Avengers: Endgame was released April 26, 2019. It is the highest-grossing film of all time, with Box Office Mojo reporting its lifetime gross as $2,797,800,564. Its first anniversary has a new relevance as people worldwide grapple with the global health crisis of coronavirus, and its far-reaching impact on healthcare, the economy and everyday life.
Millions of people are committed to the heroic act of staying home, which leaves time for thinking about and honoring the actual heroes fighting the real battles of this strange, scary war.
The Internet is full of conflicting opinions about the value and merit of Avengers: Endgame, the last chapter of an 11-year saga of films spawning countless spin-offs and revivals of beloved Marvel characters. No matter how you feel about the film, it inarguably depicts universal themes of loyalty, passing the torch, and the idea that everyone has something unique to give. It’s almost biblical in its celebration of using your gifts to glorify something bigger than yourself, and making sacrifices for the greater good.
Seeing the Russo brothers’ epic final chapter on opening night in a crowded theater was an unforgettable event, which might explain why videos of fan reactions to its most incredible moments were circulating on Twitter in early April. The cheers, laughs and excitement are still echoing in our minds in a time when the simple the simple joy of going to the movies feels far away – almost impossible.
Now streaming on Disney Plus, Avengers: Endgame already feels prematurely nostalgic for a time when our biggest problem was finding tickets and avoiding spoilers. (Remember #DontSpoiltheEndgame?) Just because the CGI spectacle is chock full of the film industry’s most beautiful faces doesn’t mean they don’t have a special spirit. Sure, they might be a mere money grab, a slam dunk for the studio thanks to the forethought of outgoing CEO Bob Iger (whose book Ride of a Lifetime is a fascinating look into the last decade of Disney’s incredible acquisitions).
But that doesn’t mean they’re without soul. The heart in these films is so huge, it makes sitting through long computer-generated fight sequences worth it – and gives the true comic book fans something to cheer for – even those who would usually prefer a small, character-driven independent film.
Once we emerged from that dark theater, the spectacle over, the questions answered, all of us returned to our own lives, not knowing this painful change was a year away. When Endgame came out, we were all on the same side for a few hours. Caring about these characters might have been the only thing we had in common, and watching our heroes win the war is extra comforting as we now face a common enemy far more personal than Thanos.
Now, being a hero means showing up for work at 7 o’clock in scrubs. A great costume.
It means ringing up groceries in rubber gloves, donating to food banks, delivering food to doorsteps. Avengers take care of sick people. Avengers teach classrooms of kids through a camera. Avengers keep neighbors and loved ones smiling with videos, notes, reminders that being isolated doesn’t mean being alone.
This time has brought out a whole new group of heroes who were always doing great work – but are now putting their lives on the line every day to keep other people safe.
Maybe it’s a dumbing down of a complex crisis, a low-brow way to look at things. But hidden within these huge stories are deep themes – there, if you’re willing to look for them. To see the allegory, the parable, underneath the predictable. Before long there will be what feels like 15 million phases to the Marvel Universe – debates about its cinematic worth, talk of money and streaming and the changing face of film franchises, never-ending announcements about its developing projects. None of that really holds much importance these days, at least for those with perspective on this international pain and fear.
Walt Disney said in the film Saving Mr. Banks that storytellers instill hope. These movies provide an even more meaningful escape than they did in theaters – hope, under seemingly impossible circumstances. Watching it might only lead to the simple joy of feeling better for a few hours – knowing that in some universes, things work out. And believing that they will, if we all do our part.
And it’s not without sacrifice. It’s not all joyful celebration and laughs and tied-up loose ends. It’s grief, pain, loss and change on a massive scale. Experiencing these same emotions as a collective human race weirdly makes this film more relevant than ever. Like Dr. Strange saw the future and knew that we would need it.
There might only be one future where we win. But in the meantime, we have movies.