Let me preface this article by saying that I don’t think Avengers: Endgame is the best comic book movie of all time. I don’t even think it’s the best in the MCU. However, I think something people often overlook is just how insane it is that a movie like Endgame even exists, in our lifetime nonetheless. After the film released, it felt like there was more discourse nitpicking the logistics of time travel and alternate universes than there was about the sheer existence of the darn thing. I aim to make the argument that Endgame is the best film superhero movies have to offer. Whether you want it to or not, the genre will eventually fade from public interest, but when all is said and done, I believe Avengers: Endgame will go down as the peak of superhero movies.
Think about what the MCU has accomplished in the last eleven years. They changed the landscape of superhero movies with the release of Iron Man in 2008, and we thought they had perfected the formula. They changed the landscape of the entire movie industry with the release of The Avengers in 2012, and we thought they had perfected the formula yet again. Year after year, they continued to impress us as they got more and more ambitious. Captain America: Civil War was the biggest on-screen superhero team-up when it released. No more than two years later did that twelve character roster look like chump change compared to the colossal ensemble featured in Avengers: Infinity War. No more than one year after that did Marvel top themselves yet again with Avengers: Endgame.
But that’s where I think things will peak for Marvel. Surely they will have even grander films than Endgame in the future, but to what end? To answer that, let’s recount the history of the superhero genre, as well as genres as a whole.
When films like Richard Donner’s Superman and Tim Burton’s Batman graced the big screen, they proved that superheroes had a place in mainstream blockbusters, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s when studios really began to see their potential. You probably grew up watching movies like X-Men, Spiderman, and their many sequels. This was an era when studios had developed the concrete conventions of the genre that came to be expected by audiences film after film. But something had to change. Even with the gritty, realistic take on Batman from Cristopher Nolan in 2005, the one-off superhero storyline could only take studio profit and audience investment so far.
The biggest comparison you’ll see when talking about the current craze of superhero movies is the western genre. These types of movies follow a very similar trend, which is why many think comic book films will “go the way of the western” as they slowly fade out of the public conscience. This may be hard to believe given their current popularity, but there’s only so far you can go when making movies about a specific type of character.
But similarly to how films like High Noon and The Searchers refined the Western genre in the 50s, Iron Man and the introduction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe arrived in 2008, and the superhero genre hasn’t been the same since. Fast forward to 2019. Avengers: Endgame not only fulfilled every fanboy’s wildest dream but also served as the culmination of eleven years of expert storytelling, effectively concluding the Infinity Saga.
What makes Endgame work so well is how it pays off moments from that eleven-year history of the franchise. The decision to use time travel was a genius idea as it allows our heroes and the audience to relive and experience events from their past, which emphasizes just how much they’ve grown as characters. Captain America has changed exponentially from his 2012 self in The Avengers, and we see this not only through their confrontation but also through the methods he’s willing to utilize in his mission. The “Hail Hydra” moment was a great bit of fan service, but it clearly shows how at this point, Steve is willing to forgo his moral code to get the job done.
Thor, who has changed the most physically and mentally since the Decimation, relearns what it means to be worthy and what it means to be a hero. The moment where he’s reunited with Mjölnir is more than fan service, it reinforces the fact that while our heroes may lose sight of their true selves, there is always a chance for redemption (and it sets up for a pretty kickass scene with Captain America later in the movie).
Tony gets the chance to finally make amends with his father. The inclusion of Howard Stark is more than just fan service, it’s a payoff for internal conflict within Tony Stark which had been developed since his first movie. It also sets up for his sacrificial decision that ends his story later in the movie.
You could nitpick Endgame for including too many moments “for the fans,” but almost every bit of fanservice is justified and elevated by what it means for the characters. Captain America lifting Mjölnir is something comic book fans never imagined they would see in live-action, but not only does it pay off a scene from Age of Ultron, it works to emphasize what makes Steve Rogers Captain America. “Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.” Cap screaming the classic “Avengers Assemble” line is another moment fans have been itching for since his debut, but the decision to hold off until this moment to reveal the line pays off the previous two movies of development for the team. Civil War broke them apart which allowed Thanos to attack at the perfect time in Infinity War. Endgame was a movie that emphasized the importance of unity, and it all culminates with this line.
I could go on and on about how each moment in the film only works with eleven years of history behind it, but really the best thing Endgame accomplishes is the finality it gives its characters. Iron Man learns the importance of sacrifice as he puts his personal baggage behind him, something his character struggled with from the beginning. Captain America finally gets the closure he deserves after a lifetime of serving his country and his planet. After staring down a galactic army face to face, he earns the opportunity to pass on his legacy in safe hands and put his hero duties aside for good.
In all honesty, I think my biggest gripe with the movie was that it wasn’t the end. I’m not gonna act like I’m not excited for what Marvel has in store for the future, but every subsequent film in the MCU will forever stand in the shadow that is Avengers: Endgame. I respect Marvel for taking the time to focus on individual characters for the indefinite future, but the time will come again when a Thanos level threat arrives in another ten years and its time for the heroes to assemble once again, and I just don’t think it’ll be able to top Endgame unless they change what they’re doing.
I think in the grand scheme of things Avengers: Endgame will go down as the peak of what superhero movies have to offer and will mark a historical shift in the genre. If we look back at the Western, this is when the films will start to become more aware of its conventions and actively work to subvert or exploit our preconceived notions of the genre. Maybe I’m being ignorant and we’ve only just scratched the surface with what this genre can offer, but I just don’t believe a superhero film will ever be able to effectively pay off over a decade’s worth of storytelling while still pleasing its fans quite as well Endgame.
What was your favorite moment from Avengers: Endgame? Let us know in the comments below!
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