What Avengers: Endgame has to say about storytelling (and life)

I REALLY wanted to go see Avengers: Endgame on opening weekend. So badly I could taste it. So several days before the premier, I searched the whole of my favorite theater for the necessary block of seats for my family. Alas, it did not happen.

Avengers: Endgame Final Battle

As the captain of a different Disney franchise once said, “Complications arose, ensued, were overcome.” In this case, overcome meant waiting till the next weekend. And damn was that a hard week of social media spoiler dodging. And I sure didn’t escape unscathed. So yes, I saw it. Loved it. Lots of feels and thoughts on it. But I don’t want to do a review. There’s lots of those. Instead, I have a few other thoughts on the saga-ending behemoth.

The Buildup

For more than a decade, Marvel has been building to what is arguably the most epic saga conclusion in film history to date. The Marvel Cinematic Universe films have not always been blockbusters, but all of those chapters have been key to the success of the entire story. And this is why Avengers: Endgame, and the MCU as a whole, have some really interesting lessons for storytelling and life in general.

So, I’ll try to keep this spoiler-free. But, it’s been a few weeks since the movie came out, so if I don’t succeed at that, kind of tough. Also, you’ve been warned. I originally thought about these points from a storytelling perspective, but they absolutely apply to much more than that.

Stumbles & Failures

Spider-Man's DustingOne of the things that really stands out for Avengers: Infinity War is the massive failure that the team suffers. After more than a decade of dealing with the combating Thanos’ minions and winning, they lose. And they lose big. Boom, half the universe is wiped out. Very few places is this felt more than the fledgling relationship between Tony Stark and Peter Parker. Tom Holland’s improvised dusting at the end of IW, was a tearjerker and incredibly well done.

Not all hope is lost

But, even in the depths of their defeat, Dr. Strange hints that all is not entirely lost. He views more than 14 million possible futures, and in only one of them does the team win. What he doesn’t say, what we learn by the end of Endgame, is that the team had to fail in order to succeed.

This is kind of huge. Very often, failure is necessary for success, both for characters and in the real world. In storytelling, a hero who never stumbles, who never has a real challenge, is boring. So don’t be afraid to stumble, trip and even fall down. Just like our heroes in Avengers: Endgame do, get back up, sling some webs or blast some repulsors or throw your shield or do whatever your superhero thing is, and come at the problem from a new angle.

Find what works

While the whole of the MCU has lots of stars and main characters, one of them stands above the rest. In fact, it’s arguable that the entirety of Marvel’s first 3 phases really are the story arch for one character, Tony Stark. Iron Man was the MCU’s first film, and is easily still one of the best. Throughout the entire franchise, Tony has been the fixer, the idea man and, yes, the problem maker. After all, Ultron would not have happened if not for him in the first place, which led to Civil War, etc.

Over the course of the series, he goes from a vapid, rich playboy to vapid superhero to slightly-less-vapid-one-man planetary defense force to superhero mentor to failed-superhero-now family man. Even for a comic book character, that’s a lot of “tos”. But even from the beginning, Marvel knew they had a winner in him. His opening film smashed everything else in Phase One except Avengers. So what did Marvel do? They doubled down on his success. Tony became a focal point in most of the movies, whether he was the titled hero or not. By far more than any other character. And that’s because he was the tie that bound them all together, just as much as Thanos himself.

And build on it

Even in Avengers: Endgame, Tony is the focal point. Despite everything that happens, the team comes back to him to fix things, both technologically and tactically. Steve Rogers may be the moral rock of the group, but Tony is the sun which all those space rocks orbit. Okay, bad metaphor, but you get the point.

Feed Me Seymour!The same goes for you. You have something that works, whether it’s in writing or life. Or maybe it doesn’t work yet, but you love it. Take that thing and nurture it, feed it like Seymour’s carnivorous plant. Sacrifice souls to it to make it grow. Then point it at your goals and say, Sick ‘em.

Step out of your comfort zone

One of the thing Marvel has shown is that it’s not afraid to take a risk. Early on, they developed a very profitable formula with established heroes and good stories. But then came Guardians of the Galaxy, a collection of some of the company’s least known characters, including a sentient tree. They took a bet on the Guardians and it paid off, a group of misfit characters outside of the existing formula. In addition, Marvel jacked up the humor, threw in a ton of retro music and made the whole thing happen in space.

Professor HulkAvengers: Endgame’s story does the same thing. When the Tony is unavailable, the team turns to Bruce Banner to solve their tech problems. Yes, Bruce is one of the smartest people in the MCU, one of the few that Tony considers a peer, but he is being asked to take on something outside of his comfort zone. And that’s fine, he takes on the challenge anyway because he knows what needs to be done. Now, does he succeed? Sort of, but that’s not really the point. When their usual tech guru is unavailable, Bruce steps up. Because he has to.

Do what needs to be done

In storytelling things shouldn’t be easy. If it is, if the characters always know how to do what needs to be done, then—once again—your readers are bored. Characters have to be forced to step out of their comfort zones because that gives them a challenge and drama and depth. The same goes for real humans. If we don’t step out of our comfort zones, we stagnate. Sure, we can stay in the same job, do the same thing for year upon year and decade upon decade. And if that’s what makes you happy, that’s great. But if you have a bigger goal… a star you want to reach for… a planet you want to take over… a universe you want to wipe out half the population of, then staying in the same groove will likely not get you there. Climb out of that rut, build a rocket ship, steal some rocket fuel, make a talking raccoon your copilot and blast off for that star.

Conclusion

Of course, real life isn’t like fictional books or comic books. In many cases, we don’t get do-overs or to come back from being snapped out of existence. But, what we do have is the potential to learn, grow, and reinvent ourselves. Life is far more complicated than any superhero movie. And that’s okay. Take it one day at a time. To pull a quote from another Marvel hero who didn’t get any time in Avengers: Endgame (but actually would have helped)… As Luke Cage says, “Always forward, never back.”

 

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