Me, after waiting a full year for this damn movie.
Screenshot: YouTube

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s here. Again. And I cannot hold my shit together. Again.

A year after Marvel Studios’ hugely popular and perfectly perfect blockbuster Infinity War dusted half the universe to hell, or some alternate dimension, the finale has arrived. Avengers: Endgame purports to bring about closure to the 22-movie saga, and on Thursday night, I’ll line up with a half-dozen other psychos two hours before I sit down to watch a three-hour film, because I am stubborn and refuse to go to any movie theater other than my tried-and-true, old-timey cinema that doesn’t let you reserve seats. All I can do at that point is pray that my bladder has the wherewithal to hold up in line until 10 p.m. and hope that the Russo Bros. don’t fuck this all up.

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To be perfectly clear, this post contains no spoilers, save for those bearing the official Marvel stamp of approval. That’s to say, no, I have not read The Spoilers; you can feel free to post whatever you want in the comments, because I will not be reading them in order to avoid said spoilers. It feels like a fairly obvious point that, if spoilers are posted and uploaded to Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube, they are very much fair game, for both fans and bloggers. So, if you’d like to read about them, because you hate fun or do not care much about the MCU or just like having shit spoiled, you can do so here.

Now, let’s get to it.

What The Hell is Even Going On, or: Who Ded???

So, just because I already typed all this shit out once, you can catch up on the detailed version of all the fairly important pre-Infinity War happenings in the MCU here or here. (If, somehow, you are not caught up on what happened in Infinity War, you can freak out with me all over again here.)

What you absolutely need to know ahead of Endgame is that Thanos, the big purple guy, lost his planet a while ago for some reasons he claims were due to overpopulation. To fix the universe’s over-population issue, the titan started going after the six Infinity Stones, which would, and eventually do, give him god-like powers. This search officially started in The Avengers, when he gifted Thor’s evil adopted brother, Loki, with the Mind Stone and sent him to Earth to snag the Space Stone. Ever since, the remaining stones—Reality, Power, Time, and Soul—have been the direct focus of various MCU offerings.

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In the subsequent movies, there have been lots of punches thrown and super-buff guys and gals charged up and faced at one another. This led to The Teem being broken up and shattered into an illegally acting shadow group led by Captain America and an official Avengers roster led by Iron Man. Meanwhile, Thor and Hulk were out in space figuring out how to responsibly recalibrate a franchise, Dr. Strange was chilling in New York with his best-and-broke buddy Wong, the Guardians were firing off quips and producing subpar sequels on the other side of the galaxy, Wakanda’s Black Panther was dealing with some family drama, Ant-Man and Wasp were collecting some dust on top of a suspiciously empty San Francisco parking garage, and Captain Marvel—the latest/forthcoming addition to the group—was doing ... something heroic in space.

Then, Thanos sent his adopted children/evil-doing servants to go get the stones, and Infinity War happens, which includes this, the single greatest film review of a Tweet, possibly ever:

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Sadly for Thor, none of his very rad toof-toofing really mattered, because Thanos snapped his fingers and parents around the globe had to explain to their 6-year-olds why Spider-Man disintegrated in Tony Stark’s arms. (It’s fucked up to admit, but watching these conversations unfold was actually one of the most fun parts of going to see the film three times in theaters, aside from the toof-toofing, of course.) Anyway, hearts were shattered and lots of people are dead now!

The important thing to note about the body count of Infinity War is there appear to be two kinds of dead people that will be crucial to understanding the forthcoming film. There is dead-dead, in which a character was killed by being choked or stabbed or what have you, and dusted-dead, in which a character was turned to ash after Thanos snapped his fingers.

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Heimdall, Loki, Gamora, and Vision all appear to be dead-dead. That is, Thanos killed all of them by natural means—neck snapped, stabbed through the heart, tossed off a dang thousand-foot cliff, and life source ripped from forehead, respectively. While you can expect them to appear in flashbacks or various time travel adventures, I am entering this film under the belief that these characters have all been wiped from whatever the future of the MCU looks like. (Never mind that Loki has his own show coming out soon.)

