Warning: What follows in the first few paragraphs of this piece is the type of rambling, personal essay shit that has plagued many a pop culture essay for years now. You know the kind — where the author spends time rambling on-and-on about other shit, rather than actually writing about what you clicked on the article for? It’s annoying, sure, but what you have to understand is that the internet marketplace of ideas is absolutely broken, film criticism is absolutely broken, and I”m absolutely broken. So those paragraphs of nonsense, maybe even precluded by a disclaimer of nonsense, are here to stay. Just skip to the big bold headings for what you actually came for, okay?
When I first launched Freshly Popped Culture as a space to talk about the world of pop culture following the closure of my previous website, I did it by making one promise to myself: be better. Instead of spending so much of your time snarking it up and mocking things for how bad they were, do the opposite: show love for things. Show appreciation for things. Write because you are passionate for something you care about, not just because you have an axe to grind about something you don’t. Be honest, sure, and don’t necessarily sugar coat: you can write about things that you don’t like, but just do it in a way that, frankly, makes you less of an asshole.
Well, reader, I will come out the gate and say this: I have pretty much failed in that mission.
But all this is to say that, upon first viewing Avengers: Endgame last weekend (yes, it’s only been a week, despite the slow moving crawl of pop culture), my initial impression was two things: first there was “HOLY FUCKING SHIT THAT WAS INCREDIBLE,” and second, there was “Wait, some things I didn’t like or would have done differently — I MUST PROCLAIM THAT TO THE WORLD, POST HASTE!!!” And so I started working on a piece doing just that, about the five things I didn’t like about the movie or whatever the fuck it was suppose to be. Sure, I was taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to the whole thing (as I often do) by commenting directly on how silly it was for me to write such a thing about a film I loved the hell out of it. But that didn’t change my initial impulse being “I should dump on this!” rather than “I should heap praise upon this!”
In any case, time ended up saving my ass here, as it often does: by the time I hunkered down to write the piece, I felt that most of my beefs with the film had been thoroughly addressed at large by many more intelligent bloggers (to sum them up briefly: The “Five Years Later” thing was a little rushed, the time travel mechanics actively made no sense, making Past Thanos the main baddie stripped away much of the satisfaction of his defeat, and many character dynamics — like Banner and Natasha — got the short shrift.) Yes, by the time I wanted to voice them, most of my hottest takes about the film were already passé (I both Googled AND copy and pasted that fancy e. I did that shit for you.) That’s the nature of the beast when it comes to those kinds of reactions: eventually, they just become kind of annoying.
But the glorious thing about praise is that, at its core, its deeply personal: what you love about a film usually hits you emotionally more so than what you didn’t. And. to paraphrase Shawshank: love springs eternal. PLUS, if you haven’t heard, today’s the day we can actually start talkingAvengers: Endgame spoilers without being shot by the Disney Police! The Russo’s said it and everything!
So to celebrate such an occasion, I’m going to go all-in here, discussing the moments I loved the most during my viewing ofAvengers: Endgame. As you can imagine from such a thing, this will delve completely into spoilers for Avengers: Endgame — but, hey, I don’t even need to warn you! Our Marvel Daddies said I can talk about it without fear! TONY STARK DIES! CAP IS AN OLD MAN! KORG IS ALIVE! Ah...that feels good.
Let’s kick things off right from the beginning, shall we?
Hawkeye’s Family Vanishes
My god, what a masterful little moment, right off the freaking bat. Very few big blockbuster movies would take the time to even have such a brief little heartbreaker of a sequence, let alone kick off the story with it. But the disappearance of Hawkeye’s family is so important for setting up the somber, beaten-down tone of the film, and the Russo’s (alongside cinematographer Trent Opaloch) do such a wonderful job of staging the sequence. Even if we all kind of knew what was happening, that didn’t stop all the gasps from erupting in my audience when Clint turns around to speak to his daughter…and finds no one. I’m going to talk a lot in this list about audience engagement, because Avengers: Endgame is one of those few movies where such a thing made an incredibly positive impact on my viewing of the film. But even without that added element, this was an amazing way to kick off the film. And it basically sets up Hawkeye as the MCU’s Nora Durst, which is also very cool.
