“Part of the journey’s the end.”
-Tony Stark/Iron Man
Since 1978 there have been superhero films that follow one after the other for a time, but none of them ever really feel like there is a continuation from what’s come before. Of course the closest ones were Superman 1 and Superman 2, but then again the scripts that made up those two movies were built off of one script, and Batman 1989 and Batman Returns had some connection but that was pretty much it. With each franchise the latter films became stand-alone and unfortunately lackluster. Then going into the early 2000s with the X-Men and Spider-Man movies things started to get a little bit more coherent, but there was still something missing. Then Christopher Nolan began to truly incorporate the idea of a long narrative across his Batman films, but it wasn’t really until the first Iron Man movie came out in 2008 that all of a sudden things began to shift in regards to the superhero film genre.
“Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe, you just don’t know it yet.”
Boy, little did any of us know how prophetic those words were back then.
But even with that, audiences didn’t have the slightest inkling what Kevin Feige and everyone else at Marvel-Studios had in mind, and it was a vision that at the time seemed almost unthinkable if not completely impossible – a large, coherent story that would take place over the course of several films, and in a way not too dissimilar to what would be expected in the best serialized TV shows.
But could this vision be done in films? Unlike the Star Wars, Harry Potter and The Lord of The Rings films this was a much bigger ambition, and one that if it failed would yet be another mere footnote in film history, but if it worked…it could turn into something that could be beyond anyone’s imaginations.
And boy, did it. Once Iron Man became a success it was clear to Feige and co. that the Marvel Cinematic Universe had arrived. But us audiences didn’t really believe it until Avengers (2012).
And with scores of more movies and team-ups we all became more enthralled with more amazing characters – both good and bad – but among the many things that hooked us audiences in, there was always this sense that there was a much bigger villain that seemed to be pulling the strings, and with many of the films we only got a glimpse of said character and only that – a tease, but all that would come to a head once Avengers: Infinity War came out in theaters.
To say that that film was a true culmination of everything that had been happening since Iron Man 1 would be an understatement. Right from the start audiences saw Thanos on a mission, and nothing and no one was going to get in his way, and as the film goes on our heroes find themselves not really making any kind of headway in regards to trying to stop “The Mad Titan”, and even when some heroes head off to try and regroup quickly – and meeting other heroes in the process – the whole thing ends up being for naught, for Thanos succeeds in doing what he set out to do – get all the Infinity Stones, and wipe out half the population in the universe but not for nefarious reasons, but rather to preserve life.
It’s a moment that only the classic “Empire Strikes Back” can equal, because the audience as well as the heroes themselves realize that they lost in the worst way, and on a personal level many of their own allies/friends also die once Thanos snapped his fingers with the Infinity Gauntlet.
But as we should know, the story is not by any means over yet because three movies later – namely after “Ant-Man and The Wasp” and then “Captain Marvel” – we end up right back where we were with “Avengers: Endgame”, and with some help from a recent addition to the MCU Roster Tony Stark and Nebula get back to Earth and manage to meet up with the rest of the remaining Avengers who weren’t snapped away. Sadly there isn’t much time for introductions because not too long after our heroes manage to get a fix on Thanos’ location and head there in Peter Quill’s ship to confront him hoping to undo the mess the Mad Titan made. Unfortunately they discover that Thanos had destroyed the stones so as to make sure they couldn’t be used again. Thor manages to kill him but even that does not bring the Asgardian any kind of satisfaction given what he and the others now learned.
In many ways you would feel cheated given that the buildup/hype was for nothing, but it’s after that scene ends is when the film truly begins.
Fast forward five years later, and the Avengers have been trying to move on with their lives as well as help the people of Earth move on, but it seems more like everyone is barely getting by emotionally. The only real flipsides are that Nebula and Rocket have struck up a friendship with the remnant Avengers – especially in the case of Nebula – and have been trying to help them keep some degree of peace in regards to watching for any super-villains but so far nothing; plus Tony and Pepper end up having a daughter named Morgan and Stark himself has managed to find some degree of peace.
While all this is going on Scott Lang/Ant-Man manages to get out of the Quantum Realm and finds himself in a world with half the population gone and his daughter now a teenager.
Making his way to the Avengers compound Scott then meets up with the team there and explains what happened to him which then in turn leads to them heading to Stark’s house but the latter refuses to help, believing Scott’s idea to not only be sheer suicide but also believing he had a second chance with his wife and daughter and did not want to squander that. Discouraged but undeterred, the group goes looking for Bruce Banner who is now different than before which is an incredible (pun intended) nod to the comics when Bruce managed to combine several versions of his Hulk persona into Professor Hulk. Of course in this case Banner managed to combine both himself with Hulk to where he is Hulk but he still has his brains to go with it. At first Banner isn’t so sure about Scott’s “Time Heist” idea but after some encouragement from Natasha he decides to give it a shot. At first there’s no success but then Stark shows up after discovering a way for the idea to work and that is when the ball gets rolling with regards to the time heist – especially after Thor (a very depressed Thor at that) gets retrieved from a newly established Asgard in Norway.