On the other hand, a whole bunch of heroes are currently dust-dead, which is to say that they faded away after Thanos did The Snap: Black Panther, Falcon, Bucky, Star-Lord, Mantis, Drax, Groot, Scarlet Witch, Dr. Strange, and, of course, Spider-I-Don’t-Feel-So-Good-Man. Also, if we’re to believe the second trailer, Shuri, Black Panther’s genius younger sister, is dust-dead, or at least missing. The status of all these characters is very clearly TBD heading into Endgame. 

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To state the obvious, several stars of multi-million- and billion-dollar solo franchises are on both the dust-dead and dead-dead lists, so, yes, I am aware they were always going to come back in some form in Endgame and beyond. Pointing that fact out doesn’t make you interesting or these movies less entertaining.

In fact, thinking about it from that perspective ultimately serves as a major tell of a deadened imagination ... which is fine! On paper it is very silly that I, a 25-year-old man with a full-time job and bills and debt and whatever else constitutes being an adult, am as invested as I am in these comic-book movies. But that’s fine too.

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The important thing to remember is that question was never whether Marvel will bring them back—of course they’re not killing off Black Panther and Spidey—but how.

On That Note: How On Earth(s) Are The Avengers Gonna Get Out Of This Pickle?

When we left them, Thor, Captain America, Okoye, Rocket Raccoon, Bruce Banner, and Black Widow were all staggering around Wakanda, wiping the dust from the hands. Halfway across the galaxy, a suit-less Iron Man and Nebula are stranded on a foreign planet with a wrecked Benatar (the Guardians’ new ship) as their only means of escape. Shit was bleak, hope was lost, and then the Russos decided, why the hell not, and ended the movie with a lingering shot of Farmer Thanos chilling on his new ranch, followed by the tagline “Thanos will return.”

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Now, before we dive into my awful and likely incorrect theorizing, a couple of points of business. Despite what some cynical assholes would have you believe, the decision to end the movie with The Snap and leave fans drooling over the prospect of what comes in the second part was risky. There is a very real form of fan fatigue that exists around the ongoing decisions by producers and studio heads to split up their finales into multiple parts. Think Mad Men, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and the lot. Had Infinity War sucked ass, or even just been mediocre in an Aquaman kind of way, Marvel would have been stuck with the prospect of having to pour millions into their Endgame marketing campaign to convince people to turn out for the second part of their decade-spanning finale.

Instead, because of the studio’s immense trust in the two guys who directed You, Me, And Dupree to handle their two biggest movie events in back-to-back years (including a year that includes the finale to the Star Wars Skywalker saga), these two dweebs somehow cranked out a full-spread comic book film in Infinity War that dwarfed all prior entries in the MCU in sheer quantifiable fun. And now, because of what they pulled off and the ending they chose to go with for Infinity War, Endgame is going to make a literal fuckton of money and likely satisfy a constantly growing fanbase of tens of millions, and it’s all going to happen despite the fact that the marketing campaign has shown jack shit! Seriously, look at the first official trailer for Infinity War:

In just over two minutes, Marvel unveiled the meeting of Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Dr. Strange, and Wong; they teased Spider-Man in space; they showed Loki handing over the Space Stone; Black Panther told someone to get Captain America a shield; Thanos body-slammed Spidey; Vision nearly had his stone pried out by aliens; Thanos socked Iron Man a good one; and then they ended it with a massive sprinting shot of over a half-dozen heroes that infamously did not make it into the final cut.

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Now, compare that with this trailer for Endgame from December:

There is nothing there! You are looking at a bunch of filler shots, in the grand scheme of things. The same can be said about the second trailer, which is halfway stuffed with black-and-white shots of prior MCU movies, before, again, revealing absolutely zero battle sequences or major plot points. Subsequent trailers and TV spots have slowly chipped away at the outlines of the film—for instance, the survivors will be breaking up into teams at some point, Iron Man doesn’t wilt away and die in the Guardians’ ship, Ant-Man presumably does a cool pencil dive on Earth, and Valkyrie survived The Snap. But aside from that, even the most hardcore of fans that remain dutifully spoiler-free know nothing.

