Every responsible film critic knows not to give away the ending in a review. But what do you do when a movie is all ending? That’s the challenge of writing both thoughtfully and courteously about Avengers: Endgame, which finally hit theaters last night. Joe and Anthony Russo’s climactic, three-hour, fanbase-fellating Marvel bonanza is made up almost exclusively of moments that would qualify, upon disclosure, as spoilers. To even describe how the film opens—which is to say, the events depicted in the very first scene—is to tell someone more than they might want to know in advance. It’s why so many of the reviews this week have advertised themselves as “spoiler-free,” critics keeping things vague to avoid getting slapped with a #Don’tSpoilTheEndgame hashtag of shame—or to get lumped in with the trolls who have been maliciously spreading the film’s biggest secrets, gleaned from leaked footage. (Yours truly preserved said secrets but got enough into the plot to warrant a disclaimer.)
Of course, if you’ve found your way into this article, you’re probably among the many who steeled their bladders and ponied up to Endgame’s massive running time at a screening last night. That, or you don’t really care about spoilers. But just in case, let’s be very clear here: This is a space for discussing specifics of the film’s plot, the stuff Marvel is pleading with folks not to reveal. There will be spoilers, both in the piece and in the comments below it. Consider yourself warned, and don’t bellyache if you learn something you didn’t want to know yet.
Endgame’s final big revelation is that… it has nothing left to reveal. For the first time in MCU history, there’s no cameo or teaser or exhausted silent shawarma feast—no stinger at all—stuffed into the middle or tagged onto the end of the closing credits. One of the harsher criticisms regularly lobbed at these movies is that they often play like glorified coming attractions, constantly promising the bigger fun you’ll surely have if you just tune in again next summer. With Endgame, Marvel aims to really come through on that fabled, ultimate fun—to reward you a prize for punching all 21 squares on the blockbuster loyalty card. That’s why the film is so eminently spoilable: It’s been designed, top to bottom, to really deliver, to give everyone their money (and hours upon hours) of time’s worth. And so the whole movie is like Christmas morning, shoving under your nose one present after another. Captain America wields Thor’s hammer! Bruce Banner and the Hulk become one! Iron Man sacrifices himself by throwing on the stone-covered glove and turning Thanos to dust! To give away these moments is to rob Endgame of its whole raison d’être.
A real sense of finality is, in fact, one of the best things about the movie. I love that there’s no stinger after the film’s genuinely touching final scene, the one of Steve Rogers back in his own era, dancing cheek to cheek with Peggy Carter. The Russos just let us sit with that ending, basking in Rogers’ hard-earned peace and comfort. But for as much as Endgame finally frees Marvel of the burden of setup—of having to get us amped for the next adventure—it still can’t quite be said to exist in its own present tense. Because instead of looking forward, it looks backwards, to scenes from earlier movies in the franchise. If the MCU is a bit like television for the big screen, Endgame is like a series finale composed at least partially of clips from old episodes. It’s like the end of Seinfeld, only with all the hugs and learning Larry David forbade.
And yet! You’d have to be a real killjoy not to get a few pangs of delight out of Endgame’s middle hour, when it starts inserting Earth’s mightiest heroes into their own shared franchise history, sending them bumbling through the background of The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, and Guardians Of The Galaxy. Maybe I’m just a sucker for this kind of thing—I’ve always loved that final stretch of Back To The Future II, when Marty returns to 1955, Robert Zemeckis literally splicing him into unused footage from the original. Endgame offers a giddy, crosscutting, convoluted variation on that same scenario. As fan service goes, it’s much more inspired than the redundant final battle, just a bigger version of the one that closed out Infinity War, with the tables turned and the applause sign lit up. And though I think spoilerphobia has gotten way out of hand, I confess I’d feel pretty cheated if someone told me beforehand about the absolutely perfect moment when the Russos cue up “Come And Get Your Love,” cutting from Thor’s reunion with his beloved Mjolnir to Peter Quill dancing in that space temple, just as he did at the start of Guardians, before the film dims the golden oldie to a muffled, outside-the-headphones diegetic hum. That’s pandering I can get behind, and a spoiler I couldn’t abide.