Marvel’s Most Important Movie Gave the MCU Its Best Shot at an Ending

In 2019, Marvel miraculously stuck its landing.

Chris Evans as Captain America in 'Avengers: Endgame'
Marvel Studios
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From 2008 to 2019, Marvel Studios attempted to do something no film studio had ever done: tell an interconnected, years-spanning cinematic story unlike anything moviegoers had seen. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was born from that pursuit, and the franchise’s Infinity Saga frequently felt like the ideal cross between an ongoing television show and a splashy, action-packed comic book run. However, while building the MCU was no easy feat, the real question everyone had heading into 2019 was whether or not Marvel would be able to actually bring its Infinity Saga to a satisfying end.

Fortunately, that's exactly what the studio did when it released Avengers: Endgame in April 2019. The film, a direct follow-up to 2018's Avengers: Infinity War, turned out to be a three-hour epic that was more reflective, bombastic, and celebratory than anything that Marvel Studios had previously produced. It was the studio’s crowning achievement, and it delivered an ending that honored (nearly) all of the MCU's biggest characters.

When it was released, Endgame seemed like proof that Marvel really could pull anything off. Five years later, it looks more like the best shot the MCU may have had at truly going out on top.

Avengers: Endgame is, by no means, a perfect film. It isn't even the best MCU movie. (That title, arguably, still belongs to 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which celebrated its 10th anniversary earlier this month.) Some of its VFX moments and digital backgrounds are blander and rougher than anyone would like, and the lackluster death of Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) at the end of its second act still feels like a disservice to the character.

That said, Avengers: Endgame ultimately gets far more right than wrong. It takes big risks (see: its entire, somber first act) and pushes certain characters in directions that few could have seen coming (namely, Chris Hemsworth's Thor and Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye). Even more importantly, the Avengers' climactic victory over Thanos at the end of the movie feels like not only a hard-won triumph but also the culmination of several major storylines and character arcs. That is particularly true of the often contentious bond between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), which was first established in 2012’s The Avengers.

After letting their rift from Civil War get in the way of them beating Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, the two men set aside their differences in Endgame and put more trust in each other than ever before. In its third act, the movie then sends Tony out with a sacrificial act that fits his character and caps off his 11-year journey from selfish war profiteer to selfless hero. It subsequently rewards Steve for his lifetime of service with a seemingly impossible happy ending — one that also allows the massive, explosive blockbuster surrounding it to conclude on a moment of unexpectedly quiet romance.

Avengers: Endgame, in other words, puts its characters first, and it makes the considerable time that the MCU demanded its viewers invest in it for over a decade seem justified.

“I am... Iron Man.”

Marvel Studios

In the years since Avengers: Endgame hit theaters, Marvel has struggled to justify the MCU's continued existence. The franchise's so-called Multiverse Saga has been unfocused and messy. Interest in the MCU has, consequently, plummeted over the past few years, and it's unclear what — if anything — can be done to redeem the franchise in viewers' eyes. Marvel clearly hopes it will be able to rope moviegoers back in with this summer's Deadpool & Wolverine, but even the franchise reset promised by that film doesn't seem as appealing right now as the studio wants.

Marvel's inability to live up to the standards set by Avengers: Endgame has greatly impacted the way fans perceive the movie. On the one hand, it's only made the film’s storytelling accomplishments seem all the more impressive. On the other hand, it's made it seem more and more like Marvel would have been better off either taking a multi-year break after Endgame or altogether rebooting the MCU in the aftermath of the movie’s release.

The fact that the studio is rumored to be considering the latter option right now is just further testament to how good Avengers: Endgame is. It's been five years since the film was released, but Marvel still has yet to provide a good enough reason why the MCU didn't end with it.

Avengers: Endgame is available to stream now on Disney+.

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