Death be not proud — and in comic books, death also be not permanent. Superman, Captain America, Jean Grey of the X-Men: All have "died," but, to quote "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," they got better.
So now with Disney/Marvel Studios' "Avengers: Endgame," opening Friday, what are we to make of the many superhero deaths in last year's "Avengers: Infinity War," the first part of this two-film epic? There, cosmic megalomaniac Thanos — possessor of six "Infinity Stones" controlling time, space and other constructs — extinguished half of all life with a snap of his fingers, leaving Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and others to pick up the pieces.
Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have said repeatedly that the deaths were real. Really?
"When we say 'the deaths are real,' what we mean is the end of the last movie is not a fake-out," says Markus, 49, by phone from Los Angeles. "And this entire next movie is predicated on that fact — that that was a real thing that happened and there isn't going to be a switcheroo in the first 20 seconds" of the new film. Not a dream, not a hoax, not an imaginary story, as the old comics saying goes.
Flesh-and-blood actors do age out of roles, of course. "Steve Rogers and Tony Stark can look exactly the same for 50 or 60 years" in comics, notes McFeely, 49. "And God bless Chris and Robert, they can't. So there's a natural storytelling that's happening when you cast live human beings. You're watching people age. Y'know, other than Paul Rudd," he jokes of the eternally youthful Ant-Man actor.
OK, but there's been a "Black Panther" sequel announced, despite the title character's apparent death. And "Spider-Man: Far from Home" is due out July 5.
"Maybe," McFeely says playfully, "that takes place in another corner of the…" Pause. "…Spider-verse!"
True, last year's Oscar-winning animated movie "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" explored that very concept of multiple universes — a multiverse — as long established in the comics. Yet that's not necessarily what happens in "Endgame," and writer-artist Jim Starlin, who created Thanos and wrote the landmark 1991 miniseries "The Infinity Gauntlet" that inspired this and "Infinity War" found yet another way of satisfyingly addressing the heroes' deaths. But in the film, unlike in the comics, some things appear very much to be irreversible.
For the cast and crew, the general feeling on set, says Karen Gillan, 30, who plays Thanos' adopted daughter Nebula, was "excitement and sadness and all of the emotions that go into the end of an era. Especially for the ones who have been there from day one. This has been 10 years in the making," she says of the Marvel Cinematic Universe of interconnected films that began with "Iron Man" in 2008. "So it really did feel like the end of something big."
If feels that way onscreen as well, even including what is said to be the late Marvel Comics impresario Stan Lee's final cameo.
Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige has said "Endgame" doesn't actually conclude what he calls "Phase Three" of the long MCU storyline — that "Spider-Man: Far from Home" is the last film before the next leg. We'll take him at his word. Yet it will be an epilogue at best — while “Endgame," variously, is a requiem and an anthem, a christening and a benediction. And, most of all, a true finale.
In his 3-star review, Newsday’s Rafer Guzmán called “Avengers: Endgame” an "epoch-ending epic for many classic Marvel characters who helped turn mainstream audiences into superhero fans " The review ran in Wednesday’s edition; you can read the entire review at newsday.com/movies. Here’s what other critics had to say:
"If the Marvel superhero movies on the whole are your favorite band’s individual albums, 'Avenger: Endgame' is the triple-disc greatest-hits package with the really awesome cover and a slew of familiar, comforting gems inside."
— USA Today
"Should I even share what I really think about 'Endgame' — that it’s a dull, reheated hash of stale humor, over-the-top portentousness, swirled in a blender of gray CGI with enough endings and bittersweet goodbyes to rival 'Lord of the Rings: Return of the King' — and risk backlash from fans?"
— Tribune News Service
"It is with no small pleasure or exhaustion that I report that the Marvel series — or at least this current phase of it — has come to a stirring, satisfying finish with 'Avengers: Endgame.' ”
— The Los Angeles Times
"After 11 long years, the Infinity Saga is finally, fulfillingly over. There is no post-credit scene. But oh, what a going-away party these old friends have thrown for themselves."
— The Washington Post
"This is the Marvel machine working at high gear, in full control of its myth-making powers and uncovering more emotion in its fictional cosmos than ever before."
— The Associated Press