By Zoe Fanzo
In 2008, Marvel Comics risked everything by launching their film studio’s cinematic universe. After selling off many of their famous character properties, such as the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, Marvel Studios was left with only a handful of characters to work with. Robert Downey Jr., who some considered to be a liability based on his troubled personal life and past addictions, introduced the world to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with his portrayal of Tony Stark in 2008’s “Iron Man.” This was a risk that ultimately paid off for the studio, and now, after 11 years and 22 movies, the acclaimed Infinity Saga has drawn to a close with “Avengers: Endgame.” The film marks the conclusion for many of the franchise’s characters and storylines, closing out the first three phases of the MCU with emotional maturity and sincerity.
“Avengers: Endgame” picks up in the immediate aftermath of 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” which featured a shocking cliffhanger where antagonist Thanos successfully used the six Infinity Stones to wipe out half of the universe’s population with the snap of his fingers. At the start of the film, the team assembles to strike back at Thanos with urgency, but when they arrive to his sanctuary planet, they find him half crippled and without any of the stones. Enraged, Thor decapitates Thanos, the team returns to Earth, and the film then jumps ahead five years into the future. The time jump is bleak, and it sets the dark tone of the film with shocking precision.
A new hope comes to the team when Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man, portrayed hilariously by Paul Rudd, shows up at the Avengers Compound. For the last five years, he had been trapped in the quantum realm, a version of the universe on a subatomic scale. Tony Stark, the smartest mind on the team, is initially hesitant to help them harness quantum time travel, but the memory of his former friend and mentee, Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, finally prompts him to develop a stable method.
Using the technology Tony developed, the team devises a plan to visit moments in which their past selves encountered the various stones. The time heist sequence revisits scenes from past films in the MCU, ultimately serving as a functional plot device while also paying homage to the last decade of movies. The sequence is very satisfying for fans who have invested years into memorizing the many plot lines, characters, and intricacies of the MCU. When they return to their present timeline with the six stones, chaos ensues.
After the team regains their bearings, the compound is suddenly attacked by a massive alien army. The Avengers seem vastly outnumbered and out of their depth, until through a deft plot twist a massive army of the previously fallen heroes appears on the battlefield, ready to do whatever it takes.
The ensuing action sequence is perhaps the highlight of the film, as it is the culmination of the entire franchise. The imagery evokes the same beautiful and chaotic energy as a full-page comic illustration, with all of the many MCU heroes together for the first time, charging at Thanos and his army. The sequence features many satisfying moments for fans, with Captain America wielding Thor’s hammer, a heart-wrenching reunion between Iron Man and Spider-Man, and the iconic battle cry which fans have waited years to hear uttered on screen, “avengers assemble.”
The climax of the battle comes as Tony Stark realizes what he has to do to defeat Thanos. In a moment which feels full-circle and gratifying, the once egotistical Tony Stark wields the stones on his metal glove with purely sacrificial intentions and he declares the famous last words of the film which kicked off the franchise, “I am Iron Man.” With that, he dusts Thanos and his army, thus sacrificing his life for the greater good. As he fades into death, he is surrounded by the people he loves, and he is finally able to rest knowing that they are safe.
“Avengers: Endgame” is a tragic yet gratifying send-off for the character of Iron Man, and for the first three phases of films. Once self-obsessed and unwilling to work with others, Tony’s growth over the course of the films has felt natural and tangible. Tony Stark fades away with the knowledge that Thanos will never again pose a threat to his reality; his team, his wife and daughter, the world he has fought to protect for so long has been made safer with this ultimate sacrifice.
This is an end which is admittedly difficult to watch for fans who have loved and grown with Tony, yet it is a moment that feels completely necessary and earned. It is difficult to imagine an ending which could offer greater finality to this world of heroes, and fans will surely remember the Infinity Saga as one of the greatest cinematic epics of this generation.