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Thanks to their gratuitous trailers and some convenient toy reveals last year, I was able to largely lay out the first and second (and even portions of the third) acts of the film in my Infinity War preview post; I have no such illusions this year. That said, because I’m a freak who has Google and Twitter searched “Avengers” every day for the past four months—while simultaneously muting every character name and the movie title after the leaks dropped—and also because I am an unhinged but spoiler-averse lurker on r/MarvelStudiosSpoilers (bless those mods), I have a fairly reasonable guess about the general shapes of the first act of the three-hour epic that I’m currently mentally prepping for by writing far too many words.

Essentially, I expect we’ll get some cursory shots of our heroes dealing with the immediate aftermath of The Snap. This will likely be when Hawkeye sees his family get dusted in front of him. We’ll also possibly be treated to another shot of Thanos on his farm, reveling in his work and enjoying all the bountiful resources the universe now has to offer, but I don’t think we’ll see much more of the big guy alone. Then we’ll cut to Tony and Nebula on the old Guardians ship, where Tony will be Very Sad but also still Tony Stark, so he and Nebula will have a little fun and eventually resolve to fix the ship’s engine. (A screening of this scene and another back at Avengers HQ on Earth, which has since been released in full, almost assuredly confirms this.) The film will try to fool us into thinking that Tony is going to die (which is actually the root of a half-cooked fan theory, in which Tony dies in space but uploads all his memories to his Iron Man helmet, which is transported back to Earth and then downloaded into Vision.) But, ultimately, I expect the scene with Captain Marvel at HQ will come first and that she will be the one to save the genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist from suffocating in a metal box in the far reaches of space. Too bad for the author of that batshit fan theory, but good for everyone else.

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After Iron Man is back on Earth, I expect him and Bruce Banner to hang back on their home planet while the remaining team—Rocket, Captain America, Black Widow, Nebula, Thor, and War Machine—zip off to “go get that son of a bitch.” (Stark will be too depressed and stabbed and full of literal holes to jump right into another battle with Thanos, and Banner will still be dealing with relationship issues with Hulk, which I think they’ll wait for the second act to fully address.)

If I had to make an assortment of educated guesses (I don’t but I will), this is more or less how I see things playing out:

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  • The makeshift Avengers go to Thanos’s planet but find him “dead,” in the sense that the Russos will likely use another Reality Stone fake-out like they did on Knowhere. Big Purp will then either beat the living shit out of them, with only a few members escaping, or will convince them that the gauntlet is ruined and that any hopes of reversing what he did are lost. Either way, at least part of the team will retreat back to Earth, at which point we’ll be treated to a time jump that covers anywhere from a couple months to a few years.
  • The prevailing notion is that when we pick up, Tony Stark will become the leader of nu–S.H.I.E.L.D, Steve Rogers will shave his beard and join War Machine in a little support group, and Ant-Man will pop out of the Quantum Realm (very important!) and head to HQ. Also, Bruce Banner and the Hulk will merge into Professor Hulk, which will be Good and Righteous.
  • Some mashup of Rocket, Professor Hulk, and Stark will smush their brains together to figure out an alternative option to save the universe and bring back their friends. At some point, Black Widow will head to Tokyo to find Hawkeye, who is now Hawkeye But Also With Swords, and recruit him to fight to complete their Big Plan.
  • Per a leaked toy set and some very general guessing, that plan appears to involve time travel via the Quantum Realm, a “Stark Gauntlet” that can harness the energy of the stones they find in the past, a whole bunch of visits to important scenes in past MCU movies, and one mind-bending final battle against Thanos either on Xandar or at Avengers HQ.
  • Past this, it’s unclear what the film holds in store, or even what the teams are for when they all split up and head into the past. This TV spot seems to reveal that Nebula and War Machine will pair off; so too will Black Widow and Hawkeye. Because Valkyrie is present in a TV spot, I imagine Thor and Rocket will be tasked with recruiting her and the remaining Asgardians (only half of them were killed by Thanos in the opening attack, and I’m guessing another half was murked by The Snap, so you’re looking at a quarter of them left?) Iron Man will head to the Battle of New York. I’m not sure where Cap will land, or who’ll be joining him.
  • I am fairly certain that the handshake between Cap and Iron Man featured in the “Special Look” trailer is yet another MCU fake-out and that this will actually be Tony talking to Past Cap, but, again, I have no clue.

