NOTE: HELLA SPOILERS FOR “AVENGERS: ENDGAME” HERE. SKIP THIS ENTIRE POST UNTIL YOU SEE THE MOVIE.
I MEAN IT
ALL OF IT
THERE IS NOTHING LEFT HERE BUT SPOILERS
There were two enormously dissatisfying issues with this picture for me. It’s not going to stop it from the first billion dollar opening, it’s not going to prevent it being a bow tied on top of the MCU to this point, it’s not like you can’t live with the way things work out, but there are two GIANT PROBLEMS that bother me.
One is the way we skipped ahead to five years in the future…and then bring everybody back. “Bring them back, don’t change anything else.” And just like that, everybody that was gone, all those names on the monuments in San Francisco, everyone that the survivors mourned and tried to move on from…is back. That’s an insanely complicated proposition to handwave away all by itself before even considering the bigger problem: it was bad enough when aliens descended from New York. Now half the population disappeared. And came back. And there’s no reason to think it couldn’t happen again, or something like it. They allude to the fact that governments are falling apart, and I can’t fathom how that doesn’t continue and worsen. As Fred Clark has famously argued, September 11 shows us what happens when three thousand people are unexpectedly killed by something we can identify. Now imagine a third, or half of the planet, disappeared into thin air. The crippling implications for the insurance industry alone, never mind religion or geopolitics or the like – it’s not the loss of population, which only drops us back to the 1970s or so, it’s the fact that it happened, that it could happen. You can’t go back to an ordinary world with field trips to Europe. That would be…psychopathic.
It would be different if this were meant to be the end. We mourn our heroes, we celebrate our victory, and we say “and the rest of them all lived happily ever after to the end of their days.” I wouldn’t have this problem if this were the final page, but it isn’t. So we’re going to have to pretend that everything somehow goes back to normal, or else we actually grapple with the consequences of what happened. Which is probably why all the TV shows are done (or as good as) and starting over with different stuff elsewhere. I understand wanting consequences, not wanting to say “it never happened,” but if you say it did, then you can’t gloss over the implications of that and pretend the world is back to our normal.
Which leads me to the other thing.
This almost certainly makes me an asshole and a bad person, and I don’t care: it was tremendously satisfying that Tony Stark tore Steve Rogers a new asshole in the first five minutes, and Steve just had to sit there and take it, because Tony was right. Right about the threat from above, right about needing to stay together being more important than how we stay together, right about how “we’ll lose.” And when it happened, he didn’t have any of the Avengers with him. Steve Rogers put his feelings ahead of the planet, the planet paid the price, and at the end of the day…Tony dies. Tony takes his one in fourteen million six hundred and five chance, snaps his fingers, and dies to destroy Thanos and his empire. Tony loses his life, leaves behind his wife and daughter…and Steve gets to go back in time and live out the full life with Peggy that he never expected to have.
Resentment is corrosive, Tony says, and he swallows it because the world is at stake. And he gives his life to win. That strikes me as colossally unfair on a very personal level: you are responsible, you do what has to be done, you swallow your pride and do what is required of you, and in the end it costs you everything. That’s a little on the fucking nose for me. Although I suppose in a way, it’s the inverse of Thanos: one cosmic individual’s determination to accomplish the mission no matter what can only be confounded by another’s.
One thing Tony did get, though, was that trip to 1970. We all know how conflicted he’s been his entire life about his father, and it goes all the way back to the very first Iron Man movie. He got that moment, got to clear the mechanism, and you could say that in a way he got the same thing Steve did: resolution to the great unfinished business of his life. Hell, just for Peggy’s sake, I’m glad things worked out for her eventually to get Steve back – although that confounds an awful big bunch of stuff if you think too hard about it.
And that’s the real trick. Kevin Feige is out there saying that Spider-Man: Far From Home will be the real last film in Phase III, and I’m hoping they at least make some kind of effort to say where things are going and what the world looks like now. Because if we blow by it all, ignore what happened, and pretend everything went back to normal somehow, Marvel will have done itself a substantial disservice – and its fans with it.