One year ago, this weekend, the Marvel Cinematic Universe brought the first stage of their grand experiment to a close. One year later, Avengers: Endgame remains a remarkable achievement in both pop culture and cinema history.
Faithful readers know that in both our spoiler review and non-spoiler review, we had nothing but good things to say about it. A year later, after watching such other storied franchises like Game of Thrones and Star Wars fail to stick their landings, the achievement of Avengers: Endgame stands even taller. Without disparaging either of those finales, one I liked and I didn’t, it just reminds us how much has to go right in order to successfully land something like that. After barely a decade, Marvel Studios closed out their over-arching story and gave more than two-dozen characters their due.
Naturally, every movie has its naysayers. There were critics who shared Martin Scorsese’s notion that these are theme-park rides and not films. Yet, it’s not a theme park ride. In fact, the most impressive thing the filmmakers (Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Joe and Anthony Russo) did was deliver on an emotional story for the first six Avengers. Yes, there was a big CGI battle and lots of ostentatious costumes. There is no denying that this movie with all of its co-stars and cameos represents a kind of corporate boardroom vision. Yet, the movie remains imbued with the kind of personal, emotional stories that make it not matter that the characters are gods.
What makes Avengers: Endgame even more special one year later is that this is a feat likely not to be repeated. The excellence in storytelling and the universal pop culture acclaim is something that may not be able to last.
Anecdotal Evidence of the Importance of Avengers: Endgame to People
Image via Marvel Studios
On paper, the idea that over a decade a studio could release 20-odd films that are all huge hits seems like fiction. Sure, many were disparate stories and only loosely connected to the larger narrative. Guardians of the Galaxy, at first, seemed like a departure for the Marvel model. Yet, it helped them up the cosmic stakes in the story they’d been setting up since Captain America: The First Avenger (also written by Markus and McFeely). Yet, people “grew up” with these movies. Since my own daughter was about 12, she’s had at least two Marvel Studios movies to look forward to per year. We sat in our seats for Avengers: Endgame with her preparing for her high school graduation.
In the immediate aftermath of the ending, most fans just had to sit with the emotions of the finale. Not just reactions to what happened to the characters, which arguably led to one of the most beautiful scenes (not) in the MCU. No, the more prevalent emotion dealt more with the real world. It was the ending of a genuine cultural moment that for many kids and young adults signified a transition from childish whimsy to the seriousness of the adult world. Thanks to the Coronavirus outbreak, this is more true than ever since the next phase of the MCU is delayed along with everything else.
Whatever Marvel Studios has up their sleeves next will surely resonate with kids today. If it’s another decade-long plan, those kids will likely feel something similar to the kids who grew up with the first 10 years of the MCU. Yet, it seems unlikely that this cultural moment will ever be repeated. Because Marvel fandom stands ready to enter a tough phase for any fandom.
One Year Later, Even The Fans Are Starting to Complain About Avengers: Endgame
Image via Marvel Studios
For most fans, there was so much more to love than dislike in the movie. Even repeated viewings in theaters, including an immediate re-release, only heightened the awesomeness of the portal scene or the Cap-vs-Cap fight. Yet, with time, the stuff that we didn’t like so much is a little clearer. Maybe, like my own kid, you are unhappy with Steve Rogers’ fate. Maybe you think Clint should have sacrificed himself instead of Natasha. The movie was perfect, but it wasn’t perfect. This is inevitable, but it marks a change in the fandom that only gets worse as more content comes out.
Like Star Wars or Harry Potter, the MCU fandom finally reached the stage where there will always be something to complain about. After Return of the Jedi, some people weren’t pleased with Ewoks, another Death Star, or that everyone made it out alive. Yet, even the naysayers respected it, and that it was the end of a series of stories they loved. Every successive Star Wars story since faces a growing (or evolving) chorus of naysayers. When the prequels came, people hated them. When the sequels came, people hated them. Nothing Lucasfilm can do (even with Kevin Feige producing a Star Wars movie) will ever match that first time.
Marvel Studios will continue to tell stories, and there is no reason to think that they all won’t be excellent. Yet, one year later, fans are already wondering how they are going to repeat or even top Avengers: Endgame. (Disney’s shareholders are surely interested, too.) The question then becomes if Marvel can catch that sort of lightning-in-a-bottle not a second time, but for a 24th-45th time.
Nothing Can Ever Take Away From What a Remarkable Accomplishment the Infinity Saga Was
Image via Marvel Studios
Growing up, I was aware of the conventional wisdom in Hollywood via fanzines and other pre-internet entertainment reporting. Comic book stories were for kids and nerds. They would never make enough money to justify crossing over characters like Batman or Superman into the same picture. If you had told a 12-year-old me that one day a huge swath of the Marvel Universe would come together in a movie? Well, I’d ask how you found me and for future financial advice. My point is, I’d believe you were a time-traveler before I’d believe that a film like Avengers: Endgame would ever be made.
Comic book fans are typically hard to please. Yet, Marvel Studios continued to please them and casual moviegoers over and over again. When it came time to wrap up their current narrative (and the contracts of many of the longest players), they could have ruined it all in a million ways. Instead, the did two remarkable things. They told a story that assumed the viewers had seen every previous film, forgoing character introductions and recaps of adventures. Also, this film that required the audience to have seen at least a dozen films to understand became the highest-grossing film of all time. James Cameron may call it a “fluke,” but it was a genuine cultural moment. One that strikes me as both impossible to repeat and something that they will try to repeat until they shut the lights off and mothball those characters.
One year later, Avengers: Endgame stands a testament to the viability of hopeful, mythic stories and audiences moved by them. Whether these were the characters you loved as a kid or were a kid at the right time to love these characters, what Marvel Studios pulled off is nothing short of amazing.
What are your thoughts on Avengers: Endgame one year later? Does the film hold up? Do you have nagging questions or doubts? And, most importantly, do you think Marvel can ever repeat this success? Tell us in the comments below.
Featured image via Marvel Studios
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.