What follows is a montage of brainstorming for our heroes and then they are able to piece together a plan where they split into small groups and travel to different points in time to get the stones. Now for those who saw a certain three-part movie in the eighties you might think this would create time paradoxes but thanks to what Banner says the time-travel logic in this film is based off of a certain popular anime (I’ll let you guess which one).
After an unexpected setback our heroes find themselves a few Pym Particles short and an Infinity Stone short but then they figure out exactly when to get more, and Tony and Steve manage to pull it off but not before we get a chance for Stark to meet his father face-to-face again since the latter’s death back in 91. Given what we know about Tony and his dad it’s obvious that the two didn’t exactly leave on the best of terms, with Tony still never really feeling like he ever had his father’s approval, much less his love. But after they talk Stark comes away with the closure he needed for the longest time – that his father always loved and believed in him, even if it wasn’t always in the most ideal of ways.
In all this you figure that aside from that one setback there wouldn’t be any more wrenches thrown into the works but that is far from the truth because it turns out that when Nebula and Rhodey time-traveled to where Peter Quill/Star-Lord was the Nebula and Thanos in that time period ended up being able to detect the former’s future duplicate which ends up leading to a capture. With this version of Thanos still in his conquering phase the latter is able to look into Future Nebula’s memories and c+omes away with the realization that he does succeed in his plan to obtain the stones despite his later demise. However, he also realizes that the remnant Avengers are trying to stop him from succeeding by simply getting the stones first and then using them to undo the snap and bring everyone back. With Future Nebula in their captivity Thanos then plants 2014 Nebula into the Avengers with the intent on following them back to the present.
With enough time the Avengers are eventually able to get all the stones – with one coming at the cost of one of their own – and make it back to their own time and begin creating a Gauntlet of their own, but they aren’t able to decide whom until Banner volunteers, believing that he would be the one that has best chance of surviving the snap given that the radiation emitted is mostly gamma even though that alone is no guarantee of survival.
But even with that, Banner is able to do the snap and nothing happens at first, but then Clint – who had taken the alias of Ronin after his own family was taken during the Decimation – gets a call from his wife revealing that the snap did indeed work, but sadly that realization is short-lived once 2014 Thanos arrives and attacks the Avengers compound, leveling the entire area but the Avengers survive, and Cap, Iron Man and Thor meet up and see Thanos, and with a renewed determination go to confront him once and for all.
Having now realized that his plan to eliminate half of all life in the universe would only result in more people resisting rather than appreciating what happened 2014 Thanos tells the trinity of the Avengers that he will simply destroy the universe completely and then rebuild it again with none of the Avengers around to say otherwise. With nothing else left to say Steve Rogers, Tony Stark and Thor attack Thanos with everything they have, knowing that losing again is not an option.
During all this the other Avengers have their hands full with trying to get out of the rubble while present Nebula tries desperately to reason with 2014 Gamora, telling her what Thanos will do to get the Soul Stone despite his own internal pain.
Despite holding their own against 2014 Thanos as best they can, the Avengers trinity are still overpowered by the Mad Titan, and even with a certain scene that has to be seen to be believed – though it was hinted at in Age of Ultron – are all down for the count. But despite that, Steve steeled himself and prepared to face Thanos’ armada alone when he receives a call that would almost cause him to cry under normal circumstances – his old friend Sam Wilson/Flacon.
And not just Sam, but everyone that had turned into dust when Thanos snapped his fingers appeared via portals that a revived Dr. Strange created, along with what could only be described as a brigade of people from all over Earth and the Universe.
No, not enough.
Nope, still not enough.
(Hey, the audience’s live reaction is always the best)
And that really is the best way to describe that entire moment, because everything from the past 11 years has been leading up to this moment, and now we get to see all the heroes we have seen since the first Iron Man film together with one common goal: To stop Thanos and his army, and avenge the Decimation the Mad Titan had inflicted on everyone.
Plus, it delivers what Dr. Strange had told Thanos back in Infinity War:
“I think you’ll find our will equal to yours!”
What follows is a battle of herculean proportions that is more than just a slugfest. Chief among them being the reunion scene between Tony and Peter which hearkens back to the early scene from Spider-Man Homecoming and finally brings it full circle.
But even with that, there’s still the matter of trying to stop Thanos’ forces, and from the heroes playing a life-or-death version of “keep away” with the Iron Gauntlet things are still looking bleak and then Dr. Strange gives Tony the indication that this is the one possibility where they win, and what’s great is that it isn’t told in words, but everything is conveyed and what has to be done.
