**This article is a spoiler-free primer for Avengers: Endgame.**
Fans are counting down the hours until the blockbuster phenomenon Avengers: Endgame hits theaters. Over the last decade (2008–2019), Marvel Studios produced a vast network of films and characters within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, all of which culminate to this moment of the “Infinity Saga”—the release of Endgame.
To prepare for the finale, some fans, like myself, are watching all the films in chronological order (not order of release) to refresh our memories, relive the journey, and celebrate the end of this epic adventure. It’s like world-renowned author and storyteller C. S. Lewis once put it: “We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading. Not till the curiosity, the sheer narrative lust, has been given its sop and laid asleep, are we at leisure to savour the real beauties. Till then, it is like wasting great wine on a ravenous natural thirst which merely wants cold wetness.”
The most impressionable takeaway from the 2,868-minute MCU movie-watching marathon is the string tying the stories together: the infamous Infinity Stones. If you don’t know by now, the Infinity Stones—six singularities that existed before the universe began—contain distinct powers that villains in the MCU films are desperate to get their hands on for varying, but mostly destructive, purposes. In this ongoing “good versus evil” cosmic war, all the characters, even the heroes, are beautifully flawed (yes, even the noble Captain America himself) and are affected by the villainous crusades for these stones.
Hidden in the shadows of these movies are cosmic truths worth unearthing and revisiting as they help us understand our culture and what we can uniquely contribute to it.
We see the culmination of these stories tied together in the 2018 movie Avengers: Infinity War, where one, virtually unstoppable villain, Thanos, completes his universal quest for all five Infinity Stones. The nearly three-hour film ends differently from any other film in the MCU, because for the first time, the heroes—the Avengers—lose, with about half of them dying at the snap of Thanos’s fingers. For the past year, fans have been left with only a sliver of hope imagining how the rest of the Avengers can defeat the seemingly unbeatable mad titan Thanos. But before the exclamatory mea culpa of a failed unified effort by the Avengers is revealed in Infinity War, it is worth reflecting on the lessons their individual stories can teach us leading up to this moment.
The Iron Man trilogy, Incredible Hulk, and Doctor Strange films show us that even the most competent, intelligent, strong, and wealthiest men are devoid of understanding their true worth apart from a well-grounded, truth-telling community. Captain Marvel disseminates false ideas and culturally damaging norms about women that devalue their God-given emotions, strengths, and talents. Black Panther helps us look beneath the veneer of our cultural and ethnic biases of people groups not our own. Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man show us that even the most derelict, despicable, juvenile, and ill-tempered misfits aren’t too far from redemption. The Captain America and Thor trilogies show us how history informs and effects our present—and that virtues and idealistic visions for neighbor and country are viable attributes to overcome hatred and division.
These revelations can have relevant applications in many different avenues of our present reality. For example, Captain America: Civil War can show us our potential fate in the arena of American cultural politics if we are consumed by hatred, division, and vengeance. In Civil War, the primary goal of the villain, Zemo, is to cause division among the Avengers. It’s now obvious that was a similar goal of Russian operatives in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as outlined in the Mueller Report. As seeds of division are planted on our social media and news feeds, we’d do well to heed Zemo’s words for our next round of elections: “An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again. But one which crumbles from within? That’s dead. Forever.”
Politics aside, the Infinity Saga is a beautiful portrait of the multifaceted stories that thread humanity together. It is a story markedly flawed, even with the best intentions. Hidden in the shadows of these movies are cosmic truths worth unearthing and revisiting as they help us understand our culture and what we can uniquely contribute to it.
Like every category and genre of our beloved arts, music, and films, the Marvel Cinematic stories unveil revelations about the culture and our place in it. We look for ourselves in the process of classifying the protagonist and antagonist characters—and find it all the more enthralling when they are betwixt, because we are not one thing at all times. In God’s story, we are both. Sometimes we are the heroes proclaiming the gospel and helping our neighbors, and other times we are villains sinning against an infinitely good God for our own glory.
The allegorical elements of spirituality, faith, and human purpose embedded within the MCU films can give new life to our sometimes mundane and despondent world. Though each tale is similar, the unfolding of each unique plot and subplot awakens our senses to a real world our souls are desperately longing for.
And when it comes to the sequence of films in the Infinity Saga, each scene acts like the flip of a page in a novel, come alive in the theater of our imaginations, subsumed within an orb of inescapable cosmic and spiritual realities. It is indeed enthralling, because these are our stories. So cheers to the next phase dedicated to our beloved on-screen heroes and villains, as we await with great expectations for the Endgame of both our fantasies and realities.
Below you’ll find a roundup of Christ and Pop Culture articles and podcasts covering the MCU stories over the years.