It is hard to believe that it has been 11 years since we first saw Iron Man. The 2008 film did not feel as much of a beginning as it did an opportunity, a chance, and a belief that superhero films could someday be the biggest reason huge audiences made the trip to the cinema. Even those early iterations of this now connected universe showed that it was hard to shake some of the stigmas of the Avi Arad generation of cinematic superhero films. Arad’s films never quite shook off the “it’s a pretty good movie but it is just a superhero movie” sheen that was only occasionally taken seriously by critics and the public (most notably, Spider-Man 2). But as soon as Kevin Feige arrested control away from Arad, and the films became more focused on Feige’s new vision, we got to see the potential globe uniting qualities that have become the norm for most MCU films.
There were the unexpected highs of The Avengers, the trademark idiosyncrasies that became part of the MCU tradition (the humour, easter eggs, post-credit scenes), the critical acclaim that changed superhero movie perceptions (The First Avenger, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, Captain Marvel) and the interwoven social and cultural characteristics that solidified these Marvel movies as being in-tune with today’s world.
So how does a franchise that stretches across some 20+ films possibly reach an acceptable, conclusive end? It’s a question that has been asked since we first saw Thanos in The Avengers. That film was also the first time we got a glimpse at what Feige and Marvel had been dreaming of after the success of Iron Man. It was in part, the scale and the scope of a much grander plan that no one could have ever expected, a brand new standard of the comic book to celluloid translation. Enough momentum and success followed and what we’ve gotten this past decade or so is potentially an everlasting mark on film history- it has to be, nothing matches its scale and ambition. Comic book lore, once reserved for basement dwellers and societal outcasts, flourished and thrived in the mainstream.
Avengers: Endgame is then, the culmination of these 11 years, the exhaustive and complex world of characters, worlds, dimensions, and stories interweaved together with Feige-like precision. It hasn’t always been perfect of course, but like the MCU itself, the ambition and scale of Avengers: Endgame is ultimately part of its defining characteristic.
One can argue that directors Joe Russo and Anthony Russo have been the most consistent at the helm of MCU films. Since Captain America: The Winter Soldier, they have been at the crux of this concluding story arc, and their films have a consistent vision and tone that most likely, closely matched Feige’s. Avengers: Endgame is then, part epic finale and part long epilogue to the MCU. Avengers: Infinity War was an Earth-shattering entry into the cannon, and Endgame does more to wrap the entirety of the story than it does to expand on Infinity War’s deep emotional blistering. It is not to say that Endgame doesn’t pull on the heartstrings, how can it not? It is in every respect, the end. And so it packs a lot into its 181 minutes, far too much to make it as riveting as The Winter Soldier or as culturally impactful as Black Panther, but honestly, it doesn’t need to be. Endgame needed to be the grand farewell, the exhale, the unburdening of all our collective movie-going shoulders of an 11-year emotional cinematic experience.
So Endgame is a little heavy on multiple plot lines, doesn’t quite give some of the characters we’ve fallen in love with over the last few films enough time, and its climax is a big, orchestral crashing of CGI and big battle scenes … but how else would the MCU have ended? What else could we have wanted after 11 years? Avengers: Endgame is every bit a tribute to its fans and the desires of a movie-going audience as it is a conclusion to its story. We are able to see these characters for the last time (some for the last, last time), get the sign off we’ve always wanted, and to close a glitteringly successful and captivating chapter in blockbuster cinema. You can critic the film for its flaws (most reviews have been positive, some negative, some just plain stupid), and you can say that Marvel and Disney are giant money printing monoliths who have turned profit into an art form. But so what? Marvel Studios have done more to keep people in cinemas than almost any other franchise save Star Wars, and well, guess who owns that too.
After the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame I was left with a tinge of sadness. Sure, some of it because of the film’s content, but mostly because this journey has come to an end. For the last 11 years, I have been part of this global audience who with much anticipation enjoyed almost every film, reveled in the connectivity of a shared universe, and have had a blast escaping into Stan Lee’s expanse. The next Spider-Man film is said to be the final movie in Phase 3 of the MCU, but it is hard to figure out how the story could possibly progress from here. We’re getting a Loki television series, a Hawkeye television series, and most likely Black Panther 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy 3. But in reality, the best we will ever get ended with Avengers: Endgame. Not that the future can’t be as bright, but for now at least, this was everything we ever wanted.