Episode 565: Portals

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we tackle “Avengers: Endgame,” which really was inevitable.

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Matthew Belinkie, Peter Fenzel, and Matthew Wrather are joined by guests Ben Krinsky and Shiyan to overthink Avengers: Endgame. They spend some time discussing the journey each major character has undergone, and consider the implications of plotting out an endgame not just for the Infinity War, but for such a sprawling and complex story as the MCU’s current phase.

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12 Comments on “Episode 565: Portals”

  1. Jay #

    I would like to point out the narrative connection between Thanos and Stark. Stark throughout his movies is always building new suits. Constantly improving on himself. First it was to fight localized threats, but after seeing aliens, he started doing it to prepare for the big one. That drove him nuts in Iron Man 3, and led him to create Ultron. He’s constantly trying to upgrade. In Infinity War, he confronts finally confronts Thanos. All that six years of his life has been building up to. And he goes at it with the best of his best suits. And he still loses.
    As Thanos puts it; he is inevitable. He is the ultimate malevolence. The monster at the end of the tunnel. And the response to that is, I am Iron Man. That represents to me a symbol of constantly trying, constantly upgrading, constantly evolving. Thats how we take on the ultimate evils. Iron Man
    Another connection between the two is they both feel burdened with safeguarding the greater good because of the knowledge they have and their capacity to make change.

    I strongly disagree that the CGI punching is the least interesting part. Its the superheroes finally getting to physically triumph after we’ve watched them suffer so much. And performing at their peak levels of skill. The emotional journeys dont quite pay off without it


  2. ScholarSarah #

    1 – The Team Girl Squad shot did make me cry, but it also made me really angry at the filmmakers, because it was entirely unearned, both within the movie and in the MCU as a whole.

    Of those women, only Nebula was even a secondary character, and besides present Nebula and past Gamora, I don’t think any of those characters actually talked to each other in Endgame.

    2 – I agree that the change to professor Hulk was weird, narratively, but very much in line with how the Marvel movies operate, in that they generally have their characters develop off screen.

    Like Tony’s relationship with Pepper can whipsaw between movies design on what the next movie needs, but he has about the same two character beats repeated from movie to movie: parent issues, and learning self sacrifice; the filmmakers have the story they want to tell, and they just have all the intermediate steps happen off screen.

    3 – I totally bought the Clint/Natasha soul stone thing. While their history together was never in a film, it was clear enough from their interactions in Avengers 1, and how she knew Clint’s kids in Ultron, that they were (platonically) close.

    4 – The reason the snap stays happened, and literally everyone in the universe gets to live with PTSD, is because Tony Stark is the only person in the world whose life was made better by a universal catastrophe.


  3. clayschuldt #

    Its been a few days since I saw the film and it seems most of the negative criticisms of the film are based on what didn’t happen or happen off screen in this film, rather than what did happen. I feel this is linked to the limitations of run time.
    At 3 hours this film is packed. Part of me wonders what a 4 hour cut of this film would look like. Would we get more insight into the Banner/Hulk transformation? Would we get a hint or two about Capt. America’s decision to stay in the past and the ramifications of that decision? Would Black Window have received a greater send off with a funeral? The deleted scenes from Endgame will be enlightening.


  4. Adrian #

    One thing I loved about how this movie handled time travel: in the end of the first Bill and Ted, when they realize they can achieve anything they want because they have access to a time machine, getting themselves out of jail, leaving keys where they can find them, etc, but this is all handled offscreen. Presumably by these same characters later, after the credits roll, running around and doing all the legwork. That’s basically Steve heading off to put all the infinity stones back (and I guess Mjolnir too?), which I found pretty hilarious.

    The only thing that bothered me was the consequences of the five-year time skip, and the “time can’t be changed” view of time travel meaning that everyone who died in the first snap has to be brought back NOW as opposed to saved in the past. Doesn’t that mean all the returning people are 5 years out of sync with everyone in their lives? This doesn’t make as much of a difference for the adult characters, but I’m wondering how this affects the upcoming Spider-Man film–everyone Peter knows should have graduated, right? Or did the world just stop once society collapsed, and everyone is going to start their lives again now that everyone is back? Is Ned a 20 year old sophomore?


