This is the one obligatory “Spoiler Warning” you get. Disney®©™’s Marvel©®™’s trailer for their mildly-interesting Spider-Man™ sequel felt free to dive into Avengers®: Endgame© spoilers™ barely two weeks beyond the release of their latest Avengers® box office behemoth, so I feel free to do the same.
If you want to enjoy these thoughts, know that I’ll be discussing Avengers®: Endgame© and all the other Marvel©®™ properties relevant to the discussion.
If you proceed, it’s not on me. Also, as fair warning, you might hate what I’m about to say.
Everything About This Franchise Exposes How We’re Unwilling to Let Go
One of the most important lessons that a human being can learn is to “let go.” The past is behind us, the present is fleeting, and the future is upon us.
Popular entertainment used to support this lesson. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is all about letting go of the past and embracing what we still have. Anakin’s fatal downfall in Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is his inability to release his attachments and understand that, however painful it is, we have to accept that we can’t control the change.
Heck, Shmi herself imparts this lesson to Anakin as he prepares to leave Tatooine in Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It’s one of the most powerful moments in the saga, truth be told.
(Of course I’m setting aside religious debates about an afterlife. That’s a different conversation. What we’re discussing here has to do with how those of us left behind deal with death as it affects us.)
Have We Regressed?
A mere 20 years later, the lesson of our most popular franchise movie hit is that our ultimate goal is to undo tragedy. This seems to work against the theme at play in the earlier part of the movie. It drives me nuts, actually.
They “undid” Thor’s lost eye in Infinity War, and then they “undid” the loss of Mjolnir in Endgame. They “undid” his maturity and actually regressed him to a point where he abdicated his hard-earned growth into leadership.
They gave Hulk a fascinating inner conflict in Infinity War, and then got rid of it with a (wait for it) snap in Endgame. Captain America is able to undo not just the removal of the Infinity Stones from the timeline(s), but the entire tragic sacrifice that defined his character since Captain America: The First Avenger.
Gamorra gets replaced with an alternate version of Gamorra. This undoes the sacrifice that “couldn’t be” undone, albeit in a unique way.
I’m completely aware that the death of Iron Man and Black Widow are supposedly irreversible per this story. The twist is that since they’ve introduced time-travel-at-whim, and shown a willingness to bring Gamorra back from the past to use her character again despite her own “irreversible” death, I’m not willing to accept it as permanent.
As Avengers®: Endgame© winds down, it seems the ultimate goal was…stasis.
This captures a seeming cultural obsession with “death denial” that drives people to all sorts of measures to undo the aging process. It’s fascinating to me.
Fans on the one hand seem to be obsessed with progress, but only so far as that’s defined as “story beats.” Avengers®: Endgame© reveals that as a story arc, the most important thing in a modern franchise is to control life to the point where pain and death not just minimized, but surmountable and erasable.
To prove I’m not just picking on Marvel, I’ll also call out the last moment in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Extended Cuts which telegraphs that Superman isn’t staying dead. The heroic sacrifice in that movie is promised to be undone before the end credits even roll. Infinity War at least had the decency to self-contain as a story.
Even The Transformers: The Movie Had the Courage to Wipe Out Old Characters
The Transformers: The Movie (1986) was a virtual bloodbath (oilsport?) that slaughtered so many old characters in the first half of the movie that the remaining cast was almost unrecognizable at the end. Kids were traumatized by the death of Optimus Prime (spoilers!) and disoriented by the transformation of Megatron into Galvatron. Everything was the same, but never the same again.
That is, until the outcry from kids and parents was so great they brought Optimus Prime back from the dead in the television series (spoilers!). Kids couldn’t handle the idea that their heroes were gone forever.
Naturally, terrified of losing their viewer base of children, they felt they had to bring him back. Far be it from them to teach kids that the farewell of death, as painful as it is, is something that we have to accept. Far be it from the parents to teach their kids that, as much as they cried at the death of Optimus Prime, it was a lesson to learn about treasuring life and legacy.
Optimus Prime teaches the same lesson that our elders always have. That we die is not the important part of this material world; it’s what we leave behind. Hot Rod became Rodimus Prime when he realized it wasn’t anyone’s duty but his own to accept these things and move forward.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it appears that when comparing Disney®©™’s Marvel©®™’s Avengers®: Endgame©, it seems that Transformers: The Movie had a healthier approach to the themes of death and farewell.
I remind you that I liked Disney®©™’s Marvel©®™’s Avengers®: Endgame©. I’m just pointing something out.
If you think I’m wrong, feel free to leave a comment.
‘Til all are one!