How ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Succeeds as a Distinct Film from ‘Infinity War’

     May 7, 2019

Spoilers for Avengers: Endgame follow below.

In October 2014, seven months before the release of the first Avengers sequel Age of Ultron, Marvel Studios announced that Avengers 3 and 4 would be titled Avengers: Infinity War Part I and Avengers: Infinity War Part II. This signaled that there was a massive, Thanos-infused story still to come, and that it would be too epic to contain to one single movie. Two-part conclusions aren’t exactly rare, and they’ve become more common in the 21st century—particularly with book adaptations like Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games. In each of those instances, the “Part I” feels like half a story, and it leads to a somewhat clunky conclusion. Perhaps that’s why, in the midst of development, Marvel opted to change course and re-title these Avengers sequels Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

The stated purpose of the new titles was to ensure that each movie felt distinct, but that’s easier said than done. After all, the bulk of production on Infinity War and Endgame happened back-to-back, with a yearlong shoot throughout 2017 broken up with a break in the middle. And both movies were written at the same time by screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus. But now that Avengers: Endgame has been unveiled, it’s pleasantly surprising to discover that directors Joe and Anthony Russo did indeed manage to make two completely distinct, different films.

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Image via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

As the title suggests, Avengers: Infinity War is a war film. There’s very little prelude to Thanos’s (Josh Brolin) arrival on Earth, and once the initial confrontation between Ebony Maw and Tony (Robert Downey Jr.), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Bruce (Mark Ruffalo), and Wong (Benedict Wong) occurs, the film really doesn’t let up. The heroes are racing to catch up to Thanos the whole time, who pretty much barrels through each and every obstacle to obtain the Infinity Stones. Indeed, Infinity War is focused heavily on Thanos, pitting the villain as the protagonist of the story.

Endgame, by contrast, is equal parts grief drama and time travel movie. Not only is the genre and tone of the film completely different, but the film’s style is wholly distinct from Infinity War. Whereas cinematographer Trent Opaloch opted for a handheld, visceral style of shooting for Infinity War, Endgame is a bit more controlled and character-focused. The latter film is made up of a lot of medium shots and close-ups, while Infinity War opts for either wide angles or POV shots to put the viewer right in the middle of the chaos and to underline the epic nature of the new character assemblies.

I’ll be the first to admit that when I heard the Russo brothers continuously claim that Infinity War and Endgame would feel like two distinct movies, I was dubious. Given how previous Part 1 and Part 2 movies come together, the odds were that Avengers: Endgame would just feel like one long conclusion to the story of Avengers: Infinity War. Thankfully, it didn’t. Endgame has a distinct beginning, middle, and end as the OG Avengers—in the wake of the Thanos snap—work through their grief to try and find a way to bring their friends (and half of humanity) back to life.

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Image via Marvel Studios

Personally, I can’t say the same about Infinity War. If you look at that film from the point of view of Thanos then yes, it has a beginning, middle, and end, but even then you’re coming into the story at the tail end of Thanos’ quest for Infinity Stones, so his arc feels a bit rushed. Your mileage may vary on Infinity War depending on how well Thanos works for you, but I’ve never been able to get fully onboard (he’s wiping out half the population because… he’s passionate about his beliefs?). Watching Infinity War is certainly a fun, epic experience, but I’ve never really felt it works completely as a distinct, individual film. It feels like half a story.

Avengers: Endgame, on the other hand, feels far more complete. Granted, it has the benefit of focusing on characters we’ve been following for a decade now, so there’s far less legwork to be done to establish, say, Tony Stark or Steve Rogers. Downey has appeared in eight Marvel movies thus far, not counting cameos. That’s a lot of time to develop that character, and that development pays off spectacularly in Endgame. You understand how much it means to Tony to finally have a family of his own, which in turn makes his sacrifice that much more powerful.

But even putting that benefit aside, the structure of Endgame is a beautiful example of setup and payoff. The first hour is essentially a grief drama, as we get a chance to dig into the psyches of our heroes as they work to try and move on five years after the snap. The second hour, spurred by Ant-Man’s arrival, is a tremendously fun time-travel adventure (or “time heist,” if you will) that always keeps the focus on the characters, as the time traveling to previous Marvel movies allows us to see how much these heroes have grown over time. Then the third hour is the giant, climactic battle against Thanos, which thankfully is not just a series of indistinguishable punches but instead is a carefully laid out series of character-motivated action beats. And the conclusion to this conclusive chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, fortunately, an honest-to-goodness ending that pulls no punches and isn’t overly concerned with setting up the future.

All of this is easier said than done, which is why it’s worth noting just how successfully distinct the Russo Brothers and Markus and McFeely have made Avengers: Endgame feel. This is a film that could have probably rested on the laurels of what came before—a victory lap of sorts packed with fan-service moment after fan-service moment. Instead, the filmmakers decided to hone in and focus on telling a discrete, admittedly epic story that stands on its own two feet. And we’re all the more thankful for it.

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