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The Game Is Over: A Love Letter to ‘Avengers: Endgame’ and Phases 1-3 of the MCU

Written by: Jason Ross


Let’s Get this Out of the Way

There are going to be SPOILERS throughout this essay. I just can’t talk about this movie and say the things I want to say about it without including SPOILERY details. So if you haven’t seen it yet (why are you even online? There are SPOILERS EVERYWHERE) get thee to a theater and see this movie. Then come back and read this essay.

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Here we go…

The Aftermath

I saw Endgame with some friends of mine at an 8:45 showing on Friday night, meaning we finished at close to midnight. There was little time to discuss it afterward, as we were all exhausted. And yet I lay in bed that night feeling a strange duality. I was both drained and charged, exhausted and buzzing. I had laughed, I had cheered, I was glued to my seat.There were two scenes in particular toward the end of the movie that had me choked up in the theater. Thinking about them the next day, trying to articulate, even if only to myself, how I felt about them, I teared up and had to fight back a messy fit of crying. I might have allowed myself to do it, if at the time I wasn’t sitting in my car in a busy grocery store parking lot in the middle of the afternoon. It wasn’t just those scenes and how they affected me, though I’ll talk about them later, but something more than that. What I had been feeling most since seeing Endgame was a sad wistfulness. Why? Well, let’s come back to that a little later as well.

The Joy of Going in Fresh

Endgame is the first movie in years I managed to sit down and watch knowing virtually nothing about beforehand. I had not seen a single trailer. Not one TV spot. No on-set photos. No full size posters. No actor interviews or promos. Not even a plot synopsis. In the current age of internet pop culture entertainment coverage that we live in, where various websites and online media outlets are in an arms race of movie speculation, where trailers are dissected frame-by-high-resolution-frame and every wild rumor is reported, this is damn near impossible.

And it started on a whim. Normally, I watch the trailers and go through the high-res frames and read the synopses and the rumors, but not this time. A friend rightfully pointed out that seeing Endgame wasn’t a question. Of course I was going to see it. So why risk any spoilers, surprises, or reveals? The destruction of Mjolnir and reveal of Hulk in Thor Ragnarok trailers were two points of contention that caused my friend (I happen to agree with him on both of those) to largely swear off trailers. So for Endgame, I did the same. The plan was to go in fresh, having seen and knowing nothing, or as close to nothing as possible. There were some close calls and more than one instance of me closing my eyes and clamping my hands over my ears when a trailer came on TV, but I made it. I saw Endgame as a virgin of sorts. And I have to say, it was joyous.

Every surprise, every reveal, every turn and development and betrayal. Every moment was new and often unexpected. It was one Hel of an exhilarating way to see it. If you have the means and the willpower, I highly recommend it for the big franchise movie you’re just dying to see *cough Episode IX *cough..

Oh Snap!

So we all knew the Snap would be undone, right? That was never in question, as the random disintegration of half of all life in the universe conveniently left the original Avengers intact while turning nearly every “new” character to ash. Of course it would be undone, as we have had confirmation of a sequel to Black PantherGOTG vol. 3, and even a new trailer for Spider-Man: Far from Home where Peter is very much alive and well.

A Few Words about Wibbily Wobbly Timey Wimey…Stuff

The precise way in which the Snap was undone, the time heist, as they called it, was immensely cool and fun and enjoyable. It resulted in some heartfelt reunions as well as hilarious encounters and hijinx. It was also laughably nonsensical, especially given that scene devoted to pointing out how almost every other movie about time travel got it wrong, while they will actually follow “the rules”. And yet, crazy things that happen include:

  • Thor takes Mjolnir from Asgard while stealing the Ether (reality stone) with Rocket to replace the hammer that Hel destroyed
  • A run-in with past Hulk botches Tony’s attempt to steal the Tesseract (space stone) and results in past Loki stealing it and making a quick escape
  • Cap (after his shield is turned to scrap in the final battle with Thanos) picks it up from some point in the past during his final mission to give it, and the mantle of Captain America, to Sam