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Aside from, and likely including, all the above predictions ... I have no fucking clue! And that’s the best part of this coming Thursday—I disagreed initially with this analysis but a buddy (who is, also, a former Deadspinner and thus a piece of shit) complained that Infinity War was essentially a trailer for Endgame. I personally think that’s being a little disrespectful to Infinity War, but the larger point, that the existence of IW nullifies the need for a massive marketing rollout spelling out the film’s plot for idiots, stands. While I understand the critique as it relates to Infinity War as a standalone film, it’s also worth pointing out that these two films were initially announced by Marvel as Infinity War Pt. I and Infinity War Pt. II—the first film was always going to be stuffed to the brim, because, while the writers thought about saving The Snap for the first act of Endgame, it was very clear that once they took a step back, it made more sense to have the second film wholly focus on the fallout from Thanos’s actions.

But, really, there is only one theory that matters, and that is the theory of Thanus, which I will sum up in two photos.

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You’re welcome and, also, I’m sorry.

Who’s Gonna Stay Dead-Dead or Get Killed?

This question was almost more fun to answer ahead of last year’s installment, just because in that film, there were more variables to play with. That is, the film marked the first time that the full MCU sandbox had been deployed since Age of Ultron, which I am desperately trying to forget save the one very good drunk-Avengers-tug-on-Mjolnir scene. 

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Like I said earlier, I think Gamora, Heimdall, Vision, and Loki will all have past versions of themselves featured in this film, but I do not think that any of them are coming back. I also think that all of the dusted characters will return for the final battle in a scene that will likely leave my brain pooling out both of my ears.

That leaves us with the original six Avengers, as well as Captain Marvel, Ant-Man, Valkyrie, Nebula, and Rocket.

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For obvious reasons ($$$), Captain Marvel is safe. I think something has to happen early in the film that establishes why she isn’t able to just fly in and save the day—Thanos may get the best of her in the initial skirmish on his farm planet, or maybe she kills him easily but the Gauntlet is too damaged to use—but she will walk away from this film ready to make Marvel and Disney another boatload of money.

While Rocket doesn’t command the same kind of stardom, I don’t see him getting axed by Thanos or his minions, mainly because I’m not sure it makes narrative sense to use up your audience’s limited space for emotional death scenes on a raccoon with a very clearly stated death wish. He’ll get his wisecracks in and, per this shot of him and War Machine taking a fall, will be part of the battle against Thanos, but he’ll come out the other side. For similar reasons, I also see Ant-Man making it out alive.

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Nebula, on the other hand, is looking like a prime suspect for an emotional death scene, thanks to the development of her character’s backstory being one of the sole highlights of Guardians Vol. 2. Nebula lived her life in Gamora’s shadow and devolved into a spiteful, incredibly violent android (alien robot?) in the process. Through Vol. 2 and Infinity War, we see her soften and expand her worldview, all the way to the point that she starts to direct her rage back at the titan responsible for her suffering. In the comics, Nebula steals the gauntlet off of Thanos’s hand while he’s having an out-of-body experience and trying to bang Death. But because he’s been torturing her for a while, her mind is mush and she can’t control the thing and it ends poorly for her. That’s not going to happen in Endgame, but I expect she’ll have a chance to have an emotional chat with Past Gamora before she bites the dust at Thanos’s hand.

These are all just appetizers, though. The real stakes are those tied to the original Avengers.

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Starting with Hawkeye, because let’s just get this out of the way, sure, maybe he’ll die. It’s doubtful, though—I think his arc will be tied to him dealing with the loss of both his real family and his Avengers family, and will end happily back at that damn farm with him training Kate Bishop. Black Widow has a movie coming out, but it’s a prequel, so she very well could bite the dust in Endgame. Her death would wring more tears out of an audience than Hawkeye, but I think a lot the potential effectiveness of such a death depends on the circumstances.

I’m leaning toward survival for Professor Hulk and Thor, partly because of how good Ragnarok was, but also because Thor deserves a redemption arc and, as with Hawkeye, I have some doubts about how actually sad a Hulk death scene can really be given that they both, in their current iterations, have yet to helm a solo franchise. Which brings us to the Big Two.

