by Alvin G. Burstein
Avengers: End Game is the capstone of a decade of Marvel Comics super-hero sagas. It is a three-hour blockbuster loaded with features that will entertain viewers and deeply gratify followers of Captain America and his superhero team and their battles against forces of evil. The Avengers series has antecedents in a complex of earlier superhero Marvel productions whose central characters reappear in the Avenger episodes over the last seven years.
The film is a commercial and critical success, with a lot going for it. It brings Avenger fans up to date after the dire events in its immediate predecessor, Avengers: Infinity War. It is studded with techno-glitz and special effects. There are mega-battle scenes with suspenseful action in the struggle for control of the Infinity Stones that the arch-villain, Thanos, used to decimate the planet in Infinity War.
But there are layers, complexities, that add to the film’s richness. One is its focus on an aspect of super-hero status that goes beyond special powers, those beyond ordinary human capability. That aspect is one that is admirable, but very human—self-sacrifice, caring for others.
C. S. Lewis, the Christian apologist, described four kinds of human love. Need love, for those who meet one’s needs; companionate love, for those who share a goal or interest; erotic love, sharing intimate knowledge of each other; and Agape, altruistic love, love that is not earned. The Avenger team members not only help one another, they care deeply for one another and risk sacrificing themselves, not just for one another, but also for humankind. While Lewis thinks of altruism as a virtue for ordinary humans, he takes it to be one that is the closest approach an ordinary human can make to God’s caring.
So, beyond a spectacle of titanic struggle, The End Game is a love story, a celebration of human, not super-human, love.
And then there is another layer. The film has an elegiac quality, it is suffused with sadness and a recognition of loss. I want to avoid spoilers, but there are painful losses at the film’s ending, and, though there are torches passed, there is a loss of innocence, a recognition that things can never be the same.
So it’s quite a film.
But critical honesty requires acknowledging some downsides. I had the sense that some of the depiction of black and female warriors, while politically correct in the best sense, had a formulaic edge. “Hero” has a masculine implication and “heroine” is not quite in the lexicon of the series. Generally speaking, too, the characters of color and women characters are less fully developed than those of their white male counterparts. And some questions about time travel and the film’s solution to the impact of changing the past—parallel universes—raises questions that don’t get addressed.
But it remains quite a film.