Part I: The Spoiler – Free Part
When Avengers: Infinity War closed, I recognized the distinct feeling in the pit of my stomach. I first felt it as a seven-year-old when The Empire Strikes Back ended, moments after Luke lost a hand and the Empire seemed to have the upper… hand. I’ve felt it at the end of films based on real-life events like American Sniper, Braveheart, and others. But with IW, we already knew with some clarity that this was not the end – even if we knew that the solution to the Thanos problem would cost us… something.
The opening of Endgame is the punch in the gut that the trailer revealed, the loss of fifty percent of “all living things” in an intimate, individual way. While the movie is immense, even luxurious, in scope, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s script and the Russo brothers’ direction makes more of the moments in the film intimate than one would expect. There are more than a few happy and sad moments that bring us to the brink of feeling something, and then push us over – like Spidey’s “I don’t feel so good” moment in Infinity War.
While I avoided theaters for Infinity War, unable or at least unwilling to stomach the annihilation I knew was coming thanks to a vast comic book library and common sense, I’m grateful for the time to tackle Endgame’s vastness on the big screen. Even if the three-hour run time felt like too much at times, the sincerity of the execution felt right, without a moment wasted, as if the Marvel team wanted to grant us one last look at the world they’ve created and we’ve lived in for a dozen years.
For fear of saying too much for those who might read this before seeing it, that’s it: go see the film for yourselves. For those who have seen it, read on to Part II: unspecific spoilers ahead and all that. I told you.
Part II: The Spoilers Unpacked and the Big Finish
One of the things that proved to be the most beautiful about the film is that nearly anyone who was ever important to the Marvel universe gets their “moment.” Watching in a packed house, I was grateful for the way that the audience appreciated all of the moments – vocally cheering for the arrivals of our heroes in the midst of a hopeless situation.
While fanboys and the like have been debating crazy endings for the show (Which of the big names dies? Does Antman really give Thanos a reverse enema?), there is a cleverly done early twist that allows us to see how Thanos is and isn’t the problem. We creatively see a rise in the empowerment of female superheroes, the movement of minorities whether they be human or metahuman, the redemptive arcs of some who were once villains but are now good. Marvel has advanced the movement of the importance of the voice of minorities and women on the biggest stage available. So sure, we see the big baddie and we grapple with that, but it’s successfully held off as the main thing we need to confront until much later, after the emotional heavy lifting of the film (and the conclusion of the series) is over. There is so much more going on here.
Because Avengers: Endgame is practically about what it means to grieve. Sure, we will see heroes rise – we will see the choices to be Christlike, sacrificial, and we will see the resolution of decades long tension in what sometimes seems to be a fantastic love story for the ages. But for the first third, even half, of the film, the Avengers story is asking us to consider how we grieve, and how we move forward when something difficult happens. (Ironically, this is the question that the audience will have to answer for itself as it grieves the ending of this particular Marvel story arc.)
From a counseling, emotional, spiritual, and mental perspective, the variety of ways that the various Avengers who are left deal with their survivor’s guilt is the most interesting thing. Hawkeye takes on an avenging angel approach; Thor drinks himself into a sixty-four pack; Iron Man moves forward with a life with Pepper; Black Widow takes on the role of Shield, for the whole universe; Bruce/The Hulk compartmentalizes. But ultimately, regardless of how the grief impacts them, their heroic natures pull them back off of the sideline “for those who aren’t here.”
What follows is a retrospective of epic proportions, as the remaining Avengers are sent out to the scenes (and sets) of their previous films, including the first Avengers film and that of Thor: Dark World. This whole film is so abundantly a love letter to Marvel and its fans that one can’t help but be moved. [A second screening would surely reveal more: like Tony’s recording of his final thoughts that aren’t actually his final thoughts, the motivation for Tony’s change of heart about time travel, Thanos’ warning that the prideful lose – before his pride and Stark’s evolutionary humility end up flipping wins and losses.] Sure, the film sets up Falcon to be the next Cap and Spidey finds his emotional foundation, Bucky is reinstated and Black Panther is reinforced. But this is a conclusion – and a finality that makes sense.
There lies the beauty of the Marvel universe where we find that the comic books are echoed. This wasn’t the mopey “will I or won’t I?” heroics but a definitive, powerful movement of the truly good (even the worthy) against the face of evil, whoever misbegotten this evil thinks about its own worth. Sure, Thanos’ arrival might be “inevitable,” but the power of the possible, the beauty of the one in a fourteen million chance, rises because good refuses to ignore it. Maybe that’s the most important message that the Avengers moves have pushed again and again: yes, there’s evil, and yes, it will always be there. But there is good, too, and the good won’t ever stop standing up for a fight.
This one hurts, but it’s also cheer-worthy, and powerful. Yes, it’s over, but in some ways, it’s just beginning.