Any one of these things should create crazy time paradoxes or major alterations to the time stream. Or how about the fact that there is a  five year jump in this movie, but Tony insists they bring everyone back to the current time. How the Hel does that work? The people left behind would age five years. They might die during that time. Or remarry. Or simply move on. And then you bring everyone back, and no time has passed for them. But… wibbily wobbly, timey wimey…stuff. In other words, don’t sweat it too much. There isn’t really anything else to say about it. If you want a movie that does time travel right, I guess put Primer on and good luck staying awake. If you want to watch Cap fight a past version of himself and then compliment his own ass, you’re in the right place.

Making the Sacrifice Play

I fully expected Cap to die in this movie. Actually, I predicted that he’d die in Infinity War, thinking Thanos would collect some of the Infinity stones in that movie, there would be a major battle at the climax, and Cap would sacrifice himself to enable the escape of the remaining Avengers for round two in the sequel (ya know, so they could avenge him). Definitely missed the mark on that one.

Sitting at dinner with friends before seeing it, I asked who everyone thought would die (or stay dead) by the end of Endgame. I again predicted Cap would sacrifice himself to save the day. It wasn’t a bold prediction. Chris Evans hasn’t been coy about wanting to leave the franchise and the character behind to do other things. But a friend predicted Tony would die, and my jaw hit the floor. Surely RDJ would be the last cast member to walk away from the truck loads of cash Disney can throw at him to, at the very least, show up in an Avengers movie or make a cameo in another hero’s solo film?

Wrong again! And yet, it’s kind of perfect. It’s a beautiful, tragic end to his character arc. And the moment itself is an awesome callback and bookend to the “I am Iron Man” declaration that helped launch the MCU way back in 2008. And remember the two moments I mentioned had me choked up in the theater? Tony’s death was NOT one of them! It was sad sure, but it was the scene that followed that really punched me in the gut.
In the aftermath of the battle and Tony’s death, we hear Tony speaking in voiceover as we see people reuniting, rebuilding, and returning to their lives. The voice, it turns out, is coming from a holographic recording of Tony from the night before the final battle. We see Tony make one of these recordings at the beginning of the movie when he is stranded with Nebula. That message was intended for Pepper. This one is for their daughter, Morgan. And the way he ends the message, his delivery of “I love you three thousand” (a callback to a beautiful, charming scene where his daughter is revealed and introduced) and thinking about my own young daughter, who reminded me of his spunky, too smart little girl…well it hit me. Hard. Fatherhood hasn’t influenced my reaction to a movie scene this much since John Krasinski’s signed “I love you” to his deaf daughter in A Quiet Place. Oof.

Raincheck on that Dance

Just because I was wrong about who would sacrifice themselves to win the day doesn’t mean I was wrong in thinking this was Cap’s last dance. And we’ll be talking about that dance, don’t you worry (spoiler alert, that was the other scene that turned on my waterworks). But first…

He is Worthy

HOLEE. SHIT. How did I not see this coming? Did you see it? I honestly didn’t, not until right before it happened. It’s the final battle with Thanos, this time without an Infinity Gauntlet, and Thor is wielding Mjolnir AND Stormbreaker, and I’m like, yeah that’s pretty cool, and then he drops Mjolnir and suddenly I remember the thing I’ve wanted to see since Age of Ultron.

AND. IT. HAPPENED.

This was my cheer out loud moment.

One of my favorite moments in the whole dang MCU is the scene in Age of Ultron after the party when they have the contest to see who can lift Thor’s hammer. I love it in part because it’s one of the few times they are all together and happy. They’re barely a team by the end of the first Avengers movie, and by the end of Age of Ultron the cracks that will tear them apart in Civil War have formed. Thor is confident to the point of cockiness, right up until Steve manages to nudge Mjolnir, ever so slightly. It’s enough to wipe the grin off Thor’s face.

To see Cap pick up Mjolnir, and to hear Thor’s almost  jubilant reaction…is it too much to say this one scene encompasses all of the promise of a shared universe?

