ant-Man movies, and considering the circumstances he didn't have much to redeem himself for here, but since being a superhero kept him away from Cassie for so long I thought their reunion was touching. (Reader, I wept.) So much of these movies has been about family—chosen or otherwise—and seeing those ties reinforced at the End was a smart move. Hell, even Nebula and Gamora had their moment of reconciliation.
Parham: Angela, I was shocked at how integral Nebula and Gamora were to the fabric of the movie. Their bond as sisters—and as daughters trying to get from under the shadow of Daddy Thanos—was one of the film's true gifts. I would've never guessed Nebula to be one of the film's most essential elements. Also, it's so rare to see such a conflicted, loving, and imperfect relationship between women in a cinematic vehicle of this nature. Hell, for a franchise that mostly given voice to men, its insistence on sisterhood and women grappling with power and loss in the final sendoff was inspiring to watch (if a bit too late). There was Black Widow carrying the burden of leadership in the early tints of the film. Valkyrie stepping in for Man Baby Thor, who'd gone full Lebowski, to make certain New Asgard, like Old Asgard, doesn't perish. (Isn't it interesting that the strongest Avenger seems to be the weakest emotionally?) Though we don't see much of her, Captain Marvel is basically off protecting the rest of the universe while everyone on Earth wallows in grief. What can't Carol Danvers do? Thor's mom proved to be the backbone he needed to shake his overwhelming sorrow. There was also Wanda going full badass sorceress on Thanos in the final battle, which gave us one of MCU's most stirring and indelible scenes of female power. When Okoye, Pepper, Valkyrie, everyone assembles—wooooo. I got chills.
Kehe: So true, guys. Yeah, as Peter says, all you want to do after seeing Endgame is talk about the best parts. In a way that's what the movie was: stitched-together moments, everyone getting their due. For me, Thor's sitdown with Mom was just about note-perfect. She's never had much screen time, so her death didn't feel hugely wrenching. Yet Thor's always been so broken up about it, and here we get to see why: She's this wise, all-seeing, compassionate soul (in many ways the opposite of Odin) who takes one look at Fat Future Thor and accepts his pain. Plus, she was raised by witches. I wish I were raised by witches.
Setting Up Phase Four
Parham: Goodbyes are hard. Overall, that's what makes Endgame particularly affecting for me—not as a film (the two deaths aside) but as a cultural product. It signals the end. Or, an end. For all the nostalgia (Whedon's original Avengers remains a thrill) and instability (Thor: The Dark World, anyone?) that marked the first two phases, the releases under Phase Three were, as a unit, more daring, poetic, confident, sophisticated, and just-plain fun than their predecessors. Phase Three was a clear maturation. It was a wildly satisfying journey full of, well, marvel: from Germany to Wakanda to Asgard, across alternate dimensions, through the hilly streets of San Francisco, and into the strange campy depths of Sakaar. But even the Marvel Universe is not immune to fate. Ends are inevitable. A great odyssey—its hardships, its triumphs—can only really come into view once the hero's concluded. Like Tony said: "Part of the journey is the end."
It's the one line from Endgame I haven't been able to shake. Before this, nothing in MCU felt concrete or final. Realities were always fair game for manipulation before—why would this be any different? But it was. Proof that even MCU is finite. That nothing lasts forever. Thankfully, ends also signal new beginnings. Cue Phase Four! To kick start that process, the Russo brothers—with a script from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely—tied a neat bow around three central Avenger character arcs: killing Iron Man and Black Widow, and aging Captain America to the point of retirement. Naturally, questions arise: What does that mean for the rest of the team? What will the Avengers look like now? Will they exist in some alternate form in the next series of films? Phase Four seems especially ripe for crossover appeal; the ground's fertile with possibility. Some of the seeds seem to already be planted, too. Lewboski Thor joined the Guardians. Cap knighted Falcon as next in line (a black Captain America—sign me up!). Also, with Tony dead, does that mean we will finally get Ironheart ? (There's been chatter of an Ironheart film coming to the MCU, which would be chef's kiss.)
As ambitious as Marvel has gotten with its character development and storytelling, how do you see Phase Four taking shape? Also, what would you personally like to see happen? I want a few dream scenarios!
Watercutter: I'm on board with everything you just said, Jason. Particularly the Ironheart film.
What do I want? Definitely another Black Panther movie, maybe two or three. I really want to see what happens now that Wakanda's wonders are no longer a secret. I want to know what Shuri does next. Is she running that STEM education center in Oakland? Will she be opening more? Does she build herself suits and weapons and get her own superhero adventure? I hope the question to all of those is "yes."
Also, more Captain Marvel movies, please. Shipping desires aside, I would like to see a buddy movie with her and Valkyrie. Maybe a film that's just her and Rocket talking about haircuts. I'm open to a lot of possibilities. (Side note: I really want to see all the emails Rocket apparently sent to Natasha.)
What else do y'all want from Phase Four?
Rubin: Maaaan, I'm already in line for BP2. Killmonger's liberation theology may not have stuck, but with Wakanda opening itself to the outside world, I'm excited to see if and how Ryan Coogler will have fun with real-world ideas like gentrification. (You just know some befleeced developer is already angling to build Wakondominiums with a Blue Bottle at street level.) The same goes for the Thordians of the Quillaxy, as I'm now insisting on calling them. Even 30 seconds of the God of Thunder toying with Star-Lord's natural insecurity was a joy, and adding Chris Hemsworth—who, between Ragnarok and Endgame, might just have the best comic timing in the MCU—is a nice shot of novelty for the Guardians.
But these, and Captain Marvel, are just characters we already know. GOTG2's end credits teased the arrival of Adam Warlock, an incredibly powerful hero who also just so happens to have an evil counterpart known as Magus. Sounds like a promising baddie to me! And with Disney finally gobbling up Fox, that leaves the Fantastic Four—and Galactus and Silver Surfer to boot—free to enlist in the MCU. Honestly, I don't care if we ever come back to Earth again; I'm loving the potential for cosmic chaos.
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It’s a trip that, in the best ways possible, feels like a band reuniting for a greatest-hits tour, one where the songs gets played by a frontman or frontwoman who wasn’t on the original track—some Traveling Wilburys covering a George Harrison track, Jay-Z and Nas ending their beef to perform “Dead Presidents,” and Beyoncé reuniting Destiny’s Child at Coachella all rolled into one.