A Most Satisfying Conclusion: Marvel's 11 Year Journey to 'Endgame'

April 26, 2019

Avengers: Endgame

"Where you there at the beginning?" That's the question we'll all be talking about over the next few years, thinking back to everything that Marvel Studios has accomplished. With the highly anticipated Avengers: Endgame opening in theaters worldwide today, it feels as if we have truly reached a milestone in superhero cinema. This is a big moment… An epic moment, to be more accurate. Yes, we all know that the MCU will continue and Marvel Studios will keep making more and more movies (and TV shows), but Endgame is truly the end of an era. A deeply satisfying conclusion to 11 years of Marvel Studios movies, 21 of them before this, which have all lead to this moment - to this 3 hour superhero extravaganza. That's an unprecedented feat in cinematic storytelling. And even if you hate these Marvel movies, it's impossible to deny just how impressive it is for them to pull off this culmination and collection of characters coming together for one big showdown.

I was there at the beginning. I remember seeing Iron Man. That is when it all began - Iron Man opened in theaters in May of 2008 (released by Paramount because Disney didn't buy Marvel until 2009). Directed by "Vegas, baby, Vegas!" actor Jon Favreau, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges. I wrote in my review from April of 2008: "I haven't walked out of a movie this satisfied in a very long time!" And yet now, 11 years later, almost to the exact day, walking out of Endgame was just as unforgettable. Just as exhilarating and completely satisfying. Did we know it would all lead here? I'm not sure. Maybe we knew they were hoping to make an Avengers movie "one day", and yet that "one day" came and went in 2012 with the first Avengers movie (directed by Joss Whedon). At the end of my Iron Man review, I only wrote: "All I want right now is to see the announcement for Iron Man 2! Favreau has shown us he can kick ass and now I want more." Yep.

But now we're here, 11 years later, with the fourth Avengers movie in theaters all around the world. With a massive battle that brings together every last superhero introduced on the big screen in those last 11 years. Endgame is really a movie that plays to the fans more than anything. Not just any old comic book fan, but the fans who have invested their time and money into watching all 22 of these movies. Endgame is a unique movie in that it no longer needs to spend any time establishing characters, explaining them, or explaining how they fit into this current storyline. It just gets into it and goes right into deeper character developments (grief, revenge following Infinity War) because we all know them, we've spent a lot of time with them. And they know that, they get that. The Russo Brothers, and co-writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, are incredibly smart and truly understand how these movies are part of the every fan's life, with us for years.

I've gone to see Avengers: Endgame twice now and it's utterly satisfying. Satisfying in a way that transcends whether it's truly good or bad, or if there are a few problems with it. It still hits hard. I still feel emotional watching it. The second time, different scenes made me tear up, because they resonated with me (and with the audience) more. Endgame is one of the most satisfying mega blockbuster series conclusions since Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (and yes, I know it's not a real conclusion since the MCU will continue). Even if they make another 22 Marvel movies in the next 11 years, this movie is designed to finish what began 11 years ago. It wraps up everything that Marvel Studios started with Iron Man in 2008. Happy is there, Fury is there, they're all there to remember everything that happened. It's a truly authentic, touching finale, one that will move even the toughest of critics. And I'm in awe that they pulled it off, and stuck the landing.

Complete satisfaction isn't something that can be achieve easily. It has to be earned, it has to be understood, and it's only worthy if everyone involved (writers, directors, producers, actors, etc) are fully aware of its pop culture prominence and fully connected to the characters. They understand them as much as the fans do. They respect and appreciate that the fans love them and have followed them closely for so many years. Even if each actor goes off and leaves the character behind, makes other movies, and does other things, they've come to appreciate just how much these characters mean to people. This is obvious in Endgame. Everything is earned, all the big moments feel worthy of becoming instantly beloved because they have that authenticity to them. It's a testament to just how much the creators love the MCU as much as the audiences. And this is where that satisfaction comes from - a respect for all that everyone has been through, on screen & off screen.

One of my colleagues, film critic David Ehrlich, said it best when explaining his thoughts on Endgame. He praised the movie (if you can believe it!), saying that it's "a genuinely touching (and cleverly self-reflexive) mega-spectacle about how it feels to fail the people you love." That's exactly what Endgame is about, and also partially why it works so well. Infinity War is the gigantic superhero action-packed blockbuster, and if that's what you've wanted to see with the Avengers, that's the movie you can still enjoy. But Endgame is the more somber, solemn look back at all that we've/they've seen - good and bad, life and death. It takes these characters on one final journey through grief, and loss, and shows us that sometimes living a good life (one that ends at some point) is better than living forever. And that's not an easy story to tell, especially with a big batch of characters that have their own quirks and personalities and special powers (and die-hard fans).

It takes at least two viewings to even begin to process Endgame. The emotions hit hard that first time, and then sink in even more the second time, with more feelings coming up as you watch them go through it all again. But that's why it's an exceptional achievement, even if it has some flaws. Another friend wrote that "Avengers: Endgame managed to complete every major plot thread / character arc that came up in the last 11 years. This film is a triumph of long-form storytelling in a way that’s never been accomplished in the film medium before. It exceeded my expectations in every way." I couldn't agree more. And that's not easy at all to pull off. I'll even admit that I'm not a big fan of all of the MCU movies – some of them are a bit formulaic, forgettable, boring – and yet this one movie made me appreciate (even more) the 21 other movies that came before it. That big moment where they all appear together, it's impossible not to beam with joy during that scene, to cheer and pump your first as they launch into battle. For the fate of all that's good in this universe.

So here we are. At the end. No matter how you feel, superheroes are irrevocably a part of global pop culture. They're here to stay. Avengers: Endgame is a defining moment in comic book movie history. Even moreso than the first The Avengers. That was our first taste of "what if we tried this!" giving fans the epic crossover they've always wanted. Comic books have been doing this for a long time already, and Hollywood has finally caught up with that. This grand movie is the culmination of this current superhero era - the culmination of everything that started in 2008 with Iron Man, took a giant leap forward in 2012 with The Avengers, and wraps up this week in the most emotional of ways with Endgame. And it ends the way it started – with Tony Stark. The original Iron Man. Seeing how it all plays out, what he does at the end, hit me like a ton of bricks. Thank you, Tony, for finding a way out of that cave. For showing us how to be heroes, and how to love them.

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