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As a million fanboys have screamed into their pillows on dark, lonely nights, Captain America should have gotten the hook in Civil War, with the mantle being passed off to Bucky or Falcon, as has happened in the comics. I was incredibly sure he was going to get his ass mashed in the Wakanda woods by Thanos in Infinity War. So, going into Endgame, I am actually going to go against the grain here and guess that Cap does NOT die, but instead retires and either jumps into the past to be with Peggy, OR becomes the sideline leader of either S.H.I.E.L.D. or the New Avengers. But Steve Rogers is definitely hanging up the vibranium shield by the time the screen cuts to black.

It pains me to say it, but Iron Man is fucking toast. The man who kick-started this whole mess, who went into the desert a billionaire arms dealer, who fought Mickey Rourke’s horribly stereotypical Russian character, who ditched his suit and hung out with a kid, who has had Thanos in his mind since he sent an army to New York (and now he’s back!), is going to 100 percent be dead as hell come Thursday. The reason I believe this has to do with the ongoing theme of sacrifice that the franchise has stressed since the very first Avengers movie. In that film, Cap gets pissed at Tony and tells him he’s not the guy “to lay down on the wire” so that the rest of his team will survive; Tony, dramatic as always, proves him wrong by flying a nuke into a space portal. In Infinity War, Cap tells Vision, “We don’t trade lives,” rejecting the romantic robot’s desire to lay down on the proverbial wire. A lot of speculation says this was foreshadowing Cap’s death, and that may well end up being true. But I think that the Russos were faking us out a bit and rather than doing the expected and having the kid from Brooklyn sacrifice himself, they will instead tap Tony, who will choose the future of the universe—over his future with Pepper, his potential future son, more mentor sessions with Peter Parker—and lay his life down so that the Avengers, and the rest of the world, can live on. It’s going to fucking suck, I’m going to cry, and so are you. I will, of course, tell myself I am ready as I wait in line for two hours on Thursday, and I will be woefully, hilariously wrong.

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Some Terrible, Awful, No-Good MCU Takes That Are Also Absolutely True

• Let’s start with a good ol’ Choose Your Fighter, Best MCU Arms edition.

In this corner, New Funny Thor:

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And in this corner, Goody Two Shoes Steve Rogers:

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The answer is Steve Rogers, thank you for playing.

• MCU >>> Game of Thrones (TV version) and it’s not even close. We will not be taking questions at this time.

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• I’ve written this before but it bears repeating: Upon rewatch (and rewatch and rewatch), Civil War is easily the Russo Brothers’ worst MCU offering; it also easily owns a spot in the film universe’s top-10. While Infinity War maybe rushes its character moments to get them in the necessary place on the chess board, it’s able to make up for any narrative shortcomings by being constantly beautiful and featuring outrageously fun action sequences. It is in every sense the most comic book-y comic-book movie that has ever existed.

Civil War, on the other hand, is too dour, too grey, and has little-to-no real stakes save for a major injury to War Machine that is literally completely fixed by the end of the movie, despite the fact that the comic books feature Captain America’s (temporary) assassination. And apologies to the X-Men and the Incredibles, but the whole government-tries-to-regulate-superheroes trope is among the most boring available plot devices to pull from in the canon. You know what I love most about over-powered comic book characters with the potential for amazing visuals? Bureaucracy! The MCU has leaned on this a number of times—Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Winter Soldier, Ant-Man and the Wasp—and while the Russos nailed it in the second Captain America solo film, the idea that one elevator-adjacent conversation would turn Tony Stark, the man that told a sitting Congressman (and, as it turns out, Hydra leader) to eat shit, into a government-loving Responsible Adult—and then have him recruit child soldiers for the fight against his old pals—is just, honestly, kind of lazy!

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Of course, the fact that Cap and Iron Man hate each other’s guts is supremely important to establishing why Earth was not fully prepared to stage a response to Thanos in Infinity War, but that’s all going to be solved in probably four-to-five minutes of Endgame screen time, so even that Avengers-shattering consequence is not going to end up having too much of an effect on the wider MCU, at least not more so than, say, Thor not going for the head.

