We all know by now how big Marvel’s cinematic universe has become. Over the last eleven years and 23 features, the studio has built a world full of memorable heroes, villains, and stories that come together to create the most successful film franchise in cinematic history. But while each of these films stand on their own merit most of them were leading up to one epic conclusion and over the last two years we’ve seen that final showdown play out in the form of two outstanding films, “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame”, which finally pit the Avengers against their greatest foe, Thanos. Considered two halves of a whole story, these two films combine for around 5 ½ hours of entertainment concluding the Infinity Saga. However, while they do represent one long conclusion each is also its own film with its own themes, story, and personality. So, it begs to question, which half of Marvel’s saga-concluding showdown is actually better? It’s a comparison I couldn’t help but consider especially with “Endgame” set to be released on Blu-Ray next week. So, I decided to take the initiative and pit these two cinematic epics against each other to see which is the superior standalone film. This is “Avengers: Infinity War” Versus “Avengers: Endgame”.
For this battle I’m going to look at the third and fourth “Avengers” movies, which together make up the final conflict of the Infinity Saga before “Spider-Man: Far from Home” truly concluded that storyline earlier this year and see which of the two films are superior on their own. While the whole might be greater than the sum of these two parts, my goal today is to look at aspects that apply to both films and see which half of the finale did it better. I personally loved both of these films. Both received perfect scores in my reviews and “Infinity War” went on to be the runner up in my Top 20 Movies of 2018 list. “Endgame” is a strong contender for my favorite film of 2019 with still just under half a year to go.
Obvious it should go without saying but I’m issuing a SPOILER ALERT for those who have yet to see either film.
As per usual I chose five elements to compare these movies. In the end, the feature that wins the most rounds is crowned the superior film. I’ll be looking at story and pacing, the depiction and handling of the villain Thanos, how well the movie balanced its slate of superheroes, the quality of the action in each film, and which product was the more emotional journey overall. It’s time to find out which experience was better, the war or the endgame. Let the battle begin!
ROUND 1: STORY AND PACING
While “Infinity War” and “Endgame” are technically part of one long story arc, each film is a self-contained story unto itself. “Infinity War” focuses on Thanos’ collection of the Infinity Stones and the war that sees Marvel’s greatest heroes try to stop him. “Endgame” focuses not only on the aftermath of Thanos’ success but also on how the remaining heroes plan to reverse the snap and finally defeat the Mad Titan once and for all. With both films running over 2 ½ hours and a lot of story to cram into that time one has to wonder which film presented the better narrative AND embraced a more watchable pace. Let’s find out in round one.
Looking at “Infinity War” the story does feel a bit more condensed and follows a more traditional superhero epic route with a setup, buildup, and violence-laden conclusion that pits the heroes against the villain. In a lot of ways, it utilizes the typical superhero movie format better than almost any film before it, but in the end it’s still a rather formulaic and, at times, rushed flick that tries to stay within the confines of a specified time. But the story suffers more than the pacing as “Infinity War” is a very pleasant viewing experience with a clear beginning, middle, and shocking end that builds you up properly to the final blow to your emotions in the closing minutes. It also takes plenty of time to flesh out Thanos’ character without forgetting that it is, in fact, an “Avengers” film. All in all, it’s a fun watch, but one that could have taken a little more time to fully realize everything it was trying to say and establish.
“Endgame” on the other hand compromises rarely in its storytelling spanning three full hours with three very distinct acts making up the narrative. These acts flow into each other seamlessly and despite being a very long film “Endgame” rarely feels repetitive or drawn out even when it’s literally tackling past stories of the MCU. It finds a perfect balance between storytelling, action, suspense, and spectacle. It takes it’s time to fully develop and complete multiple story arcs, some spanning several previous MCU films. Some criticism can be thrown at the film for its lack of creativity as the time travel element is something we’ve seen many times before. But what it lacks in genuine creativity it makes up for in watchability and presentation. Despite being the longer film “Endgame” feels like the more complete experience and the smoother, more polished story overall. “Infinity War” had a fun and epic narrative to tide fans over, but “Endgame” proved that length is only a number and great pacing and story structure can make any film feel worthy of repeated viewings. The first point goes to “Endgame”.
“Infinity War” – 0 “Endgame” – 1
ROUND 2: THANOS
What makes “Infinity War” and “Endgame” so unique is that they both feature the same villain and in both movies he’s just as ruthless and powerful making him a true challenge for the Avengers two times over. But it’s important to remember that we’re actually seeing two different Thanos in these films, the primary Thanos of the MCU (which I call Thanos Prime) and the Thanos of the past (technically from an alternate timeline) who makes his way into the MCU’s present through time travel. As a result, Thanos is presented two different ways, one a humbler and more experienced villain and the other a younger, more aggressive baddy. While both are great, which Thanos stands out more? Let’s take a look.
