About halfway through the approximately three-hour-long epic Avengers: Endgame, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) sums up the movie with a quick aside: “The only thing that is permanent in life is impermanence.” At first it seems like a throwaway line, tucked into a comedic ramble about Thor’s ex-girlfriend, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). But no second of a meticulously sculpted cinematic event like Endgame forsakes meaning. On the contrary, a film that should feel overlong and overstuffed rings purposeful, weighted with existential truth even as it flashes before our eyes. Like sands through the hourglass, so are the superheroes of our lives.

Pardon my wistfulness, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe, of which this entry is a kind of capper, spans 11 years and 22 films. When audiences met Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in the MCU’s first installment, Iron Man(2008), George W. Bush was still president. Our world, and the world that the surviving Avengers inhabit at the start of Endgame, is a radically different place now. Yet humans from time immemorial have feared their own annihilation, scanning the sky and contemplating apocalypse. Thus Endgame plucks a shared and existential nerve: we’ll all be dust one day. CONTINUE READING