The last of the Avengers franchise arrives amidst much anticipation with high expectations for glamorous closure and narrative fulfillment after the 20 plus films leading to the grand finale, Avengers: Endgame.
The film opens with earth’s situation as we left it in Avengers: Infinity War, half the population has been annihilated due to Thanos’ plan to re-balance humankind. The survivors are left behind in the depths of their guilt and pain in disbelief that a disaster of this scale could come to fruition.
Our favorite characters are weathered with more mature features. Sunken cheekbones, little makeup, and wiry frames depict superheroes that are not so different from ourselves in our own humanity. We wonder if the heroes who are left will band together and discover a solution to bring back the people they love or will despair and self-doubt overtake their belief that they can make a difference?
Over the past 10 years, we have followed the stories of these heroes, starting with Iron Man in 2008 to the release of Avengers: Endgame. We have invested time, money, and expectations into the Marvel universe and have been satiated film after film, watching our heroes conquer their own battles so they can win wars for others.
We experience these narratives, again and again. We go back as if we can’t get enough even when we already know how the story ends.
Perhaps the attraction to these stories lies in our own desire to imagine that we could possibly be that brave, have that level of courage, be willing to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others…that we could possibly be a hero.
The film experience is known for its power to transform our perspectives as we are swept away into a different world. We live vicariously through characters, and just for a moment in time, we forget the world we are in to experience the world on the screen. We watch the Marvel superheroes and experience the possibility of our own heroism in each character. We know we could never be a superhero with powers endowed from another planet or given through a gone-sideways scientific experiment, but the thought that we could do something great or be someone significant is breathtaking. In the end, we just want to matter.
Not unlike our heroes in Avengers: Endgame, we want to know we can make a difference. We want to feel like our lives are important. Yet, the only person who has the power to convince us that we matter is ourselves.
In Avengers: Endgame, each hero struggles to believe in their significance. Even the heroes with other-earthly powers wrestle to find their worthiness because they can only see their failure. Yet in this story, each person has to continue to believe they can make a difference even when they don’t understand how. Because once you stop believing that you matter, you stop believing in the gifts and power you have to give to others. The years the Avengers spend patiently searching for how they will shift their circumstances readies them for the moment in time when there is a possibility of hope.
Perhaps the greatest hurdle we face is not whether we can do enough or give enough. Perhaps it is if we believe that we can make a difference and accept that we are something extraordinary.