Tony Stark Loses It
There’s a strange, somewhat pretentious backlash against Robert Downey Jr. in Avengers: Endgame right now, primarily due to fans of his performance already starting a campaign for him to get a Best Supporting Actor nomination at next year’s Oscars. Well I don’t know about that at this point in time (there is literally zero competition to put him against, so how the fuck would I know if he “deserve”s a spot?), I do think that RDJ delivers a fantastic performance in Avengers: Endgame (they all do, but he has the spotlight for the first time in a while, so his acting feels the most prevalent.) And that’s no more clear than in his first scene re-encountering what remains of The Avengers; the pure anger and sadness and dissolution that Downey infuses Tony Stark’s big monologue with continued to wonderfully set the tone for the movie ahead. Even better, it pulled in threads that the MCU has been setting up for movie after movie now (from Ultron to Civil War), reminding audiences just what these characters have gone through on the path to Endgame. It wouldn’t be the first time the film does so, but it is one of the most powerful. Additionally: I don’t know if it was CGI or what, but gaunt half dead Robert Downey Jr. is striking as hell. RDJ always freaking brings it, man, and scenes like this are a reminder that the actor is just as good with the dramatics as he is with the quips. It’s what makes the role — and the whole character, really — so damn rewarding.
Thanos Beheaded, And Cut To The Future
Though I have some quibbles with what this means for the character of Thanos in Endgame overall…this piece is very much not about that, so I’ll shut my mouth on that end! What I can say is that this is a shocking and very well done moment, and Hemsworth does such a good job channeling the pure resignation and defeat The Avengers are all feeling with his barely triumphant “victory” moment. And the slow fade to black, paired with the even slower “FIVE…YEARS...LATER” popping up on the screen? An absolutely wonderful construction, especially paired with the gasps coming from my audience. Here’s the time when I sound like a snobbish asshole by saying that very little things that happened in Avengers: Endgame truly surprised me (and I would argue that it very much didn’t need to, as the only reason I saw so much coming is because it’s where the story needed to go in order to work), so I kind of suspected (and hoped) we would get a big time jump here. But, still, it was magnificently done…even if I do think it leads to a whole mess of problems for the film later THAT I SHOULD NOT TALK ABOUT BECAUSE BE POSITIVE, ASSHOLE.
Thor’s Big Return
To prove myself a complete liar moments after the last thing I said, I’ll admit it — I did not see Fat Thor coming. And in terms of audience reaction, this was like the second biggest in the entire films (the shock of my audience when Thor’s new gut busted into frame was very much apparent.) But wow oh wow was it a brilliant move for the character, and the scene in which he has his big coming out party is one of the highlights of the entire thing. And not just because it confirmed that Korg and Miek are okay — that’s only like 60% of the thing. But the other 40% goes to just how funny the whole sequence is, as the film once again channels Chris Hemsworth’s newfound abilities as a comedic actor to truly deliver a very, very funny scene. I mean, Thor getting incredibly indignant about losing to a jerk on Fortnite? Glorious, y’all. Glorious.
But even when Avengers: Endgame stops to have a moment of levity, it’s so impressive how the film can instantly switch back to serious, well-performed drama. That is most apparent with the Fat Thor creation, as the initial humor (ha ha, Thor let himself go!) is only a smoke screen for the pain and trauma that losing to Thanos struck on our poor God of Thunder. Even in this scene, the way he recoils at the mere mention of Thanos and the events of five years ago works in spades.
But seriously: Korg and Miek. They are alive, and nothing else matters. All hail our true kings.
