I watched Avengers: Endgame reluctantly. I didn’t want the franchise to end. As wearying as, at times, I have found the constant “need” to follow, research, and comment on the the latest entry in the franchise and the “state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe,” I have also taken pleasure in the way this gigantic, popcorn-crunching and box-office-busting series of films has preoccupied the popular imagination. For a film critic, to have to comment on something is annoying, but to get to be part of so many water cooler and coffee pot conversations about movies is fun. Most of those conversations have been civil. Only once, did someone make a move to punch me because of something I said about a Marvel movie. One-time threat of bodily injury aside, I’ll miss those conversations.
Yes, this is the end. There will certainly be more Marvel movies—the next one is on the calendar for July 2—but the continuation of the franchise will occupy a smaller space in our public consciousness. Will something take its place? I doubt it. There wasn’t anything like the MCU before the MCU. Why should there necessarily be something now that it has functionally ended? Farewell, MCU, and thank you.
I realize there is an outside chance you are reading this wondering if Avengers: Endgame is worth your time. I thought it was great, top-tier MCU. I laughed. I cried. I found it to be an emotionally satisfying conclusion to this series of movies. I was grateful I had seen all the other movies in the series. I didn’t feel cheated. More, I felt that it had all been for a purpose.
As I’ve written about many, many times before, the thematic material of these superhero movies is that which is born of this post-9/11 world – terrorism, the arms trade, nationalism, the responsibilities of power, living in a climate of terror, surveillance, nostalgia, sectarianism, generational conflict, isolationism, marginalization, and finally, grief, loss, mourning, and acceptance. Avengers: Endgame brings most of these themes to their appropriate consummation.
Most admirably, the movie suggest that, to borrow a line from Shakespeare, “The fault” for the tragic times in which we live, “is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” When tragedy strikes it is tempting to blame the stars—fate, God, the other—but the blame lies squarely on us, because however powerful we may be—be we made of iron or super serum or gamma rays or members of an immortal alien race—we are still fallible humans, or humanoid tree-men, robots, and raccoons as the case may be. In true to form pop-psychological fashion, Avengers: Endgame looks to the past to explain those foibles. It lets its heroes reconcile with lost loved ones or with their past selves. Forgiveness, not of enemies but of ourselves, is the path to peace.
In that, Avengers: Endgame and the franchise it completes are not that much different than other more explicitly “spiritual” cinematic fare like Vertigo, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Mirror, Solaris, Enter the Dragon, the Back to the Future series, The Tree of Life, The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence, Love & Mercy, Embrace of the Serpent… I could go on and on. (I’m tempted to list twenty-two other films from across film history that deal with this theme as a kind of companion list to the MCU, but I think that might seem cheeky. I do think this series is special.)
Grace is a grand gesture extended first to us by God in Christ and which we are commanded to extend to others, and the most difficult people to extend grace to are the ones we know the best – ourselves and our friends and family. But if we can’t work peace there, we may never be able to work peace in the world. We’ll just move through an endless cosmos of conflict, from fight to fight, restless, longing for an end. The end has come for the Avengers. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that they emerge humble and victorious. Excelsior!