• Speaking of which, Star-Lord caught a boatload of shit for fucking it all up in the Battle on Titan and whacking Thanos in the head with his lil’ pew pew space-Nerf gun, and he clearly deserved it. But I’m not quite sold on the fact that he’s even the main one to blame.

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In Infinity War, Dr. Strange has one of the best fight sequences in the entire MCU when he and Thanos go toe-to-toe on Titan. The Russos and Infinity War’s visual effects teams knew precisely the kind of reality-altering beings they were throwing at one another and somehow designed a fight scene, placed within a larger fight scene set-piece, that made the most of their abilities. That said! With the caveat that Dr. Strange went forward in time to see all possible outcomes and knows how the battle has to go to ensure an eventual victory—they are so clearly in that one-in-a-14-million reality—it really seems like he fucked it by not doing exactly what Wong does to Cull Obsidian in Manhattan and just creating one of those little orange portals and chopping off Thanos’s gauntlet arm. Or even his head. Either would work! Again, I know, this is all part of the plan. But still, one portal and poof, the Guardians/Avengers team walks away with a bloodied gauntlet and we all get to save our money and bladders this year. Oh well.

• Even though his name is no longer spoken in these circles, Edward Norton’s Incredible Hulk is still part of the larger MCU canon and is even included in Marvel’s nostalgia-grounded marketing material. While Bruce Banner has a new face and Liv Tyler is nowhere to be found, the sole constant from that movie is General Thaddeus E. “Thunderbolt” Ross, who has been played wonderfully by actor William Hurt. My question: How in the actual fuck does Ross—who fails horrifically in attempting to recreate a Hulk and ends up destroying most of Harlem in doing so—fail upwards to the point that he’s the goddamn Secretary of State by Civil War?? Who signed off on this? He is objectively awful at his job! The super heroes of Earth have done nothing but own this man at every turn, and yet he keeps getting promotions.

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• On the strength of a single line in Infinity War—“This is awkward,” muttered by Falcon when Bruce Banner walks in to see Black Widow and Captain America and the rest of the Edinburgh gang at HQ—and single trailer shot of Cap looking in the mirror while a Black Widow voiceover plays, I totally, one hundred percent, for-realz believe that Endgame will address the fact that Captain America and Black Widow kinda, sorta fell in love while they were out skirting the law and saving lives, in between Civil War and Infinity War. Maybe I’m wrong, sure. But maybe I’m not.

Every Journey Has An End

I’ve drafted a couple versions of this paragraph; most of them center around the idea of “This is it, the end of my MCU fandom” and I end up getting all weepy and nostalgic and gross. I kept deleting it for the same reason—I know this isn’t the end. I’ll walk into theaters in July and see Spider-Man: Far From Home. I’ll go see The Eternals and the Black Widow prequel and the Black Panther sequel and whatever the hell else they have planned for what becomes of Phase 4. I know this because I am a sucker, and also because I genuinely enjoy and relish the experience of walking into a crowded theater with a bunch of fellow nerds and oooing and ahhing at a couple of highly paid actors jumping up and down or running directly at the camera in a massive green-screen studio. It’ll be there, probably for the rest of my life. But also I understand and accept that the more Marvel Studios and its presence at the box office continue to grow, the less affection I’ll have toward what was once a plucky studio just trying to cash in on the few heroes it still retained the rights to by appealing to 15-year-old me. That’s natural. You root for the underdog and sooner or later, insert Dark Knight quote blah blah blah, they either fade back to obscurity or become the domineering, industry-steering precedent setter that are “ruining the movies” or some shit. And yet, to this Thursday, every time the Russos and Marvel Studios have put out a new film, there I am, in my Infinity Gauntlet shirt, shouldering my way to claim the spot at the front of the line, just so I can hand off $12 to the ticket booth machine and drool over a movie that should be aimed at kids but is instead pointed squarely at me. One day, I’ll move on and only watch movies on Criterion and turn my nose up at the cookie-cutter shape of the modern blockbuster. But until my imagination gets dusted and I fade fully into an Old, you know where to find me.