The Desperate Times of 'Avengers: Endgame'

Marvel Studios' new trailer provides the sense of a master plan at work.

The Avengers are prepared to do whatever it takes. Thursday morning, in a move no one was expecting, Marvel Studios snapped its fingers and delivered a full trailer for Avengers: Endgame. The trailer comes ahead of Captain Marvel’s second weekend in theaters, and, given its stinger, seems likely to give the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s newest hero a box office boost, though the Brie Larson-led film is already on track to make $1 billion dollars worldwide by the end of its run. Strategic marketing dates aside, it’s the original Avengers who take center stage in the trailer. The Russo Brothers-directed film, the 22nd in the MCU, is the culmination of an 11-year journey that started with Iron Man. The trailer plays up the grand finale aspect of the film, while offering a look back at the beginnings of Marvel’s greatest heroes while promising a melancholy fight to the finish. While the trailers for Avengers: Infinity War (2018) hyped up the explosive action sequences and dynamics that came with new team-ups, Endgame is taking a quieter approach to its marketing, one that promises hard choices and heroes pushed to the end of the line. We’ve seen the Avengers operate in a number of ways over the years, but we’ve never seen them act out of pure desperation until now, which means the stakes are as high as they have ever been.

“The world has changed. None of us could go back.” Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) says in a voiceover. While that’s true, the trailer for Avengers: Endgame reminds us of how many things have remained the same. The black and white flashbacks to Iron Man (2008), Thor (2011), and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) that open the trailer provide a sense of nostalgia, and a reflection on how far the MCU has come. But these scenes, punctuated by splashes of red, are more than just chances to reflect on these characters’ pasts. These flashbacks give us a look at the current state of mind of these characters while highlighting their ability to start over, and not just in the literal sense.

In Tony’s (Robert Downey Jr.) flashback we see him surrounded by the parts of his first suit of armor after escaping the cave where he first became Iron Man. His current situation, stranded in a spaceship that’s losing life support and trying to build a suit that can get him back home mirrors the situation that began his journey. Tony is once again in a metaphorical cave and must depend on wits to survive and get back home. Steve’s (Chris Evans) flashback takes us back to the moments before he registered for the army to fight in World War II, despite knowing the odds were against him. His current mission to reunite the Avengers and bring back the dead is another war he knows he must fight, and his odds, despite his super-soldier abilities, are lower than ever. Lastly, Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) flashback takes us back to Asgard, a world that no longer exists, as Thor reconciles with a father who is no longer living. In Endgame, Thor once again is tasked with the responsibility of godhood, yet he is without a people to believe in him and is followed by death.

Our remaining original Avengers, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), don’t get to revisit their pasts via flashback, but Thanos’ decimation has forced them to return to familiar questions and come to terms with who they must become again in order to reclaim what they lost. No doubt this will see Banner coming to grips with the Hulk again, and Natasha re-discovering her ruthless instincts, but Clint Barton may face the biggest hurdle. We see shots of Hawkeye with his children in a scene that will likely open the film. Hawkeye taking on the persona of Ronin, complete with a new costume and haircut, suggests that he lost his entire family as a result of the failure of the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy to defeat Thanos. Hawkeye has been the one member of the Avengers who had a clear way out of the superhero life because of his family. With them gone, Barton may be the Avenger with the most unexpected arc, because, with the exception of his brainwashing in The Avengers (2012), we’ve never seen him in action without the notion of returning home to his family grounding him.

There is a thematic resonance throughout the trailer, not simply with the Avengers each repeating the line “whatever it takes” but with their endings reflecting their beginnings. The trailer feels like a tribute to the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, not only because of the interconnected storylines we’re seeing pay off, but because the arcs of these central characters have brought us to a point that suggests consistency. Despite all the different creative voices, or perhaps because of them, Avengers: Endgame provides the sense of a master plan at work, even though we know that luck played a role in getting us to this point. Even without the trailer giving any indication of the rumored time-travel elements outside of Peggy’s voiceover and the Avengers new suits, there is a cyclical nature to these characters’ journeys that feels both emotional and rewarding. The absence of Thanos in the trailer hints at the fact that when all is said and done, the biggest threat the Avengers will have to face are their own limitations as futurists, soldiers, spies, monsters and gods, whose fallibility reminds us of their mortality and humanity.