“Infinity War” automatically has a bit of an edge out of the gate here because it was, for all intents and purposes, a Thanos-driven film. The villain plays a larger role than even most of the heroes do as the story is about his attempts to gather the Infinity Stones and see his mission of balancing the universe through to the end. This Thanos has had time to dwell on the state of the universe and the need for his mission to be completed. He sees himself as a savior and respects his opponents to the point where he even tells Tony Stark to his face that he hopes he is remembered but then avoids killing Stark to honor Dr. Strange’s deal for the Time Stone. This Thanos is complex and serves as one of several more recent Marvel villains that you can actually identify with. He makes compelling arguments as to why his mission is justified and while he could topple any of the heroes with the flick of his wrist, he shows restraint, giving them an opportunity to allow him to perform his mission and get out of his way. He’s just an all-around great character and villain that lived up to what we were promised for so many years.
The version we see in “Endgame” is also quite memorable, although much more a straight-up villain than his “Infinity War” counterpart. The second Thanos who comes forward in time from the past to challenge the Avengers is younger and less damaged from his hunt for the Infinity Stones, making him cockier and more brutal. He shows no mercy and goes full-on megalomaniac seeking the stones to destroy the entire universe and reshape it in his image seeing how the Avengers managed to find a way to outdo his older self’s original plan. But one of the downsides to this more battle-ready version of Thanos is that he does feel much more like the typical comic book villain than “Infinity War’s” version. He’s still intimidating and proves to be more than a match for our heroes, but he lacks the same humanity and subtlety of the previous Thanos and while we could relate to the first incarnation we can definitely see this one as a pure villain with few redeeming qualities about him. Still an awesome baddy, but much less memorable and complex than “Infinity War’s” take on the character. “Infinity War” takes round two.
“Infinity War” – 1 “Endgame” – 1
ROUND 3: BALANCE OF HEROES
Considering the extensive cast of characters Marvel built up leading to “Infinity War” and “Endgame” there was always a question of how the finale was ever going to properly balance all of these characters. Because of the results of “Infinity War”, both movies actually feature slightly differing casts. “Infinity War” has the bigger cast while “Endgame” brings some missing pieces into the fold and focuses more on the core six Avengers and some added help. So really we’re looking at one movie that packs most of the MCU lineup into one film and another that does include the entire cast but mostly focuses on a small selection of heroes. The question is which movie balances fanservice with quality story arcs for our heroes the best. Let’s examine.
“Infinity War” included the larger cast of MCU characters with pretty much everyone except for some side characters and Hawkeye and Ant-Man involved in the action. Honestly though, save for Iron Man and Thor most of the focus is on the heroes introduced later in the franchise’s history. Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Vision and Scarlet Witch are on-screen and given more story and development than the likes of Captain America, Falcon, Hulk, Black Widow or even Black Panther who had his own billion-dollar movie a few months before “Infinity War” was released. Still, it is impressive that even though “Infinity War” was meant more as a Thanos story it still manages to fit so many heroes on screen and only a few of them feel truly wasted in the process. It’s hard to balance that many characters properly and “Infinity War” tries to use multiple different missions among the big three (Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor) to give everyone something to do, even if not everyone gets a proper chance to shine.
“Endgame” kind of cheats its way around balancing characters thanks to the result of “Infinity War”. Much of the cast is gone thanks to the snap leaving the original six Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye) to team with War Machine, Ant-Man, Nebula and Rocket to reverse the effects of the snap while possibly the strongest character in the MCU, Captain Marvel, is MIA simply because honestly, she could have probably ended the movie in minutes. A lot of people have sighted “Endgames” focus on the original six as one of its strongest elements, but others have acknowledged that its inability to properly use many characters left standing in creative or meaningful ways is a detriment to its narrative. Even then though you have the finale which works in every single hero the MCU has offered so far on the big screen, giving many of our favorite heroes a chance to show off their best abilities in battle.
In the end, this was a tough one to call because both films have their flaws and it’s tremendously difficult for any movie to balance that many characters properly. But the edge goes to “Infinity War” simply because it managed to work in more of the MCU’s roster into the story in meaningful ways even if not everyone gets their proper moment to shine. Seeing the original six complete their story arcs is great, but “Endgame’s” biggest flaw is its inability to share the spotlight properly among all of Marvel’s heroes. “Infinity War” takes the lead.
“Infinity War” – 2 “Endgame” – 1
ROUND 4: THE ACTION
“Infinity War” and “Endgame” are both epic superhero showdowns so it’s no surprise that each of them has their fair share of intense and exciting action scenes and set pieces to tide fans over. On one hand “Infinity War” is, well, a war to prevent Thanos and the Black Order from possessing the Infinity Stones. Meanwhile “Endgame” might only veer into action territory in its third act but once it gets going it rarely slows down. So which film provides the most satisfying action? The one that spreads its epicness across more of its runtime, or the one that saves it all for the finale? Let’s find out.