    • ScholarSarah #

      I couldn’t say how the filmmakers are going to handle it going forward, but yes, half of the population of the universe is five years out of synch with the other half. This would cause absurd amounts of difficulties, including psychological, legal, and practical; and I am certain the writers do not care to engage with the full ramifications of what that means.


  5. John C Member #

    I usually look at Marvel stories in terms of Stan Lee’s work, in the ’50s, on mostly romance and monster comics, because that informed a lot of what he created for Marvel Comics proper. The earliest characters (Groot, the Fantastic Four, Ant-Man, Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man, etc.) especially draw heavily from one or both traditions, which I think explains the “grounding” that was discussed. It also explains why the superhero side of the stories is almost always less interesting than the out-of-costume parts, except where the former serves as some metaphor for the latter.
    For example, you can have Spidey’s adventure be a metaphor for puberty and that works. You can have Iron Man’s problems in a fight to be analogous to his alcoholism and that’s great. But it takes a lot of good will to make CGI punch-fests anything more than “the part of the movie that’ll sell outside the English-speaking world.”
    And this is why I think it’s almost always a mistake for Marvel to reach for these universe-level threats: Beyond making it impossible to top, the stakes mostly rise to a peak when what’s being threatened is the New York Metropolitan Area (or equivalent) and quickly become too abstract to register once Earth isn’t in the frame, unless the writing is extremely deliberate and, well…good.
    And Endgame kinda-sorta realizes this by turning back on the “thing you love most” stakes, but…those are all wrong choices. The MCU/Phase-One Avengers in particular are torn in some important way between the freedom their abilities bring them and their (fraying) tether to a normal life. So, any attempt that doesn’t introduce that split (literally, in the hypothesized Hulk case) is probably doomed from the outset. Except for Hawkeye, who’s always just kind of there, with nothing going on; he could probably love ice cream the most, for all anybody knows.
    It doesn’t help the personal stakes or the CGI punching that, as hinted on the podcast, there isn’t any storytelling between movies. The big events are a lot less meaningful than they are in the comics, I think, without the ongoing “normal” stories. Agents of SHIELD dipped its toe in that pool, of course, but it never really worked out.
    And it’ll be interesting to see how the MCU rebuilds for its next phase. Partly, it’s interesting because it’s now in parallel with DC rebuilding the DCEU after its destruction of half the universe and finally realizing that people watch superhero movies to have fun. But also because a lot of the known the known Phase-Four(?) heroes–Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Vision, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Falcon–are slightly later inventions and fewer come from that monster/romance tradition.
    Well, that turned out longer than I expected…


    • Three Act Destructure #

      Weeeeellll, it’s a little more complex than that. While I think that you’ve properly identified one of the vectors for understanding the inspirations of early Marvel Comics, Stan Lee was not the only important person at Marvel with that same history of monster/romance comics. So it’s not just his period of work that draws back on that.

      For example, while Stan was still kicking around at the time, Vision is primarily the creation of Roy Thomas and here’s the cover of his introductory issue: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/4b/Avengers57.jpg

      Thomas wasn’t really a monster guy but it’s obvious that the DNA of this thing was firmly implanted in the creative process of Marvel at the time.

      Getting beyond that, even early Marvel was inspired by plenty of other sources too. The Fantastic Four and the original GOTG (’60s creations) were both a part of earlier sci-fi traditions that called back to sources as diverse as Asimov and Flash Gordon. Adam Warlock (who has been teased), Thanos and Space/Infinity Gems/Stones similarly are pre-Star Wars concepts, some of which have now been infused with the immediately post-Star Wars milieu of movies like The Last Starfighter, thanks to James Gunn.

