There are plenty of fantastic one liners across the 22 movies of the MCU, with Endgame delivering a whole host of fantastic zingers. It’s been 5 days since I experienced the conclusion to this epic saga, but I still can’t shake it. “Part of the journey is the end." That one in particular stands out more than most, and it stings. Which, ultimately, is proof that these movies matter.
Maybe not matter in the “going to change the world” sense. But matter in the hearts of millions around the world? Matter to people that have connected with these characters, have grown with them, witnessed their stories, felt their heartaches, cheered at their triumphs? Yes.
It’s easy to be cynical in this world. The reason these films even exist is because a multi-billion dollar corporation is making ridiculous amounts of money from them. They exploit nostalgia in a hardcore fanbase and are created in such a way to appeal to the maximum number of people as possible, all in pursuit of maximum profit. There’s no arguing that the billions of dollars these movies make could go towards ending world hunger, combatting climate change or any number of worthwhile causes. But instead, they line the pockets of the richest in the world, 2-3 movies per year, forever.
Despite that, there’s a reason that 11 years on, the MCU has only grown in it’s appeal. It, as a thing all its own, isn’t cynical. In the stories it tells, even in the darkest of times - such as the end of Infinity War - there is always hope. There’s always a fight to have, a choice to do what’s right, even when the chance is one in fourteen million, six hundred and five.
Good VS Evil might be all well and good, but the stories these films tell are barely ever just that. The franchise began with a critique on weapon manufacturing in a post 9/11 world with Iron Man. The third Iron Man film focuses on dealing with anxiety and PTSD. The Winter Soldier questions the surveillance state and challenges us on how to react in the face of being told to do something you know is wrong. Civil War asks how we should go about limiting and controlling power. Thor Ragnarok discusses how to deal with loss in the face of tragedy. Captain Marvel values the idea of thinking for yourself over blindly believing what others might say, or simply following those that would manipulate you for their own gain.
Behind all those big ideas and themes though, are our characters. Characters that feel - despite being gods, super soldiers and genius billionaire playboy philanthropists - relatable. They might struggle at proportions that we never will, but they struggle.
Steve Rogers is a classic “good” person, who’s moral compass - despite the world continuously pushing him - does not waiver. He takes on the mantle of Captain America, but he does not simply fight for one country. He fights for the ideals that America is meant to be based on - liberty, equality, choice, freedom. He fights for humanity. His choices are always based on the moral right, regardless of the lawful right.
Tony Stark is also “good” in the simplest of terms, but he is the character that grows the most throughout his arc. Beginning as a sheltered individual who’s worldview is shattered, Tony spends his entire time as Iron Man trying to protect. He wants to protect not only those closest to him, but the entire world. But no matter how far he comes, how many systems he puts in place and safeguards he establishes, he can never be finished.
And that’s where the stinger comes in. As a society, we struggle with the idea of “finished”. Conclusions don’t come easy to any of us. Our lives are built around a continuous cycle - the work is never really done; our current monetary situation is never enough; we consume with the knowledge that there will always be more.
It’s why modern society is never ready for death. The most guaranteed part of human existence is that it ends. Yet we fight it, ignore it, run from it, fear it - because we are never truly “finished”. We always want more - to continue our stories, just a little longer if we can.
Entertainment media is filled with this idea: how many TV shows, movies, books etc do you know that truly “end” satisfyingly, let alone on the highest note? How many franchises go the course, then are ran into the ground by further expanding on the story?
To be clear, that’s probably what will eventually happen with the MCU. It will go on as long as it makes money, and it will make money until it is no longer “good”. But Endgame represents a true bookend to a story arc, and a true end for some of our heroes. And that’s hard to wrap our heads around.
But, as with all things, part of the journey is the end. The characters that we’ve lost and the actors that portrayed them may (and will, in some cases) come back in some capacity in the future, but as of now, their stories have reached their conclusion. And though they are completely fictional, their ideals, hopes, connections and heroics will always live on in our hearts.
Because being a hero isn’t about reversing world-wide devastation or shooting aliens with lasers; it’s about standing up for what’s right, protecting those you can, and never wavering from what is morally just, all the way to the journey's end.