Dr. Strange: “We’re in the endgame now.” – Infinity War
It has been a crazy decade for Marvel. Fans watched from the moment Tony Stark began designing his Iron Man armor to Thanos’ infamous snap. We were there when Black Panther stepped onto the world stage, when Asgard fell, and when Tom Holland’s Spider-Man first stepped towards heroism. One thing is clear after a decade of heroes and villains:
It’s time for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to end.
Most of you are probably asking, “What the hell is he on about?” I love the series as much as anyone, but the story is nearly finished. To understand why, we need to look back at what’s brought the MCU to its climax.
The Story So Far
Tony: “Banner and I were doing research.”
Steve: “That would affect the team.”
Tony: “That would END the team. Isn’t that the mission? Isn’t that the “Why we fight”? So we can end the fight? So we get to go home!?” – Avengers: Age of Ultron
Marvel was a sideshow until 2008. Blade, X-Men, and Spider-Man had helped revive superhero movies, but Marvel lacked a profitable franchise like WB’s The Dark Knight trilogy. Marvel staked their faith in Iron Man and included an end credits scene teasing the Avengers.
The film was a smash hit despite its main character’s obscurity. Quasi-sequel The Incredible Hulk faltered, but films about Thor and Captain America performed as well as Iron Man had. The dream was finally realized in 2012 when The Avengers premiered and raked in over $700 million. There was no stopping the Marvel Cinematic Universe after that.
The MCU didn’t limit itself to only its big guns. Lesser known heroes like Dr. Strange and Ant-Man were the orders of the day. Guardians of the Galaxy proved that Marvel could make inconsequential characters stars. The MCU’s disparate parts came together in Avengers: Infinity War, a smash hit that earned over $2 billion.
The End has Come
Gamora: “Did you do it?”
Gamora: [beat] “What did it cost?”
Thanos: [solemnly] “… Everything.”
The post credits scene of The Avengers introduced the world to Thanos, the MCU’s ultimate villain. Then they established his menace and danger for six years. Viewers were also introduced to his goal, the Infinity Stones, a sextet of gems that give their wielder dominion over Power, Time, Space, The Mind, The Soul, and Reality.
Infinity War featured the combined might of The Avengers, The Guardians, various unaffiliated heroes, and more coming together to halt Thanos’ quest for the Infinity Gauntlet that would house the Stones. Half of them were eradicated after failing. The as-of-yet untitled Avengers 4 will feature the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s remnants launching a final assault to stop the omnipotent Thanos.
And then what?
Where can the MCU possibly go after fighting a literally omnipotent villain? How can Spider-Man be frightened of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far from Home after having a planet thrown at him by Thanos? How can random thieves or would-be conquerors seem threatening compared to someone wielding the full might of the Infinity Gauntlet?
The MCU has told the Thanos Saga since Iron Man. That story ends with Avenger 4’s release. Marvel movies will still be made. New heroes and villains will emerge, but fewer fans will return to theaters to watch them. I’m sure that the first film after Avengers 4 will make less than the $340 million an average MCU film makes.
Imagine seeing Star Wars in a 1977 movie theater. As time goes on, you see the original trilogy, the prequels, and finally reach The Last Jedi. The First Order is thwarted, The Rebellion survives, but Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are dead and Carrie Fisher has passed away in real life.
There will still be Star Wars movies, but the story and characters you grew up watching are finished. You might watch the new movies, but as far as you’re concerned, the Star Wars story is complete.
Ozymandias: “I did the right thing, didn’t I? It all worked out in the end.”
Dr. Manhattan: “In the end’? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.” – Watchmen
The MCU’s finale approaches, but its legacy cannot be overstated. This 20 film series is the highest grossing film franchise ever, easily blowing past Star Wars and Harry Potter. The MCU turned the concept of a shared universe into an art form. Formerly obscure characters are now as popular as Superman or Batman.
There is a much more potent impact beyond money and prestige. Fans have seen Spider-Man’s responsibility, Black Widow’s resourcefulness, Captain America’s patriotism, Iron Man’s stubborn pride, Vision’s faith in humanity, and so much more. If these virtues and ideals have inspired even one person, The Marvel Cinematic Universe was a success.