Everyone Fails in 'Avengers: Endgame'

But they're still worthy.

Avengers Endgame
Marvel Studios

The futurist envisioned the end of humanity, and the dread it sparked tore apart The Avengers. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) poked his head through a portal, stared down an alien armada, and knew that their invasion was merely a testing of the waters. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Stark told Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) that busting HYDRA goons was little more than a distraction from the ultimate enemy plotting and scheming above. The owners of the space dragons were the endgame, and when Rogers dared to question his creation of the murder-bot he built as an armor around the world, Stark spit contempt at his teammate.

“How are you guys planning on beating that?” he asked. Rogers responded without missing a beat, “Together.” Stark volleyed back, “You’ll lose.” Rogers had the noble comeback at the ready, “Then we’ll do that together, too.” Cap is just living that “until the end of the line” mentality that kept him grounded after sacrificing his personal life for one of service. What’s worked for him so far should work for him in every situation.

Watching comic book superheroes narrowly escape defeat movie after movie makes it easy for an audience to position itself behind Rogers’ righteous belief in self. Success breeds success, and The Avengers never met a Titan they couldn’t topple. Until Thanos (Josh Brolin) finally freed himself from his captain’s chair, collected six magical MacGuffins, and erased half the population of the universe with one cacophonous snap. Avengers: Infinity War broke its heroes, leaving them to stew in regret.

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Captain America is a man of conviction, but going into Avengers: Endgame, he can no longer afford basic ideology. Square-jawed swagger is meaningless to the billions ripped from existence. Unity trumped by desperation. There is no virtue in defeat. Victory over tyranny is the objective. With their backs against the wall, principles are easy to discount. “Whatever it takes.”

Avengers: Endgame Spoilers Below↓

The return of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) brings hope to the hopeless. Point her in the direction of Thanos, and she’ll accomplish what they could not: snatch the Infinity Stones, snap back with their own fingers. The only problem? Thanos understands the temptation of omnipotence. With his mission accomplished, he used the Stones to destroy the Stones. Thor answers this logic with a thwack from Stormbreaker, lobbing the Titan’s severed head across the room. The action is a hollow gesture. Vengeance only underscores their sour failure to prevent a catastrophic amount of death.

Five. Years. Later.

You gotta move on. Or at least that’s what Steve Rogers tells those that gather for his VA therapy sessions. He uses his own experience as the man out of time to explain away the atrocity of Thanos. Our loved ones are gone. There is no bringing them back. If we reject the life that’s left, then we’re betraying their loss. Brave baby steps will carry us through this moment of misery. Trust me.

We can’t, though. Rogers doesn’t believe a word he’s shoveling. He wants to help his remaining neighbors. He needs to, but as he tells Natasha as she cries over her peanut butter sandwich, “Some people move on, but not us.” Rogers questions if there is still a job left for The Avengers since their defeat in Wakanda, but it’s more of a test than an actual question. He wants to hear that Natasha is still in the game. There is no life beyond the mission.

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Ding. Dong. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) suddenly pops out of the Quantum Realm with fantasies of time travel, and for a pair of one-time heroes grasping for reasons to keep on living, lunacy is about as concrete as anything else. What’s to debate in a world where Microverses exist next to raccoons with email accounts? Absurdity is their kingdom, and Marvel Studios succeeds where wannabes fail because they encourage their protagonists to pursue the ridiculous unashamedly. No fashionable black leather here, remember. The Avengers proudly adorn themselves in the star-spangled.

Time travel is a cheat, but it’s one that comes with a set of rules that prevents The Avengers from simply hopping back to Titan to snuff out baby Thanos in his crib. Sorry, Rhodey. If you go backward in time that still represents your future. Removing a person or object doesn’t halt what happened in your past, but it does create a series of alternate timelines (i.e., a multiverse). The Avengers cannot undo their failure, but as long as they promise to return the Infinity Stones to the moment in which they stole them, they can use them to at least resurrect the dusted.

There is a danger, but our faith in the foresight of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) allows us to kick back and enjoy the second act of Endgame in which The Avengers revisit their past adventures. These are the most playful moments of the film, and it is an enormous relief after the dour first part in which the team contemplates their Infinity War debacle. Tony Stark chastising America’s Ass squished into Steve Rogers’ Phase One uniform is a friendly jab indicating how far our heroes have traveled over the last decade regarding style as well as temperament. Look at how adorable and golly-gee-whiz they all were; striking a gotcha pose as they collect Loki (Tom Hiddleston) for his The Dark World dungeon.

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There are many chuckles to be had in the past, but each one carries a sting. The Avengers were Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and they were not enough. Captain America has to beat his younger self unconscious to right his wrongs. “I can do this all day,” says 2012 Cap. “Yeah, yeah,” responds our Cap. Optimism and confidence carried The Avengers only so far. Endgame drags them to their darkest depths, lays Mjölnir on their chest, and dares them to be worthy.

Pushing themselves off the floor is what Marvel characters do best. Infinity War spent its time positioning Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as a righteous servant of vengeance after Thanos slaughtered the remnants of Asgard and then had the audacity to mock his entire subplot by revealing Stormbreaker as an impotent instrument in his hateful hands. The Mad Titan’s victory devastated every Avenger, but the trauma experienced by Thor sent him into a shame spiral no Asgardian had previously known. Odinson locks himself away, punishing his physique with carbs. To be seen by Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is an agony he cannot bear but one he believes he deserves.