“Infinity War” certainly lives up to its title providing us a conflict that spans the universe as the heroes of the MCU try to stop Thanos from achieving his goal. Right from the start, we’re given an epic showdown scene between Thanos and Hulk and as the film progresses we’re provided with some awesome superhero battles including Scarlet Witch and Vision being rescued by Captain American, Falcon, and Black Widow, Iron man joining Dr. Strange and others to fight Thanos, and, of course, the battle of Wakanda. This set piece is by far the film’s best as a chunk of the MCU roster takes on the Outriders and several members of the Black Order with Thor eventually joining in the fight. It all eventually leads up to Thanos’ victory, but the battle that rages on before our eyes provides solid proof that our heroes are taking on a challenge like they’ve never faced before. Of the two films “Infinity War” has probably the most action spread throughout its run time, but what it doesn’t have is the spectacle that “Endgame” achieves.
Not only does “Endgame” up the ante with one of the most epic wars to ever be put to the big screen, it manages to combine fan service and a true sense of what’s at stake as it approaches its finale. What starts as the three main MCU heroes, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, battling it out against Thanos eventually turns into an all our war beyond even “Infinity War’s” scale where every hero the MCU had to provide from its big-screen features arrived to take on Thanos and his army with the fate of the universe truly at stake. Multiple heroes get a chance to show off their powers and scenes like the women of Marvel team-up, Captain America utilizing Mjolnir, and Iron Man and Rescue blasting away opponents while flying back to back are now borderline iconic MCU moments and their all contained inside that one-third of this film. “Endgame” might take a while to get to the most epic showdown in superhero movie history, but once it gets there it gives fans everything they could have dreamed of in a final conflict worthy of 22-films of buildup. While “Infinity War” set a high bar to meet, “Endgame” not only lept over its predecessor, it set a new standard than any forthcoming projects may never be able to match. “Endgame” ties this up.
“Infinity War” – 2 “Endgame” – 2
ROUND 5: EMOTIONAL RESONANCE
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has offered many emotional moments throughout its history, but few films have been able to garner the responses of either “Infinity War” or “Endgame”. Both films sport their fair share of heartbreaking losses and tear-jerking character arcs and resolutions that helped them stand out from the pack. Seeing as both films managed to make an emotional connection with fans for a variety of reasons and it’s those emotional cores that served as the most memorable parts of their combined story it’s only fitting that we break up this tie by examining which movie lefts us with the biggest emotional impact. Let’s end this war once and for all by looking at emotional resonance.
Of course, unless you’ve been living under a rock you know why “Infinity War” is a heartbreaking film. Not only does it feature the deaths of Heimdall, Loki, and Gamora, each with their own sad final moments for us to cling to, it also sees the demise of Vision and the elimination of half of the universe including several MCU characters. Peter Parker’s now-famous final moments with Tony Stark before his dusting alone provided a poignant and brutally tragic moment that fans couldn’t help but shed a tear to. Watching our favorite heroes fail and many of them suffer the ultimate consequences was heartbreaking and left a scar that it would take a year to mend. But that’s the problem…we all knew “Infinity War’s” result would be reversed. It was pretty much foretold. Why would Marvel waste some of its biggest characters like Spider-Man and Black Panther? So, while there were plenty of emotional moments to spare from “Infinity War” they were and still are dampened by the knowledge that everything would eventually be reversed in the sequel.
Even if you could ignore the inevitable, “Endgame” still provided more than enough emotional substance to overpower “Infinity War”. “Endgame” managed to tackle many powerful themes in the aftermath of the Snap including Thor’s PTSD and depression which provided a lesson about how damaged people are still worthy of love, Nebula’s identity crisis, and Hawkeye’s dark turn after losing his family. But its biggest impacts came with its death scenes. While some have scoffed at the handling of Black Widow’s death her sacrifice provided her with a truly magnificent moment of heroism and sacrifice while the death of Tony Stark and the subsequent funeral has cemented itself as probably the most tear-jerking moment in the entire MCU. I’ve seen the movie three times on the big screen and I still cry when Tony passes away. Then you add in Captain America’s goodbye and his reuniting with Peggy Carter and you’re left with tears of joy as the credits rolled. “Infinity War” left us heartbroken and concerned for our heroes, but “Endgame” provided closure and a true sense of loss and grief as we watched several staples of the franchise say goodbye in their own ways. With that “Endgame” takes the round and the overall win.
“Infinity War” – 2 “Endgame” – 3
WINNER: “AVENGERS: ENDGAME”
Both “Infinity War” and “Endgame” are amazing films that bring the Infinity Saga to a close in spectacular fashion. Both offer a lot to enjoy including plenty of fan service, action, and emotional depth, but “Endgame” proved to be the superior product for its handling of that emotional resonance as well as having more quality action and the more fleshed out and better-paced story. But one could argue that “Infinity War” excels in two of the more important areas providing a better balance of the MCU roster of heroes and the superior version of Thanos. So, which one is truly better may be more dependent on what you’re looking for. For the sake of this battle though, Marvel’s magnum opus “Endgame” wins out.