The Mission Begins
A good portion of the first half of Avengers: Endgame operates under the tried-and-true “getting the gang back together” formula, with all the disparate elements that make up the Avengers on their own journeys to rejoining the team. This isn’t exactly a new formula for a Marvel movie, as even the first Avengers spent a majority of its time working towards having the team come together as a unit (culminating, of course, in that iconic spin shot.) But the satisfaction of seeing the team come together here, in about the halfway point of the film, is also pretty damn satisfying. After multiple movies devoted to the being torn apart, either via galactic distances or emotional conflict, seeing them all suit up in the cool looking micro universe suits, break down the nature of their plan, and meet on the platform with their arms outstretched in a big team huddle, was incredibly satisfying. It speaks to the entire theme of both movies, initially teased in the Tony Stark theme above: try as they might, they could not defeat Thanos separately. They had to work together. EVERYBODY (seriously, everybody) had to work together in order to win. And this sequence is the first, inspiring step to that. Throw Alan Silvestri’s pulse pounding score on top (whoever said the Marvel movies don’t have good music has no idea what they are talking about, because Silvestri’s Avengers work is freaking iconic now) and this scene made for one hell of an exciting way for Avengers: Endgame to move into its second act.
Cap vs. Cap
I don’t know if I’ve made this opinion known to the public at large (although I probably have, considering all the bullshit I’ve thrown out into the ether), but I loveBack to the Future Part II. Like, all-time love it, really. And a big reason for that is its gonzo third act, which redid the climax of the last movie with our main characters going through it again, at the same time as their past selves. When I saw it for the first time, it frankly blew my mind. So the moment I realized that a similar time travel convention would be a large part of Avengers: Endgame (which, to those who pay attention even a little bit to behind the scenes leaks, was around the time Infinity War was coming out), I knew I would be completely in the bag for this crazy shit. What a brilliant way to solve the conflict, raise the stakes, and take a moment to reexamine the legacy of the past decade of the MCU all at once. By far the highlight of the trip to the past though was Cap’s big fight with, well, Cap. It’s like an hour and a half into the film and, shockingly, it’s the first scene I would constitute as an “action” scene (the closest beforehand was probably the whole Ronin sequence in Japan). And, sure, it’s to the film’s credit that it’s not super action heavy and still works incredibly well (if not more so) as a crowd-pleasing blockbuster, but this was one of the first major bouts of fisticuffs in the film, and it ended up being a TON of fun. It was the first (but not last) time I said to myself “Man, I love that I’m watching this right now.” And capping it all off with the whole “That IS America’s ass” bit? Line of the movie right there, and my audience responded in kind.
Dumbass Peter Quill Looking Like A Dumbass
A close runner up to the whole “America’s ass” thing though is the moment between Nebula and Rhodey (talk about an odd couple) where they stumble upon Star-Lord in the midst of his big, franchise-defining dance that kicked off the first Guardians of the Galaxy. The moment we heard the familiar strains of “Come and Get Your Love” and saw Peter Quill strutting his stuff, I whispered to my friend next to me that I hoped they were going to cut away to him looking dumb as hell. And boy did they, dear reader. It’s such a simple, predictable joke, but I loved the hell out of it. The whole time travel section allowed the MCU to poke fun at itself all over, and some of the absolute funnest moments of the film come from this Time Heist. I wish I could list them all, but Cap’s ass, paired with Peter Quill looking like an ass, will have to do.
The Thanos Four Way (Not Like That, Get Your Mind Out of the “Thicc Thanos” Gutter)
We’re in the endgame of Avengers: Endgame now, and you bet the remaining picks on this list will (primarily) come from this massive, massive set-piece. But…can you blame me? From here on out, Avengers: Endgame truly presents its bonefides not just as a great movie, but quite frankly a brilliant one. But before I get into some of the bigger moments of this climax, first a bit of appreciation for the fight scene between Thanos, Steve, Tony, and Thor. Excellently choreographed and appropriately kinetic, this all out brawl is exactly what I hoped would come from our Avengers working in tandem to take on this grand threat. Though I’m a lot more charitable to Avengers: Infinity War than most (and I think Avengers: Endgame actually makes it a better, more important movie overall), one thing I do think was lacking in that film was any truly memorable action scenes. Well the scale was certainly impressive no doubt, the entire thing shockingly lacked the energy and panache that I thought The Russo Brothers brilliantly brought to the stage in The Winter Soldier and Civil War. But THIS sequence (and much of the action that follows it) has the Russo’s back to their rock-em-sock-em, The Raid inspired freneticism that made scenes like Cap vs. Bucky in Winter Soldier and Cap vs. Iron Man in Civil War such a delight to watch. It took them like four hours of combined Avengers time to get a scene with as much energy and style as they do here, but it was well worth the wait. Especially with it capping off (quite literally) with…
Cap Catches The Hammer
I mean, what more can I say about this moment? It’s already iconic as all hell, and much praise has been waxed poetically about it from nerds everywhere. So I’ll just once again describe my audience’s reaction to it, because it truly was glorious. At first everybody just seemed rather stunned, and completely unsure what to make of what just unfolded on screen. I was pretty much right alongside all of them, so I completely get it. But then one guy directly behind me, about a second after the silence, just let out a long, elongated “YEAAAAAAH!” You know, the kind that could only come from an excited white guy in his 20’s who has LOST HIS GODDAMN MIND. The floodgates were now open, and a split second later, my entire crowd joined. Cheers. Yelps. Clapping. The whole nine yards. I haven’t heard a reaction that loud in a movie theater to anything since probably Rey catching the lightsaber in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, proving two things: 1) audiences really love characters unexpectedly catching things and 2) this moment is going to go down as one of THE iconic shots of modern cinema. And it god damn deserves to, 100%.
