Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson and the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are gunning to avenge the Infinity War.
There’s a proven truth in the comic book business that big finales don’t sell as well as first issues.
This, despite the fact that in the superhero worlds of Marvel and DC Comics, major company-wide finales almost always wrap out their story events on the grandest of scales. Cosmic chaos, highest of high stakes, universe-shaking consequences, and every character possible hurled into the mix. Major deaths occur, new allegiances form, and maybe we meet a new character or two along the way.
The point is to leave the reader breathless, mind-blown, transported through the wringer, and most importantly, ready to eagerly buy up all the new first issues that inevitably launch in the wake of the event. What more could a fan want? And yet, for whatever reason, finales don’t go over all that well. (Cue pre-Endgame anxiety dread.)
When the Marvel Cinematic Universe launched eleven years ago, the grand vision was for their series of films to emulate the scale and interweaving scope of Marvel comics. Along the way, its wild success has yielded a certain breathless, mind-blowing, through-the-wringer defiance of the business of comics; all the while following its intended form surprisingly well. When Marvel Studios pitted their major characters together in 2012’s The Avengers, coffers cracked. When the Z-level and chronic failure comic book title Guardians of the Galaxy was adapted in comedic style by the roguish James Gunn, it made icons of its characters and elevated the whole thing to A-level prime.
So, it stands to reason that Avengers: Endgame, the much-anticipated massive finale to the MCU-wide Infinity Stones saga, will also defy conventional comic book wisdom in not only setting the box office on fire, but rescuing it from inevitable disintegration. This is where expectations are shattered, even as they’re narratively reinforced. Even so, last year’s Avengers: Infinity War did something not only unexpected, but very special- it surprised everyone. The burden lies upon this followup, filmed in quick succession by the same fully assembled cast and crew, to live up to that bold experience.
After nearly twenty films in ten years of good triumphing over evil every time, audiences- now rabid fans- saw their built-in expectation of a victory, however hard-won, systematically trounced. When the finger-snap of the newly all-powerful Thanos unceremoniously eradicated half of the population of the universe, including many of the most popular Marvel characters -- and that’s how the movie ended! -- the development proved to be a rightly emotional blow to even the most jaded of longtime comic book readers. (I.e., those of us who’ve seen their favorite characters die and come back several times over).
The point here cannot, of course, be permanence. Like comic books, this series is built to go on and on and on. What matters, what’s vital, is the success with which the filmmakers and actors sell the emotional reality of the characters themselves.
Both Infinity War and Endgame cultivate empathy and invite sympathy on an amazing level, insomuch as grown adults the world over have been on pins and needles for a full year wondering how a CGI-rendered purple alien eco-terrorist’s unprecedented killing of the king of Wakanda and the Scarlet Witch and the green alien bruiser and the talking tree and the unfrozen formerly brainwashed Hydra assassin and the family who shrinks together and Spider-Man and his amazing friends and the magical super sorcerer and everyone else can be made all better. As far as mass escapism in our current age of intolerance goes, it’s the kind of enormous bummer we can’t resist.
We’ve given ourselves permission to really get into this kids stuff, haven’t we? Let the sociologist of the future explain why. For now, we all together say, Dear Mister Fantasy /play us a tune/Something to make us all happy/Do anything take us out of this gloom...
Just before he disintegrated, the universe’s Sorcerer Supreme Stephen Strange informed Tony Stark that in the 14 million possible outcomes to the Infinity War, the heroes only win in one of them. Those are awfully lousy odds, but of course the point is that there is hope.
Hitting that target is going to require some perfect marksmanship- the kind that tends to get suppressed and suffocated by grief and hopelessness. (Cue one grief-stricken marksman…!) Yet, to consider it in realworld terms, Leonard Cohen wrote around eighty verses to “Hallelujah”, but only kept three. So that proves that even on the mortal plane, perfection is possible amid far-reaching odds.
Meanwhile, Stark is trapped in outer space, adrift and doomed. Meaning, most of the surviving heroes on Earth have no knowledge of Strange’s vision. Nevertheless, Captain America, Black Widow, War Machine, Rocket, Bruce Banner, and the others spend their post-tribulation day’s scrambling for a way to course correct Thanos’s dread snap.
Captain Marvel, fresh from her own box office triumph (What did you expect from a first issue?), shows up to help. Shots shown during the Super Bowl teaser prove to have been manipulated. With Thanos retired to cosmic farm life and three hours to fill, time is on their side. Surprises abound. Things get moving, and we are then moved. It is fun.
Is Avengers: Endgame a work of perfection? Of course not- but that was never the point. The MCU being what it is- an ever-appealing commercial canvas of flawed and varied super-humans stretched tightly over a frame of the most simplistic mega-plot- the filmmakers’ abilities to catch the dozens of spinning plates without breaking even one will have to be sufficient.
In this regard, the Russo Brothers manage to catch the whole multi-billion dollar china cabinet, and keep it gloriously intact. Then, they go ahead and carefully rearrange it just a bit. If it’s all not their prerogative, its the trusted prerogative of their all-powerful producer, one Kevin Feige.
As far as densely drawn epics go, this is one for the ages; a four-color film finale to end all finales. Endgame manages to nostalgically pay tribute to some of the most beloved MCU films while putting a big shiny button on a decade’s worth of astonishing tales. Even with three-plus hours of running time, don’t expect every character to have an arc, or even a moment.
But for the purposes of Endgame, the right characters take the spotlight. Do expect to see every character. If the MCU has taught us anything so far, it’s that in these cases, sometimes simple representation is enough. There are cinematic crowd shots worthy of Infinity Gauntlet artist extraordinaire George Pérez, the very thing that no one ever thought possible on screen. And if you thought the cast list of Infinity War was gargantuan, just wait until you sit through this credit roll.
For the youngest of the young MCU fans, the impact and duration what might well be The Biggest Cliffhanger In Cinema History will be something they will collectively recall and hopefully treasure. (The nearest thing to come to mind? The three years children spent between 1980 and 1983 debating the cliffhangers of The Empire Strikes Back. Precious memories, how they linger... And I don’t even remember what point my seven-year-old self was arguing). No planetary cataclysm real or imagined, environmental or manmade, can ever take away such a shared experience.
Anyhow, ‘nuff said.