The Conclusion of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is a Picture of Easter and the End of All Things
Avengers: Endgame echoes J.R.R. Tolkien’s idea of eucatastrophe via a canvas that rivals The Return of the King.
Authors Note: This review contains major spoilers!
In 2008, Marvel Studios launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man. Since then, these films have flourished. Now, these silver screen stories conclude with Marvel’s latest, Avengers: Endgame.
Previously, Avengers: Infinity War brought together Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and the Guardians of the Galaxy. All sought to stop Thanos (Josh Brolin) from collecting the Infinity Stones to reduce all life by half. They failed.
Thanos’s victory reveals a need for eucatastrophe. A sudden, unexpected turn of events that avoids impending doom is the only hope. It’s a term coined by J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings. (Tolkien himself is the subject of a new bio-pic out this weekend. See Stream contributor Josh Shepherd’s review here.)
This is heightened via a devastated world. Many moments exude loss. Defeating Thanos doesn’t undo his cosmic genocide.
Amidst despair, a hero offers hope. A path to prevent Thanos from amassing the stones means uncertain outcomes. A familiar plot device fuels a quest of restoration.
A Widow’s Graceful Resolution
Much is made in Avengers: Endgame of Black Widow and Hawkeye, Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). In the first Avengers, Widow rescues Barton from mind control. Their connection is rooted in Barton’s ability to see good in someone, despite Widow’s past as an assassin. In Endgame, this comes full circle.
The loss of Barton’s family sees him avenge evil, but rooted in raw grief. Ultimately, Widow’s willingness to not judge him based on his worst day is a heroic picture of grace, similar to Christ and the thief on the cross. This gives Hawkeye hope for family reunification.
Endgame and Easter’s Eucatastrophe
In his essay On Faire Stories, Tolkien connected eucatastrophe to the Advent and crucifixion of Christ:
The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories … this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation.
Just as the Easter story is one of resurrection and victory catalyzed by sacrifice, so is Avengers: Endgame. The willingness of a major character to “make the sacrifice play” leads to evil’s undoing. As Thanos’s scheme is reversed his army dissipates and he dies, alone.
As the Apostle Paul wrote, “the last enemy to be defeated is death.” As a character, Thanos’s character arc echoes this truth. His name comes from Thanatos (Greek for “death”).
Endgame Echoes the End of All Things
The film’s third act encompasses a final confrontation akin to the Black Gate of Mordor in The Return of the King. When all is lost, the unthinkable happens: resurrection. Moreover, this resurrection features the prominent return of a king.
This final battle is reminiscent of a conflict described in Revelation. As the Apostle John wrote: “and the armies of heaven … were following on white horses … the kings of the earth gathered with their armies to make war against him who was sitting on the white horse and against his army”
The heroes of Endgame finally assemble to rain righteous fury down upon cosmic evil, confronting death itself. When the dust settles, justice and righteousness remain. In the aftermath, a new world emerges.
As King Solomon wrote: “He has set eternity in in the human heart.” Avengers: Endgame serves as a successful silver screen echo of our earth’s end of all things. In this epic is a foretaste of an endgame where evil is eradicated, eternally.