The Avengers Assemble
But as mind-numbingly good as Cap’s Hammer Catch (coming to Disneyland Parks in Summer 2023) might have been, it somehow still isn’t the best moment of the film. No, that arrives a few minutes later as Cap, beaten and broken, straps on his broken shield one last time, and prepares to re-enter the fray. He knows this will probably be it, but doesn’t care, because he has to keep fighting: because he’s Captain America, damn it, and that’s just what he does. But right before our Star Spangled Man heads into oblivion, something crazy happens.
Well, crazy if you weren’t paying attention, I guess. I was waiting for the rest of the Avengers to make their return since the moment Banner snapped his fingers, essentially, and was just bouncing in my seat for the big spectacle to begin. But even as someone who anticipated that Strange was going to bring in the rest of The Avengers to enter the fray, I could never adequately prepare myself for the moment completely. It’s just that fucking good. I mean, where even to start? Alan Silvestri’s absolutely incredible score? The amazing look on Cap’s face as it all starts to happen? The continued freakouts in my audience as more and more people began to spill out from all the portals? Or the face breaking grin spread across my face as I realized that, yes, what I was seeing on screen was actually happening, and that Marvel once again did it: they pulled it fucking off. Ten years of collective movies, spread out over disputer worlds, tones, and franchises, were all converging before my very eyes. What I was seeing was something truly, completely once-in-a-lifetime. And then Cap said “Avengers…assemble,” and I think I might have ascended to geek heaven, just for a second.
Does all this sound hyperbolic? Maybe. Does it make me sound like an overzelous nerd? Oh, definitely. But I’m also not going to sit here and lie: this wasn’t just the best moment of Avengers: Endgame. This scene is one of the best moments I’ve ever had in a movie theater, period. And if such a thing inspires me to sound/or write like an idiot, well? First of all, par for the fucking course. But, second of all? Marvel EARNED this. And that’s what so many of the best moments of Avengers: Endgame — and the film overall — came down to. This is the end of a journey that I was absolutely proud to bare witness to. And in this scene more than any other, it reminded just what I love about pop culture in the first place. It’s one of the all-time great scenes in the history of movies, folks, and I refuse to hear otherwise.
Tony Says The Thing
Okay yeah, all that probably would have made for a very good closer to this list but, hey, can’t fight chronological order, and the movie doesn’t just end once seemingly every MCU character portals in to the battle. No, the actual resolution of the climax comes in the form of not the dozen of characters who occupy the MCU, but the one character who kicked the whole thing off: Tony Stark.
