Chadwick Boseman, perhaps best known as the star of Black Panther (2018), passed away at the young age of 43 on Friday, finally succumbing after a 4-year battle with colon cancer. Boseman brought quiet strength and grace to the character of T’Challa, the Black Panther, inspiring millions across America and the world. His tragic death reminds me of Avengers: Endgame (2019), the one bright spot in a year of cultural disappointments. While Chadwick Boseman did not appear for long in Endgame, his presence in the consummate battle evoked the pride of Black Panther.
As an avid fan of three franchises — Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and the Avengers — I began 2019 excited for the decisive conclusion to each of them. Yet both Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker and Game of Thrones Season 8 proved immense disappointments. In contrast, Avengers: Endgame tied together all the threads of previous films and gave the Avengers series a stunning and impressive conclusion. (Warning: SPOILERS abound.)
I grew up watching Star Wars. The original film redefined science fiction, Empire Strikes Back deepened the story with that impressive Darth Vader reveal, and The Return of the Jedi gave the trilogy a satisfying conclusion. While the prequel trilogy left a great deal to be desired — seriously, Jar Jar never needed to exist and the love story between Anakin and Padme was extremely contrived — it told a coherent story, the tragic downfall of Anakin Skywalker.
Yet the third trilogy proved derivative and aimless. The first movie essentially rehashed Star Wars: A New Hope, merely attempting to raise the stakes without adding much meaning. The second movie, The Last Jedi, tried to take Star Wars in a new direction but also undermined a great deal of the franchise. The Force Awakens set up mysteries: Who is Snoke? What is the “First Order?” Who were Rey’s parents? The Last Jedi refused to answer these questions, and it actually undermined the character of Luke Skywalker the hero of the original trilogy.
The Rise of Skywalker tried to undo some of the damage of The Last Jedi, but it actually managed to screw things up worse and give the entire final trilogy a discombobulated, meandering tone. This final movie tried to insert the grand villain of the first two trilogies — Emperor Sheev Palpatine — into the third trilogy, undermining the conclusion of The Return of the Jedi. It tried to jam far too much into one movie while still failing to explain key elements of the story.
Much of the movie does not make sense, and the meandering story of the final trilogy makes the entire enterprise feel like a soulless cash grab.
Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones told a fantastic and intricate tale of intrigue, magic, horror, and politics. The seven seasons leading up to the final season built up an impressive array of deep characters and story elements. Each season built up the threat of the White Walkers, mysterious ice zombies up north, and their foil, the heroic Jon Snow. The show also built up the political intrigue between powerful aristocratic houses, pitting the cunning Cersei Lannister against the idealistic Daenerys Targaryen. The brilliant scheming Tyrion Lannister plays a powerful role in key events without getting credit for it.
The show threw out much of that development in the final season. The final battle between the heroes and the White Walkers minimized Jon Snow, who cowered while fighting a dragon instead of delivering the final blow to end the ice zombie threat. The season changed Daenerys’ character without a compelling build-up. It also made Tyrion Lannister a bumbling fool.
The ending felt false, cheap, and silly. Tyrion Lannister, then a prisoner, somehow convinces the remaining nobles to make Bran Stark king because life is about stories and “who has a better story than Bran?” This seemed particularly irksome to fans who had found Bran’s story the most consistently boring story in the entire series.
The conclusion of eight years of intrigue left an extremely sour taste in the mouths of fans. Years of expectation had been dashed.
Unlike Game of Thrones Season 8 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Avengers: Endgame gave an astonishingly fitting conclusion to a years-long franchise. Endgame built on the 21 Avengers films before it, including implicit and explicit tributes to movie after movie.
In Endgame, the Avengers discover time travel and go into the past to gather up the Infinity Stones, in order to reverse the destructive impact of Thanos, who wiped out half of all living things in order to stave off the supposed dangers of overpopulation. This storytelling device enables Endgame to revisit key scenes from the previous films, making it a powerful capstone to a franchise.
Like The Rise of Skywalker, Endgame moved along from a bad previous installment in the franchise while still giving it a tribute. Thor goes back to his home of Asgaard in order to retrieve an Infinity Stone and he runs into his mother during the timeline of a truly awful Avengers film, Thor: The Dark World. Endgame does not delve into the major themes of that movie, but it still uses that film as a setting.
In fact, Endgame makes fun of previous movies. I am a big fan of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), but when Endgame mocked the opening of that film, I couldn’t help but laugh.
Endgame took itself seriously, but it also made light of the Avengers films and universe. It provided a fitting conclusion to the franchise while also cracking joke after joke.
I still get chills when I watch that pivotal scene in Endgame. After Thanos wiped out half of the Avengers, the heroes use the Infinity Stones to bring them back. When Thanos emerges in Endgame with a huge army, planning to wipe out the universe, the remaining Avengers are overmatched. Against all odds, a great symbol of hope emerges. Yet portals open behind the Avengers as the heroes Thanos wiped out emerge, one by one. Chadwick Boseman, the Black Panther, emerges with an army of brave Wakandans.
Then, after 21 movies of build-up, Captain America finally utters the words, “Avengers, assemble!” He leads the Avengers in a powerful last stand. While the heroes triumph, the victory does not come without cost. Iron Man, the hero who started the entire franchise, sacrifices himself to save the world.
Unlike Game of Thrones Season 8, Endgame ties in the years-long saga of its franchise, doing justice to all the threads that led up to this grand conclusion. Unlike The Return of Skywalker‘s sudden pivot to Palpatine, Avengers had built up Thanos as the ultimate villain for years.
Avengers: Endgame was a satisfying conclusion to a years-long franchise in a year plagued with two extremely disappointing endings.
Chadwick Boseman’s death is extremely tragic, especially for his friends and family. Millions of fans also mourn his loss, and that loss will be felt in the franchise moving forward. Yet his work helped make Endgame the stunning success it was, during a year of failure.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.