      Sepeaking or both early Marvel and earlier sci-fi, The Eternals are coming: a team that was originally not in continuity with the Marvel Universe but instead started out as a bonkers (and pretty fun) side project by Jack Kirby inspired by his belief in the same Ancient Astronaut theory that informed 2001: A Space Odyssey. Famously, Kirby also created the comics adaptation of the movie adaptation of the book, which added a ton of original material straight from Kirby’s imagination. Yes, Jack Kirby made his own sequel to 2001 in comics. It was strange and wonderful.

      Shang Chi has also been announced and comes from pretty obvious badly-translated wuxia sources. That’s a ’70s creation, still pretty early for the company, and also the period that spawned their other, more direct, take on monster comics: stuff like Blade, Hannibal King, Daimon Hellstrom (“the SON of SATAN!”) and Ghost Rider (also a Roy Thomas creation, although inspired by the earlier Phantom Rider).

      Point being, this is a big, rich stew which has had a lot of different flavors added to it over time. Heck, there’s still a lot of ’90s cyberpunk and neo-paganism, 2000s speculative/hard sci-fi, and even later and heavily navel-gazing meta-narrative ideas that we haven’t really seen on screen yet. Meanwhile, the movies have still made time to divert into very specific periods like Ed Brubaker’s political thriller period of Captain America’s series (adapted surprisingly faithfully, by the way) while still keeping audiences plenty interested.

      While understanding Stan’s specific contributions to the company is important, I don’t think that any analysis that looks exclusively through that lens is ever going to be able to capture what makes Marvel popular. Personally, I’m not worried for the future. I’ve seen a strain of suspicion, or even outright doom-and-gloom prognostication, regarding this new post-Endgame period that we find ourselves in. I think that personal interest might wane for certain people but there are plenty of die-hards at this point and Marvel is good at bringing in new fans based on tried-and-true methods.

      I mean, they’ve already got a generation of women who obsess over Chris Hemsworth’s abs that is distinct from the generation of girls that obsess over Tom Holland’s abs. Who knows what incredible abs await our collective grandchildren?


      • John C Member #

        Yeah, to clarify, I didn’t want to imply that the monster and romance stuff was all of Marvel. More that it was the first five-ish years (of Marvel-as-Marvel), which also happens to overlap with most of the pre-Endgame characters.
        I also tend to think that Marvel’s success in storytelling largely depends on keeping to that approach, no matter how many other genres or milieus get blended in. That’s not a criticism or attempt to center the entire company on Lee, mind you, more identifying a strength they can lean into when they need to. Something similar seems true at DC, where “good” stories that stand the test of time are generally the ones that play with the detective and/or space-faring themes of the pulp magazines the company published previously.
        What’s interesting about the timing aspect is how clearly it looks like Marvel stumbled into a series of “five-year plans.” You have the romance/monster folks in the early ’60s, then the sci-fi progressives, followed by movie knockoffs (horror, blacksploitation, and martial arts, in particular), and so on.
        Captain America seems to break the model, as you point out, but of course, he’s a legacy from decades prior, so it makes sense for him to be an odd fit and more malleable.


  6. Mike #

    I feel the crew was trolling with the Captain America analysis.
    1. You don’t know who Peggy Carter marries. You never see the guy, or get a name? I wouldn’t expect her to blurt out Steve traveled back.
    2. Steve Rogers had his “WW2” moment. He signed up, fought the good fight, and now came back home. Expecting him to then continue on to fight the Marvel equivalent of “Korea” and “Vietnam” and fight a perpetual war is horrible. He did his part, and now he can rest, and leave those future wars to the next generation – a generation that exists because of the fighting he has done. He’s a man, not a weapon. He shouldn’t be expected to fight until he’s riddled with arthritis. You fight for concrete reasons (non abstract), like a slow dance with your sweet heart.


    • Mike #

      What I’m getting at is that Captain America’s conclusion is a denunciation of the NATO doctrine…
      America is drawn into Europe to fight a war. Then stays for the next 70 years on various pretexts.
      Like wise, Captain America is drawn into future to fight a war (started with an infinity gem, and ends with the infinity gems), and instead of staying in the future on some pretext of preventing a future Dr. Doom or Galactus, and retiring with Nick Fury in some chateau, he goes back home. Job is done. Let the future people deal with their own problems. America First. Let them pay their own way.