While Rogers refuses his chance to connect with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) during his last-ditch 1970 Tesseract heist, Thor is caught snooping around The Dark World timeline by his mother Frigga (Rene Russo). Given the opportunity to see her on the day of her death, Thor unloads all his sins upon her. He bares himself raw for the first time in the franchise. He was meant to be more than this tub of melted ice cream.

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Thor calls himself an idiot and a failure, and his mother listens. When there is a gap in his self-loathing, Frigga swoops in to define the journey of The Avengers. “Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be,” she says. “The measure of a person, a hero, is how they succeed at being who they are.” You do you. This acceptance is a rush of relief, but the final validation comes when Thor reaches for Mjölnir, and the mighty hammer flies into his hand. After everything, El Duderino is still worthy.

Baked into Rogers’ self-worth is the icy sacrifice he made back in 1942. That’s why, when given a chance for a friendly reunion with Peggy in 1970, he cannot permit himself resolution a la Thor and Frigga or Tony and Papa Howard. He made his choice, and he has to live with it. Then again…

They’re already cheating, and it’s time to listen to his own advice. Banner learned that to find peace he had to mix his most hated aspects of himself with the most lauded. Hulk is not a monster to be ignored but loved. Owning your failures is the key to not just heroism but survival. Acknowledging the red on your ledger and not letting your worst mistakes be your ultimate designation is the Endgame.

Whatever it takes? Failure and continuation in the face of it. Natasha and Tony lose their lives in the battle to snap their Infinity fingers. In witnessing somebody else’s sacrifice for a change, Rogers adheres to the rehearsed speech given during his VA meetings. He moves on. He finally finds the emotional closure he denied himself back in ’42 and ’70. To do anything else would be a betrayal to the comrades that died. He’s here, so he must live.

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What Avengers: Endgame Contributes to the MCU:

  • Time Travel – It’s always dangerous to introduce the concept of time travel in a continuing franchise of movies. Thankfully, the gobbledygook mechanics assigned to the device should prevent temporal tampering in the future. One cannot simply go backward and fix mistakes. They happened. If you fidget with the past, all you’ll be creating is an alternate timeline. Hmmmm…
  • The Multiverse – That’s no good. Sure, sure, sure, Captain America went back and returned the Infinity Stones to the points in time in which they stole them, and that should make everything right as rain. Naw. The 2012 Loki got a hold of The Tesseract and vanished into his own Disney+ series. That’s one new timeline. Captain America reuniting with Peggy creates one as well. What the heck happened to her previous husband and children? And frankly, there is no way that Cap could return all the stones unnoticed, so each Time Heist sequence causes a new reality despite Banner’s promises to the Ancient One. As a comic book fan, I hope they go nuts with the Multiverse idea. I want to see more Avenger vs. Avenger fights.
  • Morgan H. Stark – As one of the lucky ones post-Snap, Tony and Pepper had a wonderful five years together as parents to this beautiful daughter. Who knows what the future holds for Morgan, but her possibilities are endless thanks to her father’s one-in-14-million sacrifice.
  • The Asgardians of the Galaxy – Thor does not find the total emotional salvation appreciated by Old Man Steve Rogers. To uncover his purpose, he joins the Guardians of the Galaxy and will contribute greatly to their adventures while also being a colossal pain in Star-Lord’s neck. Cannot wait.
  • Namor The Sub-Mariner – During an Avengers HQ briefing, Okoye mentions a powerful earthquake that occurred beneath the ocean off the coast of Africa. Could this be an allusion to the fabled city of Atlantis and a hint of the coming origin of Namor the Sub-Mariner a.k.a. Marvel’s Aquaman? I sure hope so. In the comics, Namor is a vicious thorn in the side of Black Panther. Their dynamic could fill that love/hate relationship missing from The Avengers now that Tony and Steve have left us.

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What Avengers: Endgame Withholds from the MCU:

  • Thanos – The inevitability of the Mad Titan amounted to nothing more than dust in the wind.
  • Tony Stark – “I am Iron Man.” How glorious to hear Stark’s climactic declaration of ego from the first film transformed into his final heroic statement solidifying the survival of all sentient life, but most importantly, the one that belongs to his daughter Morgan.
  • Black Widow – Is this the end of Natasha? We know Scarlett Johansson will return in a solo film, but will that be a prequel or did she somehow make her way out of Soul World? I’m not ready to say goodbye.
  • The Infinity Stones – No more magical MacGuffins, right? Or at least, not this particular variety. That feels like a good bet for a little while anyway. However, Adam Warlock’s promised appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 might also mean a return of the Soul Stone.

All New Avengers

Further Reading:

All New, All Different Avengers by Mark Waid – This take on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes does not quite look like the one from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, Iron Man, Captain America, The Vision, and Thor are all involved, but they don’t cover the usual faces. Well, Tony Stark is there, but Jane Foster is wielding Mjölnir, Sam Wilson carries the shield, and The Vision is…uh…recovering from some domestic horror. Also on the roster are teenage adventurers Miles Morales, Kamala Khan, and Nova. Besides shaking up the team, Mark Waid plays with superhero genre conventions by fully embracing some cosmic timey wimey shinanigans. For anyone looking to keep that Time Heist high going, All New, All Different Avengers will fulfill your needs.

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Read more from our series on the Marvel Cinematic Universe:

PHASE ONE

PHASE TWO

PHASE THREE

Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.

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