So Thanos manages to get the Gauntlet, and although Captain Marvel tries to stop him, it still isn’t enough until Stark comes at Thanos only to be knocked back as well.
And then what follows can only be summed up in just a few words.
“I am inevitable.”
(Snaps fingers, nothing happens)
And then of course:
“And I…am…Iron Man.”
-Tony Stark/Iron Man
And so, with one snap of the fingers, Thanos’ forces get decimated and turned into dust, followed by Thanos himself. Although it looks like everything is finally been taken care of, there’s one thing that needs to be taken into account: When the person holding the Gauntlet with the Infinity Stones snaps their fingers, a huge amount of gamma radiation – among other types of radiation – is emitted around the person. And if Thanos used them and was nearly killed in the process, what would that do to a regular person, specifically a man in a can?
Well, as Robert Downey Jr. later said in an interview,
“The last suit he has isn’t even designed for him to survive.”
So essentially the final Iron Man suit was designed to somewhat channel the power of the Infinity Stones – or as much as one could given how much power the stones have – so the wielder can do the snap, nothing more.
Surrounded by his friend Rhodey, his one true love Pepper, and his protege Peter Parker Tony is able to see them one last time with Pepper assuring him that her and their daughter Morgan will be okay Tony breathes his last, with all the Avengers kneeling in respect for a man who, despite all his flaws was able to step up and make the sacrifice play in the end, saving not just his family and friends, but the entire universe, echoing Thanos’ line about he hoped people would remember Stark. Well Thanos, people will remember Iron Man for sure, and the montage of everyone being united with their families with Stark’s speech along with his holographic form looking at his daughter with a smile and then saying the same thing she said to him not too long ago is one that doesn’t just tug on the heartstrings, but it rips them apart.
Although the crisis is over there is still the matter of returning the Infinity stones back to their proper continuities in the timestream, to which Steve volunteers. However, instead of returning within five seconds nothing happens. But then Sam and Bucky notice someone not too far away and when Sam goes over it is none other than Steve himself, now an old man. When Sam asks him what happened Steve merely replies by saying he figured he would try some of that life Tony mentioned and with few words you know he was able to finally live a full life – something that he more than deserves given all he has been through.
With a final scene of a young Steve dancing with Peggy capping it off the audience is left with a montage of characters with the cast portraying them and then the original six Avengers appear with the actor’s signatures to finally end the entire film, and with no end credit scene this time around.
So with all that, what is the best way to describe this film? Honestly there is no one way, because this film had everything one could expect from something like this: You laugh, you cry, you cheer, everything. Given that this is a true culmination of 11 years and 22 films The Russo Brothers and co. pulled out all the stops to make this story the grand finale that it is. And for those who have been fortunate enough to see the Infinity Saga from the first Iron Man film to Avengers Endgame (I was one), it has truly been one Amazing and Spectacular ride. For those who were little kids when this whole thing started and are now on the verge of adulthood, one could say that this is the end of an era for them, almost the equivalent of going through elementary, middle and high school (and in a good way at that) and now graduating with this film. For younger generations who have yet to experience this incredible saga, let alone this film, they will be in for a treat. Chris Evans wasn’t kidding when he said that these films will last, and because of how tightly knit the story was as a whole, and how everyone’s character arcs melded so well, these movies already are true movie classics.
Speaking of which, I don’t think enough credit is given to composer Alan Silvestri for the score he created for the film. While it still has the hallmarks of a modern score, Silvestri still manages to up his game and create what a good score should do – tell the story as well as elevate it to another level. And he even manages to give that classic film serial/western feel in the sense that the heroes ride off into the sunset in their own ways, and this is even more exemplified with the end credits.
But although this story is over, Marvel Studios is far from done, as multiple projects have already been announced to take the MCU further into the next chapter, and while I have no doubt that there will be more great stories to tell, I do wonder if it will be on the same level as this saga. In a lot of ways the MCU could end here and we the audience could make up our own stories as to what happens after this. But as long as audiences keep coming, Marvel Studios will be there with new stories.
Now I had originally wanted to get this article written up and posted before the end of 2019 but real life being what it can be sometimes doesn’t bend to your will, and even if I had the Infinity Gauntlet I couldn’t bring myself to mess with that.
In all, this film really is an epic that deserves to be right up there with the classics, and it really shows how you can serialize the storytelling in films to a degree never seen before, or has it? Because given how movies started out as serials way back when and the audience had to wait a while before the next chapter, the MCU took that concept which has also existed in their comic books – interlocking stories within one continuity across multiple movies – and put it on a grander scale, a concept that other studios tried to mimic later on, but with mixed results.
But one thing is for sure, the impact that the Infinity Saga has had on Hollywood – especially with this film – that is something that will never, ever be forgotten, and for this Arcader, I am glad to be a part of the generation that was there at it’s inception and with a new beginning just around the bend.