      • John C Member #

        I feel like reading a Captain America story as standing in opposition to everything Captain America does or says might be a somewhat extreme and deliberate reading. Heroism isn’t generally about cowering in the corner as long as your own family is safe.


  7. Three Act Destructure #

    Wanted to take a moment to address Captain America’s arc and how I think that that relates to the Russo Bros. more generally.

    It’s been really difficult to nail down exactly what the Russos bring to these films. They’ve made some of the most successful superhero movies of all time and yet they do not appear to have any particular visual or narrative quirks that can be assigned to them. There is no Russo style, apparently.

    This has obviously been a source of much speculation and downright consternation amongst the new Youtube elite of film critics. Well, about halfway through Endgame I think I found something: the Russos, throughout all of their Marvel work, are suspicious of the conventions of the genre. Or at least the MCU as it existed before them.

    Tellingly, their first inroads to the franchise was The Winter Soldier, a film in which even the most rousing and straight-forward action sequence near the beginning was secretly a cover for SHIELD to do some backhanded spywork that endangered their own team. This is the same movie in which Cap fights against his own countrymen and the big, third-act punch-’em-up includes, essentially, innocent soldiers being killed by undercover agents posing as their comrades, the infrastructure of these movies, SHIELD itself, being dismantled and our hero lying down and taking a beating from his former best friend.

    Fast forward to Civil War and we go from the wildest and most fun superhero spectacle being two teams of allies whomping on each other for twenty minutes to the promised super soldier showdown being ripped away from the audience and replaced by heartbreak and angst.

    Infinity War basically destroys Thor’s arc from Ragnarok, destroying the people he’d just learned to appreciate but giving him back a hammer and a second eyeball. All to take it away from him again by the end while simultaneously pushing one more fun superhero flick towards a conclusion filled with shock and misery. Everyone fails in Infinity War, in every battle.

    And despite the Russos being willing to thread their sequels with subtle callbacks to the work of earlier directors, they are less inclined to appreciate the specific approach that guys like Whedon employed. Maybe I’m reaching here, but they seem to really enjoy undercutting the big, heroic moment of the Avengers capturing Loki by making a joke about everyone standing around in their silly poses. They also give a few hits to Thor: The Dark World and do some lampshading about there being three Infinity Stones in New York at the same time.

    I think this ties into Cap’s arc because while the Russos are willing to acknowledge Steve Rogers’ line in Age of Ultron about having become a different person, they’re also willing to treat that like a form of self-delusion in the same way that his therapy group leadership is. He’ll move forward if he has to but if there’s even a slim chance to go back then he’ll always take it. Again, suspicion. They clearly don’t really believe what other people have done with these characters at a fundamental level.

    It’s kind of a shock then when Endgame’s finale turns into the Russos finally giving their tenure with the series a proper, unironic hero vs. villain battle scene. But notice what they don’t call back to during that moment, even though a literal clip of it shows up earlier in the film: the famous 360 degree-spin Avengers team-up shot. That’s just not their perspective on how any of this works at its core.

    So while Joss may have seen Cap as an eternal warrior, the Russos believed in the darker take: that emotionally he was in a state of suspended animation that he still needed to extricate himself from.

    Oh, by the way, can I just say that I loved Sam getting the shield? Bucky Cap is fine, sure. But Sam not only gives new filmmakers a chance to explore the politics of a black Captain America: http://theslingsandarrows.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Captain-America-Sam-Wilson-V4-Renaud-int.jpg

    But he also adds something visually. A dude dressed up like an Americanized bird getting to toss around that boomeranging shield is not something we’ve seen on-screen before. Really adds a whole other dimension to it: http://i.imgur.com/5bn7rE4.png

    I’ve been seeing a lot of people acting like Endgame is a series finale, since they’ll be jumping off the train now that this era is over. Stuff like Captain Falcon is what makes me happy to treat it more like a season finale instead.


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