When the Iron Man trailer first appeared in theatres, there was a sense of optimism shared between moviegoers. We all thought the same thing: This looks pretty good. Iron Man was also the truest definition of “high risk, high reward” that studios rarely if ever do today. Instead of reboots and sequels and low-hanging fruit box office talent, Iron Man dared to launch Marvel Studios — a studio independent of the bigger institutions like 20th Century Fox and Sony — with a superhero not as familiar as X-Men or Spider-Man (still property of the earlier mentioned studios) and with a leading man saddled with a lot of bad baggage. Robert Downey, Jr. was well known for being an actor’s actor with talent to spare, but he also had a darkness that overshadowed his talent. His infamous quote to the presiding judge about his addiction “It’s like I have a loaded gun in my mouth, and I like the taste of metal.” made him, regardless of his talent, a potential powder keg of negative publicity. Still, in 2008, Marvel Studios kicked off their ambitious “Phase One” with a lesser-known superhero and a risky leading man.
But we had seen the trailer, and we all thought “This looks pretty good.”
What we didn’t know was how good Marvel Studio’s Iron Man would be.
Here we are, eleven years and twenty-two films later, and we have reached Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame. This is not so much of a sequel as it is the conclusion to what Marvel started in 2008. Endgame is exactly what the title says. Doctor Strange tells Tony Stark at the end of Avengers: Infinity War “We’re in the endgame now.” just before vanishing with half of Earth’s population. We now see in Endgame the remaining Avengers attempting to cope with the loss, and it is not going well. That is until a glimmer of hope from the last place anyone would expect it offers a way to make things right. If I say any more or get more specific, spoilers will be revealed so I will just leave it at that. This is all you need to know about Endgame, other than this film is the destination for storytelling that began over a decade ago.
If Iron Man is a definition of “high risk, high reward” then Avengers: Endgame is the definition of a “slow burn” in storytelling. There are call backs to many of the films that have come before, and this is what makes Marvel’s storytelling so exceptional. Everything connects, and does so without feeling shoehorned or contrived. Crossovers become essential moments in a story arc that began with Tony Stark meeting the unassuming Agent Phil Coulson of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (“Just call us S.H.I.E.L.D.”), all leading to the events of Avengers: Endgame.The success of Marvel Studios other studios have attempted to capture, most notably DC Studios; but what Marvel took five films to build up to, DC attempted to do across two. And it showed.
Another way Marvel managed to succeed in this incredible storytelling odyssey was in focusing on the story at hand. Details? Backstory? That would come. Bucky’s fate we discover in The Winter Soldier, the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger. What about Peter Quill’s ability to hold on to an infinity stone with his bare hand? We didn’t find out until Volume 2 of Guardians of the Galaxy. How does Carol Danvers become Captain Marvel? We find this out near the end of her film. Marvel was never in a rush to get to Endgame, and we as an audience are given opportunities to know these superheroes as people. Not as Iron Man, Captain America, Black Window, or Captain Marvel, but as Tony, Steve, Natasha, and Carol. As for things we didn’t quite understand straight away? In Marvel we trust. They would get to it. This journey across the extended Marvel universe has always been something unique, something special. In 2012, The Avengers was regarded as the most ambitious undertaking a studio ever took on — a build-up across five films to this.
Turns out The Avengers was merely Act One.
Avengers: Endgame serves as the coda to a cinematic opus centered around the original vanguard of Marvel icons. Obviously, Marvel Studios is far from done in making movies that both casual and hardcore comic book fans line up for at the box office. Endgame, though, is a curtain call, beautifully captured in the end credits. Torches are passed. The team grows. New stories await to be told. This has been one amazing ride, and looking back on where it all began with Iron Man (which is exactly what we did the night after), it is astounding to see how far we have come since that first step in 2008. We still have other adventures to undertake, but until then, it’s time to take a breath and enjoy the view. There is only one thing left to say at this point…
Thank you, Marvel, for everything.