It goes without saying that there’s a lot of love for Marvel Studios and the MCU that it’s built. Since Iron Man in 2008, I’ve loved immersing myself in all the films and engaging with the characters and marvelled at how a studio has created not just a series of films but a whole world of overlapping storylines that continually does it characters justice.
Now, the release of Avengers: Endgame sees the major storyline that’s been dubbed the Infinity Saga come to an end. Three Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor films – as well as movies featuring Black Panther, The Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man have all been leading up to this point. How on earth do you bring all of that to a head in one movie? No wonder it’s three hours long.
Avengers: Endgame sees the MCU heroes left behind after Thanos’ ‘snap’ trying to find a way to bring back everyone that they lost in the great dusting of last year’s Infinity War. We have known for a while that this film is an end-point for some of the characters (i.e the ones that have been around the longest) so it’s no surprise who it was that was left behind.
Now, full disclosure… I don’t share the opinion that this is a five-star masterpiece of filmmaking. Don’t get me wrong; it’s big, it’s bold and it hits all the right comedic, dramatic and downright emotional notes but perhaps I’ve been muddied by the Disney and Marvel’s insistence that everyone goes into this film more excited than any other film in the MCU. The journey to the endgame has been a long road and I went in with a level of skepticism about whether the characters I’ve loved for the last ten years would be done justice. There’s nothing worse than engaging with a character to see them turned into a horse, killed and then get flogged to within an inch of their life.
Leading up to the ending though – I thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns of the three-hour Marvel marathon. It was much funnier than any of the other Avengers films and gives the right amount of screen time to the most established characters in the series. There is however a good portion of the film that I found very self-indulgent. A not-short act that only means something to those with a pretty thorough knowledge of MCU history.
This, for me, is why it stops feeling like it’s a five-star film – because it isn’t for everyone. As a standalone movie, Endgame doesn’t work. Unlike several other films in the series, you can’t get away with going in cold on this one. You need to have a good understanding of where everyone is, who they do and don’t know in this world and who is capable of what. This is a film made very much for its target audience – one that’s seen and wallowed in everything MCU since Iron Man.
For that audience though, Endgame ties the nicest of bows on the story arcs of some of the MCU’s most established characters. And does so at the same time while rewarding patient audiences with the biggest of payoffs. I don’t want to take a trip to spoiler-city but I will say Joe and Anthony Russo, the film’s directors, have absolutely nailed the landing.
But that now begs the question – what’s next? Because when we talk about Avengers: Endgame, we need to talk about where you go after the end.
I think what has made Marvel Studios really special is how it’s introduced audiences to characters who might have powers and abilities but also have real, relatable emotion. This is something that other comic-book movies haven’t been able to achieve. But the inevitability is that once you’ve done that, and once the actors playing those characters have been doing so for practically a decade, they have to have an ending.
And what Marvel has expertly laid out in Endgame is a jumping off point for what else is to come in the future of the MCU.
Since Captain America: Civil War, the MCU’s installments have just been getting bigger and bigger. Endgame represents such a crescendo that it’s difficult to see all of this happening again. Do we really now watch another 20+ films over the next ten years to see something this big again? I don’t think so.
While Marvel has announced films that are in the pipeline with Spider-Man: Far From Home on it’s way before the end of the summer, it’s also announced a whole slew of Marvel-driven series for its upcoming Disney+ service. The streaming service will be Disney’s direct-to-consumer platform, something akin to Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. The mouse has done a bang-up job of buying up properties that frankly give it license to print money. Or at least make a load of engaging programming. The Disney+ service will include its live-action and animated archive as well as everything Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and National Geographic.
On the Marvel side of things, it will have a series that follows Hawkeye as well as one featuring Wanda Maximoff’s Scarlet Witch and Vision. Another will see Falcon and the Winter Soldier take to the episodic with their own series. And seeing how and where all of these characters were at the end of the latest MCU outing, their respective series for Disney+ make a lot more sense now.
Add to all of this the properties that come with the acquisition of 20th Century Fox (which owns the rights to the rest of the Marvel Comics back-catalogue) and the MCU is far from finished. But it’s not going to simply continue as-is, releasing three films a year until it needs to crescendo again. No, I think it’s going to become something else entirely.
The MCU is going to spread itself much wider and content will be drip-fed all the time, both into cinemas and into our homes via Disney+. And much more than its answer to Netflix, this is Disney’s move to readdress audiences because it knows that entertainment has changed so dramatically in the last few years. US programming no longer takes six months to reach our shores and linear or live TV is more or less now reserved for certain generations and live sports.
At-home programming has gotten so good that we no longer need to rely on the magic of the movies to see something visually impressive and engaging. Television, episodic content, long-form storytelling – whatever you want to call it, is becoming king.
This shift means audiences expect more from their entertainment. We want a lot of content and we want it all available all the time. In fact, it’s almost easier to search five different streaming services for a film that I know I already have than it is to just get the DVD from the other room.
So maybe the MCU has gotten a bit smaller because a huge story arc has finished, but if Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige has shown us anything it’s that this is a studio with a plan. And it’s probably going to be a good one.
As it turns out, Avengers: Endgame doesn’t represent an ending at all. It represents a new and much more dominant MCU. And honestly, I couldn’t be more on board.