Going in, you would expect something dramatic was going to happen with the character. Robert Downey Jr. very much seemed done with the franchise, and though he wasn’t exactly flaunting it about as much as Chris Evans was, a lot was in Tony’s favor to bite it in this one. So for a good portion of the movie, I kept questioning just how Stark would go out and, especially towards the end, tracking every plot moment as a way for Tony (or, in many other scenes, Steve) to make their grand exit. But even then, this one did somewhat surprise me. Not necessarily with the idea that Tony would sacrifice himself to put an end to the conflict once and for all (seemed like the appropriate grace note for his franchise character arc, if you ask me), but just the way that he did it. The logistics are a bit messy (so Tony can just swipe the stones with nano-magic or something??), but like another smaller Stark’s big hero moment last weekend, it was incredibly satisfying to watch. And his final quip to Thanos being “I am Iron Man?” I didn’t see it coming but, afterwards, felt like an idiot for not predicting it sooner. But, in my defense, not even the writer’s or director’s predicted it either — if it wasn’t for a last minute suggestion from editor Jeff Ford, then this now legendary exchange would never have occurred. Which is ironic, because my first reaction to it happening was “Wow, that’s some damn good writing there!” And the line wasn’t even written to begin with! Filmmaking be crazy, y’all. But regardless of how it came about, I’m happy it did — because it was perfect. Absolutely perfect.
Cap & Peggy Get Their Dance
After such a rush of incredible moments within the span of like twenty minutes (not to mention 3 hours), you would think Avengers: Endgame would make the choice to go out on the biggest bang possible. A moment so big, or dramatic, or shocking, that people would leave the theater on a huge high, buzzing about what they just saw and what it could mean for the future. But if the opening hour showed anything, it’s that Avengers: Endgame‘s MO wasn’t just to wow — from the beginning, it was about giving the 22 film Infinity Saga the proper grace note it deserved, and the character’s within it a good amount of closure.
And who better to have his come last than The First Avenger himself, our Captain our Captain, Mr. Steve Rogers. I have some quibbles about the old man bench scene (yes, they are all Bucky related), but once again, this article isn’t about that. This is about the moments that make Avengers: Endgame an incredible cinematic achievement, and I would be remissed to mention the actual final scene of the movie as part of that. As someone whose favorite character in the MCU is Captain America, and whose favorite films of the MCU are all Captain America related, I secretly hopped he would get the final moment of the film. Because as important as Tony Stark (and Robert Downey Jr) were in establishing this franchise, it was Cap for me that really had its heart. And no other pairing in the MCU could even come close to representing that heart than the one between Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter — it’s pretty much no competition, really. So knowing time travel was involved here, and being a Steve/Peggy stan from way back, I hopped this is where we would leave Cap.
And, like I said, it wasn’t perfect. Like the movie itself, it presents a serious of logistical problems and storytelling quibbles. It kind of has to exist in a vacuum because, otherwise, the whole scene falls apart. Is that a problem? Eh, maybe. But to quote the King of Wakanda…I don’t care. Seeing Cap and Peggy finally get that dance just filled my heart with joy. It made me so goddamn happy to think these two could be together and live a nice, happy life. So forget about Peggy’s husband that Cap just totally erased out of existence, or the fact that he must have went decades knowing much about the atrocities of the future, and somehow kept silent on them. Steve Rogers got to be with Peggy Carter. And, frankly? That’s all I fucking care about. Because it makes me happy. And, sometimes, that matters more than making sense.
…Which isn’t to say it isn’t fun to poke some holes! Like, boy, the future family dinners must be pretty awkward, with Cap facing a young Sharon Carter and knowing that, yeah, he totally makes out with a future version of that. Oh and Cap returning all those stones must have been quite an adventure, huh? Like how did he get that thing back in Jane Foster? There’s a Disney+ series I really want to see. More promising than WandaVision at the very least, right?
Anywho, that’s it for me. If you couldn’t tell by the whole everything of this piece, I absolutely loved this movie. It’s everything I could have wanted and, even with the warts and the nits and the quibbles, I come away with nothing but appreciation that I get to live in a time when it — and everything involved in its creation — is allowed to exist. We should all consider ourselves lucky, because something of this magnitude and scope will ever, ever happen for in the history of movies again.
That being said…Dark Universe: Endgame ought to be dope. I heard Russell Crowe will hang dong in that one.
Matthew Legarreta is the Editor and Owner of Freshly Popped Culture. A big ol' ball of movie, TV, and video game loving flesh, Matthew has been writing about pop culture for nearly a decade. Matthew also loves writing about himself in the third person, because it makes him feel important (or something.)