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The End of the Line: Bidding Farewell to a Ten-Year Legacy
By Rachel Rivenbark
There’s a strange kind of grief that comes with saying goodbye to one who is somehow both a stranger, and a longtime friend. That always accompanies the end of an era, no matter how promising the future may otherwise look. Upon his death in November of last year, countless fans across the world grieved the loss of Stan Lee, one of the leading figureheads of Marvel Comics since his first contribution to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s very first Captain America comic in 1941. His subsequent posthumous cameos in the films “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018), “Captain Marvel” (2019), and “Avengers: Endgame” (2019) have been bittersweet for those who know that the end of an era has finally been reached. In much the same way, Marvel fans across the world have been grieving the end of The Avengers as we know them, with the irreversible developments that have been brought forward by Endgame.
Such grief may seem silly to many. After all, these are just movies. None of it is real. The Russos are glorified fanfiction writers who, like every other adaption director in the world, simply took hold of the source material and ran with it in whichever directions they saw fit. This is nothing more than one more version of the Avengers story, which resides among the many, many others in existence. And yet, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has arguably been the most popular, the most widespread, and – initially, at least – the most brilliantly executed version to exist, thus far. Even with the more recent controversy surrounding questionable directing methods and plot choices, this franchise may very well never meet its match again. It is a version which many younger Marvel fans grew up with and found themselves heavily influenced by, right from Robert Downey Jr.’s first iconic, improvised “I am Iron Man.” In a world which for many of us is getting more fraught with corruption and peril by the day, these movies provide an inspiration that heroes can come from the most strange and unlikely places. That the world can only be changed for the better when people from different walks of life, with different perspectives and experiences, can come together as a united force for good.
I met the love of my life through our mutual interest in The Avengers – without it, we never would have known each other. I drove nine hours to go and see Endgame with her, the day after it premiered. We, along with everyone else in the theater, wept for the end of that which we had held so dear, for so long. I’ve seen reviews citing this movie as the best possible ending to the original Avengers team, the worst possible ending, and everything in between. Personally, I think it was – if nothing else – an appropriate ending to the original franchise. Ever since the 2015 release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, fans have been speculating that Tony Stark would ultimately die to save the world, in the wake of his horrific vision of being the only man left standing among the ruins of a world he failed. For Stark, that was always the absolute worst-case scenario. If ever there were a fitting way for him to go, painful though it is, this would be it. He died, but in doing so – in the words of Hamilton – he crafted his legacy by planting seeds in a garden he would never get to see. It’s the exact reversal of that which he had always most dreaded, and it’s for this reason that – with his wife’s gentle reassurance, as he dies – he can finally rest in peace. The fight is over, the war is won.
I have my fair share of complaints about the movie’s execution, of course. The last-second decision to kill off Natasha Romanoff for shock value seemed cheap, and has left many Marvel fans enraged in ways that even Stark’s heroic death didn’t incite. The lack of meaningful interaction shown between Steve Rogers and his closest friends prior to his seemingly permanent removal from the franchise has robbed fans of what might have been a beautiful character development moment, simply for the sake of trying to preserve – for a hefty five minutes, at the most – a “plot twist” that most fans already saw coming. The conflicting explanations from the producers on how exactly these different timelines are meant to interact with each other are downright headache-inducing, particularly with the upcoming shows and movies due to be released surrounding Black Widow, Loki, and Vision – all of whom are now canonically and permanently dead in the main timeline.
Don’t even get me started on Thor. I’m all for the terrible-yet-realistic depiction of how the God of Thunder developed severe depression in the wake of his grief. Alcoholism, weight gain, isolation, and all. And I’m downright living for the more hefty, full-blown Viking berserker look that he was sporting in the final fight scene of the movie, magically-braided beard included. Yet the knowledge that the writers attempted to make of this character development little more than a handful of fat-shaming jokes instead of treating it as a legitimately human aspect of this godly character is distasteful, at the very best. After what should have been a beautiful and emotional reunion scene, the writers went so far as to make the very last words that he would ever hear from his mother a piece of advice that he – wait for it – “eat a salad.” In a species that canonically featured Volstagg the Voluminous, respected lover of food and drink, they really expect us to believe that a beer belly would be of any consequence to a warrior? The only redeemable thing about how they chose to handle Thor’s progression through this movie is that he finally seems to be rebuilding himself by the end, having received much-needed closure and support that he has been lacking for years. Flaws aside, this presents a very important overarching message to fans.
If there is one thing that this franchise – and Endgame, in particular – has taught us, it is that life can, must, and will move on even in the face of seemingly insurmountable tragedy. A new day will always dawn, and there will always be those who are willing to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and continue fighting for a better future, no matter the odds. It is a lesson that in this day and age we could all use a reminder of. That’s why, when July 2nd comes around, I know I’m going to be dragging my thoroughly Marvel-whipped ass to the theater to go and see Spiderman: Far From Home, along with everybody else. What can I say? I love a good hero 3000.
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