I think that it’s safe to say that Avengers Endgame has become a true cultural phenomenon. Marvel has accomplished what other movie studios have only dreamed of doing by delivering this culmination of the epic MCU Saga. They have created a franchise that has not only been met with enormous financial and critical success, but also one that has come a define an entire generation.
But how has the marvel Cinematic Universe risen to such unparalleled success? What has been the key ingredient with their meteoric rise to fame? What is the one common thread that makes the average Marvel movie better than most other superhero films? There are many answers to this question, but if I had to pick one, I would said that it has to be Marvel’s emphasis on character.
Endgame represents, not only the epic conclusion of an entire saga, but also the symbolic fulfillment of a dozen beautiful character arcs. Every single character in Endgame has an ending that represents the thematic culmination of who they are as a person, and what they mean to the greater MCU story. Even if a character’s story isn’t over in Endgame (Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy, Winter Soldier, Etc.) it comes to a crisis point; leaving every Avenger changed.
The most obvious examples of this genius character-driven storytelling is the culmination of the iconic legacies of both Iron Man and Captain America; the two key players of the Avengers in the MCU. And to understand how these stories were so brilliantly told, we have to take a closer look at end of these Avenger’s stories.
(WARNING: Heavy spoilers for Avengers- Endgame ahead!!!)
The death of Iron Man.
It was not a cheap trick. It wasn’t a sacrifice just to earn a quick tear from the audience. It meant something. From the very beginning Iron Man was the tortured hero. The hero who made mistakes. He was always a little prideful, but he also always tried to be better. Through the course of the three Iron Man movies, Tony Stark has struggled with what it means to be a hero.
In the first Iron Man film, he saw his weapons in the hands of the terrorists who almost killed him. That moment defined him. It changed who he was. From that moment forward, Tony Stark’s character was driven by a singular purpose. He knew that he had to use his second chance at life to protect the people instead of building weapons to destroy them…He had to use his wealth to save the world instead of destroying it.
And sometimes, like in the case of Ultron and the Sokovia Accords, he went too far or made mistakes. But Iron Man’s goal was always to protect. His heart was always in the right place, even if his head wasn’t. He wanted to be an armor for the weak. He wanted to save the world that he had once so recklessly endangered.
So, when Tony Stark gave up his life to undo Thanos’s snap, it represented the fulfillment of his life’s purpose…to protect the world, even if it meant giving up his own life! He gave up all of his selfish impulses once and for all. None of his past mistakes mattered anymore, because he gave up everything to save the people he loved. Everything came full circle when Iron Man fulfilled his own prophetic quote from the first MCU film; “I shouldn’t be alive… unless it was for a reason.” This was the second chance that Tony had been waiting the rest of his life for. This was the reason why he was alive, and the ending was so beautifully executed that you feel that sacrifice. Right in the heart.
Captain America’s Last Chance at Peace
Likewise, Captain America also has a very meaningful sendoff in Endgame, but in a very different way. It’s one that represents the fulfillment of what fan’s have been asking for for years…A chance for the most selfless Avenger to have a shot at happiness.
Captain America has always been the soldier. He’s always been the one to sacrifice everything in the service of others, sometimes to his own detriment. In the first Captain America, Steve Rogers proved that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. He proved that power meant nothing if it wasn’t given in service to others. The Red Skull lorded his strength over others, while Cap gave up his own life to protect those who were weaker than him. That experience in World War 2 shaped who he was for the rest of his life. It propelled him on a path to always do what was right
Frozen in ice for decades after sacrificing himself to save countless millions from death, he was revived only to face a torment worse than death; loneliness. He became a man out of time. All of his friends were dead. All of the things that he once knew were taken away from him. And the one friend that he still had was twisted into a weapon against him. But no matter what, Steve Rogers always laid down his life to save others. He always put others before himself; even if it meant losing everything.. In every single Captain America film, Cap gave all that he had, and sacrificed everything that he had held dear, to fight for what he believed in; truth, friendship, unity, and protecting those who couldn’t protect themselves.
So in Endgame, when the final battle was won, and the new heroes took up the torch, Captain America finally got what he so rightly deserved. For once, Steve Rogers obtained lasting happiness. There were no more sacrifices to be made. No more wars to be won. It was just Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter for the rest of his life. It was second chance at joy. After almost a hundred years of selflessly giving up his life in service of others, Cap finally got some peace for himself. and it felt meaningful because it was earned.
And just like Iron Man, Captain America’s ending hit us right in the heart, just in a different way; proving that these two characters are two sides of the same coin. Iron Man and Captain America. Grieving and joy, sadness and peace, sacrifice and reward. The two endings may give us opposite feelings individually, but put them together and they give us a story unlike any other.
Iron Man and Captain America represent the very heart and soul of the MCU. Iron Man was the foundation and the center for the MCU’s grand story, and Captain America represented the heart; the spirit that it stood for. Together, their character arcs not only stay true to their own personal journeys, but they also represent the core of the beautiful story that they have both been a part of!
Tony and Steve feel like real people because they each changed naturally over time, and the story changed with them. They both grew as people with their own ups and downs in life. So, it’s only fitting that their endings would change the story again. This time, they would make way for a new generation to grow and change. Together, the two of them ushered in a new era for new stories.
With character-driven stories like theirs, the possibilities are endless…