One Last Mission

By the denouement, I began to question Cap’s fate. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe Evans was going to leave the option to return open. And then we got that last mission to return all of the Infinity stones back to their own times. It’s sort of crazy, you question how in the world Cap could manage to do it all on his own. And the adventures he must go on to complete the mission could make their own three hour movie. But all of that is left to our imaginings. Cap returns, but most definitely not as expected.

Instead of reappearing on the timepad, Sam and Bucky spot an old man sitting on a nearby bench. It’s Steve, but he’s an old man, with a face full of wrinkles and a head of silver-white hair. I can’t recall his exact line, but he tells Sam that he took Tony’s advice, and actually decided to go and live life. We see he’s wearing a wedding ring, and when Sam asks if Steve will tell him about “her”, Steve grins and declines to comment.

That would have been enough for me, but then we are treated to the final scene of the movie. The camera pans from a street through a big front window and into a quaint house. There’s music playing, something old-timey, it’s actually an instrumental version of “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” (which is just so damn perfect) and we see Steve and Peggy FINALLY getting to have that dance. Tears.

For me, the emotional weight of this development far outweighs any possible time paradoxes or issues some might have with it “not making sense”. I can put all of that aside because it’s just so damn beautiful. Steve has always struck me as one of the most tragic heroes in the MCU, a “man out of time” who lost not just the love of his life, but his whole world to one that is new and strange. Steve always seemed to be a man incapable of letting go of his sense of responsibility to serve the greater good, that same responsibility that compelled him to join the war effort in the first place. Captain America came out of the ice, but Steve Rogers never did. At the time, Cap wasn’t able (or willing) to accept Tony’s argument in Age of Ultron, “Isn’t that the mission? Isn’t that the ‘why’ we fight, so we can end the fight, so we get to go home?” Now, at the end, Steve is willing to accept it. He gets to go home. Back to his own time. Back to Peggy. He gets to go home. He gets to live life, not as Captain America, but as Steve Rogers. It’s a hard-fought and hard-won peace. It’s richly deserved, and it’s the resolution I find most satisfying. I absolutely love it.

The State of the MCU

I’ll admit, I was worried that undoing the Snap would mean everything that happened in Infinity War would be undone. There would be no true casualties, no real cost, and the MCU would carry on, largely the same as it ever was and business as usual. I’m immensely gratified to find that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The next time the Avengers must assemble to face a new threat (will it be Kang the Conqueror? Galactus? A growing mutant threat? Who knows?), it will be a very different team. And as weird as this may sound, I’m not sure that it will be “my” team.

Saying Goodbye

I mentioned at the beginning of this essay that what I’ve been feeling since seeing Endgame can best be described as a sad wistfulness. I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few days why that would be, and a tweet from Phil Nobile Jr. about the James Bond film franchise a while back came to mind. I had to track it down because I wanted to quote him for this essay. The tweet:

Now, as much as I tend to agree with the sentiment, I haven’t quite made peace with it the way that Phil seems to have done. I realized, sometime Saturday afternoon, rather inconveniently in the middle of a trip to the grocery store, that I had to say goodbye.

I’ve enjoyed the Phase 2 and 3 movies. I’ve appreciated the way the MCU has grown and become more inclusive. But I haven’t connected with T’Challa or Peter or Carol the way I connected with Tony and Steve and Nat. They were “my” Avengers. And they’re all gone. Tony and Nat are dead, and Steve, however happy he may be, will be living out his days in a well-earned retirement. Sure they’re just fictional characters in make-believe stories. I get that. And we’ll always have the movies that have been made, but no new adventures for these original Avengers. And sure, I’ll stick with the MCU through Phase 4 and 5 and likely beyond. But I think those movies won’t be “mine;” they’ll be for another generation. And that’s a good thing. But it doesn’t change the sense of sadness, the wistful melancholy I haven’t been able to shake since seeing Endgame.

Goodbye you Avengers. And godspeed. You were heroes. All the way to the end of the line.

Author: Jason Ross

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