Directors Joe and Anthony Russo had their work cut out for them. Not only were they directing a two-part movie event that included dozens of beloved superheroes and needed to offer a satisfying ending to a decade-long, much-beloved saga, but the Russo brothers were also responsible for one more enormous task: they had to sum it all up. As the culmination of a 21-film narrative arc, Avengers: Endgame is more than just the final chapter. It’s the prism through which we will understand every other film. So what’s it all about? What’s the moral of the story?
On top of everything else, the Russo brothers had to tell us why the Marvel Cinematic Universe mattered.
The Russos delivered. Avengers: Endgame revealed to us what the films have always been building toward from the very beginning. Ready?
The Marvel movies have always been about one thing: human connection.
This may seem abundantly obvious, and maybe it is. But think about it for a moment. Why do we care about Marvel? Sure, the explosions are fun, the soundtracks are perfection and if Chris Hemsworth bats his baby blues every once in a while, we don’t mind it. But that’s not why we stick with these movies for a decade. No, we keep coming back because we care about the humans at the center. Many of us have spent eleven years acquainting ourselves with Tony Stark and Steve Rogers and Natasha and Dr. Banner and Thor and Clint, learning their foibles, tics and wonderful qualities. The Avengers became, in a very real way, part of our lives.
And it wasn’t just superheroes. No, Marvel has also endeared us to the people on the periphery, the families and friends and colleagues of the Avengers. Agent Coulson, Nick Fury, Pepper Potts, Happy, Peggy Carter, the kid from Iron Man 3, Korg from Thor: Ragnarok, Peter Parker’s buddy Ned, the brilliant sister from Black Panther—and these are just the ones I could name off the top of my head. In the Marvel Universe, none of the heroes are islands; every single one of them is a participant within their own rich community. Everyone loves and is loved by someone else.
That’s why, then, the end of Infinity War was as emotionally devastating as it was. Suddenly, a big purple dude with a golden glove snaps his fingers, and we watch Spider-Man, Groot, Peter Quill, Black Panther and so many more turn to dust. Not only that, we watched the characters lose their loved ones, the people that they do all of the villain-fighting and world-saving for. The Avengers failed, and as a result, everyone suffered a personal loss.
The Avengers became, in a very real way, part of our lives.
Thanos, on the other hand, could care less about interpersonal connection. That’s what makes him such a horrifying villain. He’s practical. From a purely utilitarian standpoint, eliminating half of the living creatures in the universe would make things a whole lot easier. There would be more food to go around, less pollution, more opportunities, less crowding. Thanos has a point.
But he’s missing something crucial, something that every Marvel movie since Iron Man has argued: living is only worthwhile if you’re doing it with others. Relationships don’t just bring meaning to life; they are the meaning of life.
This is the message that Avengers: Endgame articulates, but it’s always been there. Tony Stark was a selfish man who learned how to live selflessly. The Guardians of the Galaxy were a bunch of no-good losers who became a family. T’Challa lives to protect Wakanda, his kingdom and homeland. Ant-Man is devoted to his daughter. There are grander motives at play, of course—saving the universe, defeating Hydra, etc.—but in every Marvel movie, everything can be boiled down to those core relationships. The heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the arc reactor powering the whole vast enterprise, is, believe it or not, love.
That’s what Endgame is trying to tell us. I won’t spoil anything if you haven’t seen it, but thinking about the final scenes of the movie, I’m reminded of Brené Brown’s definition of connection. Brown, a scholar and TED Talker extraordinaire, says that connection is “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” There’s a lot “energy” that crops up throughout the Marvel movies. The Tesseract. Gamma Rays. The Quantum Realm. Infinity Stones. But “Endgame” suggests that all of that stuff pales in comparison to the human need to connect. That is an energy that evil cannot hope to match. In the final chapter of the Avengers saga, the Russo brothers want us to know: it’s the relationships that matter. People are the point. Everything else is just a fun time at the movies.