Bennett Fort ’19
Last Friday, April 26, 2019, I watched it all end. My emotional (and, of course, quite hefty monetary) investment with 22 Marvel films paid off as I finally saw an ending to something I discovered nine years ago, one fateful night in Ocean City, NJ.
For nine years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken over my entire life. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it has been a big part of my growing up. See, I came to Harry Potter on the tail end of its tenure. While it meant and still means a tremendous amount to me, I didn’t “grow up” with those characters. But, I have been with all of the Marvel characters since around the beginning.
Now, this isn’t a review of Avengers: Endgame. If you want one of those, here: “Avengers: Endgame is amazing. It’s the culmination of eleven years of storytelling and is satisfying beyond belief. Go see it.” Alright, so now that we’re past that, what is this? Well, this is a meditation on the power of long-form (and I mean VERY long-form) storytelling. A look back at how the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) crawled its way into everyone’s hearts.
Twelve years ago, the prospect of 22 different, yet connected films all culminating in one film that would shatter every single box office record known to man probably seemed like a far off event. Superhero movies that connected to each other had failed twice over, with franchises like Spider-Man and X-Men. But, one year later, in 2008, a little movie came out titled Iron Man. It was a success, but coming out in 2008, its status as one of the most important superhero movies was quickly overshadowed by another little movie (cough… The Dark Knight… cough cough). Yet, the importance of Iron Man was by no means forgotten, because following all of the credits of the film, there was a small scene that changed the landscape of filmmaking forever. In the darkness of Tony Stark’s house stood Nick Fury, who very knowingly said the line: “You’re part of a bigger universe, you just don’t know it yet.” And we were off to the races. See, while such a line said to Tony Stark meant that he existed in a world of heroes, what it meant for the audiences was much bigger. It meant that, in the coming years, the world would see countless superhero movies arrive, all of which were connected together, working to tell one story. Eleven years later, on April 26th, 2019, that story, known as THE INFINITY SAGA, ended with Avengers: Endgame, a colossal film, running at 3 hours and 58 seconds. Now, again, no spoilers, but walking out of Endgame almost felt like an unthinkable conclusion if someone were to tell me nine years ago that it was where it would all end. But now, after seeing it, I feel at peace.
For nine years, I constantly went to the theater, watching these movies. I can practically remember the exact experience of watching each and every one of them for the first time. Iron Man was watched by me in on an old TV at the beach house that would, just a few years later, be left behind in the wake of monumental change. The Avengers came on a celebration of my brother’s birthday, as I sat in a rather full theater, mystified by what I was witnessing. Guardians of the Galaxy was a strange, August day before my final year of middle school began. Thor: Ragnarok was the beginning of an effort by me and the friends I made at Tower Hill to go see every single one that came out afterward up until we graduated. My experiences are unique, but countless other people across the globe have been with the MCU since the beginning as well, investing themselves in characters like Thor, Star-Lord, Captain America, and Iron Man. The MCU has succeeded because of the world’s investment in these characters.
In the eleven years since Iron Man, several other studios have tried and failed to create the worldwide appeal of the MCU. But those companies are missing the point. The heart of all these franchises, including the MCU, is about making money. And continuing to make that money for years to come. But, what made the MCU different is that, along with money, the movies were made by people who actually cared about the characters. Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios, was apparently the biggest comic book nerd of all time growing up, so his role as the head of the company is by no means solely about making money. It’s about loving these characters. From the very beginning, the MCU was about making you care. Because if you didn’t care, then I actually would have been able to get a decent parking spot at the theater last Friday when I saw the movie.
Storytelling is all about creating empathy. Roger Ebert notoriously called movies “empathy making machines.” Therefore, the MCU’s uncanny ability to create empathy was its biggest strength. It’s long-form style, in which movie, after movie was made about these characters, was all for the purpose of creating more and more empathy within you for these characters. For that reason alone, Marvel should be praised. Storytelling is difficult. Long-form storytelling makes empathy easier, but with more stories come more problems.
The fact that you are able to watch Avengers: Endgame and care is all a result of the creative minds at the heart of Marvel Studios. So, as the first saga of the MCU ends, I thought it would be important to just think back on why I cared so much about all these characters. Why I wanted to keep coming back. Why I bought tickets for Endgame the day they came out, mere milliseconds before assembly began that day.
In the time since I first saw Iron Man, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve become incredibly cynical about the world, and movies themselves. I’ve lost interest in the incredibly massive, mindless blockbusters like Transformers because I never got anything worthwhile out of them. But, through it all, I loved the MCU. Because I loved the characters. Because I changed as a human being alongside them. I was invested beyond belief.
Leaving Endgame, it truly struck me how much my love paid off. I, rather irrationally, audibly, and very loudly, exclaimed “OH MY GOD!” a few times throughout it. Everything was earned. Long-form storytelling works. If the people behind it care enough to make you care.
So, to end this article, as well as the first saga of the MCU, I would just like to say (in a rather corny way): I love you 3000, Marvel.