Column: The ‘Endgame’ of an era

  • This image released by Disney shows, from left, Brie Larson, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans and the character Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, in a scene from “Avengers: Endgame.” (Disney/Marvel Studios via AP)

BEWARE OF BIG HONKIN’ GREAT SPOILERS FOR ‘AVENGERS: ENDGAME.’ YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. CONTINUE AT YOUR PERIL.

Eleven years ago, minus a week or two, Marvel Studios brought my favorite superhero to life on the big screen. Sure, I’d seen some of the earlier and shorter animated stuff, but May 2008’s “Iron Man” was the first time I’d seen my idol in the flesh (and titanium-gold alloy). Tony Stark had come a long way since his first appearance in “Tales of Suspense #39” in 1963, which predated me by a quarter century, and to a college junior it was worth a few dollars of my tight budget to go see.

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Fast forward a decade and 20 more films later, and here we are: “Avengers: Endgame.” It’s been a ride. Nerds like myself have seen our larger-than-life icons laugh and love and lose and kick alien butt time and time again, but in each film there was that thread, the ongoing indicators something bigger was coming, something that tied them all together in a way bigger than “The Avengers” did in 2012.

“Endgame” sure does that, and won’t make any sense if you haven’t seen the preceding films. Its plot takes viewers back through previous films because — and here’s the spoilers — it’s a time travel movie. It HAD to be, since the universe’s angriest raisin, Thanos, killed half the universe and a statistically unlikely percentage of the Guardians of the Galaxy in the chronologically previous “Avengers: Infinity War.” “Endgame” brings the survivors back together in a last-ditch, soft-science “Time Heist” to nick back the six universe-busting macguffins and undo the Snappening. Snaptastrophe? Snapture?

It’s hard to do time travel well, without leaving suspension-of-disbelief-breaking loose ends lying about, and “Endgame” unravels its fair share. But I can handwave its soft spots. Hard scifi gets harder examination from me, but since this involves wizards, a magic time rock, plot particles, and quantum shenanigans, its pulp nature covers over a multitude of sins.

I could bang on about my favorite times the movie harked back to previous titles. I could chuckle over Stark’s many throwaway lines or all his nicknames for Ant-Man. I could gush about the most epic battle scenes this collective opus has seen. But I’m not going to do that, because something more important and poignant stuck with me, after the film was over and the moments sweet and bittersweet drew to a close.

When the Avengers lose so very many of their friends, each handles grief in a different way, and that brings the trillionaires, super-soldiers, monsters and literal gods down to a very human level where we can see our pain reflected in theirs. Natasha buries herself in work, has to keep doing something, anything, to not think about it. Steve goes to group grief therapy. Tony isolates himself and tries his best to move on. Bruce turns inward to find answers. Thor drowns his sorrows in binge eating and alcohol abuse. And after losing his whole family, Clint rages, taking out his lethal levels of anger and despair on people he thinks deserve it anyway. These paragons, these superhumans — well, they’re just us, writ large and with a few spoonfuls of fantasy.

The hallmark of a hero is not staying beaten when others are counting on you. Ant-Man brings some 11th hour hope, and with that, the Avengers (re)assemble. They’re not merely human when there’s hope; they’re Black Widow, and Captain America, and Iron Man and Hulk and Hawkeye and the freakin’ god of thunder.

That’s one of my two takeaways from a film primarily about facepunching a murderous wrinkled eggplant: we all deal with grief differently. I had to tell this to a good friend of mine a couple years ago when his grandfather died, yet he didn’t feel like he could shed a tear, and instead threw himself into making all the arrangements and helping all his family members through THEIR grief. And he felt like an awful person because his reaction to grief and loss wasn’t what he thought it should be. But grief is normal, it’s part of us, and it’s what we do when we move forward that matters.

My other was an easily passed-over line when Stark, who has had a three-movies-running feud with Captain America, lets go of his bitterness in one line: “Resentment is corrosive, and I hate it.”

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He acknowledges what he’s doing wrong and drops it, ready to give it one last go. And go he does. I’m an absolute sucker for heroic self-sacrifice and I was ugly-crying by the end of this movie. I spent a literal third of my life getting to know these people and getting attached to them, so I’m not the least bit ashamed of that. “Endgame” brings a solid conclusion to a multi-billion-dollar, decade-long story arc, one that ties up enough plot threads from previous movies to make it well worth the watch if you’ve been following them as I have.

Is it the best film of the franchise? No, not really. But you couldn’t ask for a better end(game).

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