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Thank you, Avengers

| Tuesday, April 30, 2019

For 11 years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has dominated the movie industry. It started in 2008 with “Iron Man,” an independently-produced feature about a lesser-known superhero that took countless pitch meetings and multiple rounds of financing to get off the ground. Few probably predicted how successful the film would be, spawning 21 entries into the same shared universe with a combined box office total that will soon top $20 billion. Few probably predicted it would kickstart the movies that would define a decade of pop culture.

And now it’s over.

Well, the MCU isn’t — it will continue on for the foreseeable future. A new “Spider-Man” will open this July, and producer Kevin Feige has vaguely described Marvel Studios’ plans for the next incarnation of the franchise. But it’s no spoiler to say that “Avengers: Endgame,” which premiered April 26, marks a conclusion of sorts. The original slate of films, centered around Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye — and now termed the “Infinity Saga” — has come to an end.

I’ve been critical of the summer blockbuster before. It often seems like the only thing that comes out of Hollywood anymore is sequels, remakes and adaptations. But I think I wasn’t looking at the issue correctly. In many ways, the MCU has changed what a “movie” is. It showed that a movie doesn’t necessarily have to be a self-contained story. A character arc doesn’t have to resolve itself in two hours of runtime. Marvel Studios did what just a few years ago would have been thought impossible. They created a 22-film saga that spanned over decades, that crossed genres and storylines, that dealt with recasting and executive shuffles and being bought by a new studio. They did so to resounding success, and I loved every minute of it.

Like so many others, I grew up on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I remember seeing “Iron Man” when I was 10. A few years later, I came out of “Captain America: The First Avenger” and went straight away to get a Steve Rogers haircut. I may or may not still have it. Opening weekends became events, people who had never read a comic book bought tickets weeks in advance. Discussion of past films and speculation surrounding future ones became the centerpiece of any pop culture conversation. This has been our generation’s Star Wars. These characters have been our greatest role models.

Some people have called the movies nerdy (they are), or melodramatic (definitely sometimes) or poor examples of the art of film (maybe so). But I’ve never seen anyone call them uninspired. I’ve never seen anyone call them tired adaptations of mindless source material, because they’re not. The MCU isn’t popular because of CGI battles or over-the-top storylines. It’s popular because it’s relatable. It follows flawed, but fundamentally good, characters attempting to solve their problems together. It’s because of this that Ant-Man doesn’t seem too silly, and Captain America doesn’t seem too old-fashioned. It’s because of this that these films have resonated with such a large audience.

There’s not much more I can say about the MCU and the Avengers that won’t be said for years to come. I’m sure, eventually, countless studies will be released examining the franchise’s influence on movies and popular culture. So I’m just going to say thank you — for growing up with me and my friends and millions of others, for 22 great movies about one great story, for every premiere night and every movie theatre parking lot discussion afterwards. Thank you, Avengers, for the last 11 years. I can’t wait to keep watching.

Patrick McKelvey splits his time between being a college junior and a grumpy old man. A New Jersey native and American Studies major, he plans on pursuing a legal career after graduating Notre Dame. If you can’t find him at the movies, he can be reached for comment at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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