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I never really got into the Harry Potter fandom — I might have missed it by a year or two, since both of my older siblings are huge fans — and it was something that I always regretted. I’d hear stories about people lining up outside bookstores the night before The Deathly Hallows was released and feel a twinge of longing in my chest. I wanted to be there with them. I wanted to have a reason to camp out for a midnight release or buy tickets for a movie’s opening night in the biggest theatre or sit on the couch with friends for an entire weekend to marathon a series.
I wanted to be that enthusiastic about something.
The good news is, sometime since Marvel’s The Avengers was first released in 2012, my wish came true. As a girl whose childhood comic book choices were more Archie than Marvel, and who didn’t really care for action movies in general, I certainly didn’t expect to fall in love with the biggest comic book franchise in movie history.
A few years ago, my dad was explaining — or rather, attempting to explain — to me the significance of “that guy at the end the Hulk movie”. He was telling me how this cameo meant there was going to be some big team up movie in a few years, and I distinctly remember thinking, ‘Yeah, sure, that’s never gonna happen’.
By that point in my life, I had already endured the process countless times before: get my hopes up about some big future development in a series I was reading or a show I was watching, only to end up being disappointed when whatever grand endeavour they were planning never came to fruition. Eventually, I learned to just never trust any distant promises these books or shows made. Set low expectations, and then whatever you get, you’ll end up happy, right?
That all changed with the MCU.
Over the last seven years or so, when I first started to get on board, this franchise has taught me that it’s justified to truly care about one particular set of characters and stories. Never had I felt like something was so clearly rewarding me for keeping up with each new instalment. It was because of this that I even bothered to watch certain new releases like Ant-Man, Doctor Strange or Captain Marvel, despite knowing nothing about those heroes ahead of time. Back when I heard criticism about how ridiculous a movie about Ant-Man would be, I remember respectfully ignoring those opinions, since I knew Marvel would be able to pull it off. At that point, I had already developed enormous faith in all creative decisions made by this franchise.
But, despite this trust, until quite recently, I still entered each new Marvel release with the smallest degree of trepidation, worrying that this might be the movie where it all fell apart for them. I’d think, ‘They’ve had a pretty good run, so who’s to blame them if Thor: Ragnarok just doesn’t work?’, or ‘While it’s cool that they finally secured Spider-Man, I’m just not sure this Sony collaboration is going to pan out.’ Until Avengers: Endgame came out, I was always at least a little bit worried that the MCU’s seemingly perfect streak would come to an end.
When James Gunn got fired in July of 2018, I considered it to be Marvel’s first big misstep in a long time, and an indication that maybe the franchise wasn’t as invincible as I thought. Then, when they announced that he got rehired this past March, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought, ‘Oh good, they’re back on track’.
All of this is to say that, by now, I have definitely surrendered to the notion that this franchise can do no wrong — and let me tell you, I couldn’t be happier about it.
It should be noted that, while I absolutely love what Marvel Studios produces, this affection doesn’t usually extend beyond these specific movies. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Wonder Woman, and Aquaman was kind of fun at certain points, but I definitely didn’t feel compelled to see these films on opening weekend or even really in theatres at all. The reason I love the so far 22 films that make up the MCU is much more nuanced than the fact that they’re all comic book movies. Interestingly enough, something the franchise is frequently lauded for is its uncanny ability to go beyond the rather limiting idea of a “comic book movie”. By some miracle, Marvel has managed to present an eclectic mix of films that are all part of one overarching and somehow still cohesive narrative. And for that, I applaud them.
I guess you could say I love the MCU for its foresight. I’m constantly amazed by its attention to detail and the value that the film executives place on trying to maintain continuity. One of my most significant memories of this came when I was watching Spider-Man: Homecoming on its opening weekend. While it has since proven to be one my favourites in the entire MCU for many reasons — second only to Captain America: Civil War — what blew me away during this initial viewing was actually one of the last, and, relatively speaking, inconsequential shots in the movie (Spider-Man’s not even in the scene). Happy Hogan and Tony Stark are scrambling to come up with a way to handle the hordes of reporters that are expecting a big announcement after Peter Parker has just politely declined Tony’s offer to join the Avengers. Suddenly, the door cracks open and out comes Pepper Potts, walking into the scene and also back into the MCU after a four-year absence.
You see, the reason this was such a momentous scene for me was because I’d been holding out hope, ever since Iron Man 3, that Gywneth Paltrow would reprise her role someday. I’d heard rumblings that she would cameo in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but then that didn’t happen. I’d read unverified reports of her being cast in Civil War, only to be let down when it was later explained in the movie that she and Tony had broken up off-screen. ‘Well, I guess that’s the end of her,’ I remember thinking. Trying to think practically, I reminded myself that shooting schedules and contact negotiations didn’t always work out.
So, imagine my shock and delight when I saw her character’s eleventh-hour cameo in Homecoming, just as I’d all but abandoned the idea of my favourite hero achieving a stable relationship. By bringing her back into the mix, this decision set up a number of critical developments for the Tony Stark character over the course of what would become Robert Downey Jr.’s final MCU movies. I’d even argue, after seeing Endgame, that her inclusion in these last few films makes Tony’s character arc that much richer. Essentially, having her in the story mattered, and somewhere along the way, the good people of Marvel recognized this and gave Paltrow’s agent another call.
As I draft this article, Endgame is dominating in theatres across the planet. I just saw it for the fourth time last weekend, and I know I’m certainly not the only fan who’s watched it at least as much as that. If Endgame taught me anything, it’s that all good things come to an end. Being realistic, there probably will be a time where I fall out of love with the MCU, when life gets in the way or the movies just don’t enthrall me like they do right now, and I can guarantee I’ll be disappointed. It might happen next year. It might happen in three years. It might happen in 2030.
Then again, it might not happen at all.