I’ll say it: I was disappointed by Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame. Even before its predecessor, Infinity War, hit theaters, theories ran wild as to just what surprises Marvel had in store for the grand finale of the first overarching storyline of its cinematic universe, but when it came, it was fairly straightforward in comparison to the expectations. Now that Marvel is seemingly going in some new, strange directions, especially with Disney+ shows like WandaVision and Loki, I need them to really go for it in their main storyline.
Of course, they can’t always be expected to fully meet fan expectations when our imaginations run wild on the internet all day with theories that belong in the What If…? series at best, but when the writers outright teased, “We broke your heart. Now we’re going to blow your mind!” with Endgame, it was hard not to imagine we were getting something more than one of the lowest-stakes time travel stories on film. Sure, we had Thanos threatening to destroy the whole universe in the massive third act, but the movie made a big show of setting time travel rules where nothing our heroes did to the past would change their present, making most of the time travel shenanigans—a large portion of the movie—frustratingly risk-free.
Personal gripes with how that affected that movie’s storytelling aside, it also caused the biggest surprise of the whole experience to be just how safe the story played it, perhaps best encapsulated by the decision to have Cap go back in time to be with Peggy Carter. If anyone was surprised by that, it was because they thought it was so obvious that the hints at it must be some kind of misdirect.
In the end, while it brought the concept of a multiverse of branching timelines to the main Avengers, Endgame took a fairly straight path to retrieving the infinity stones and bringing back those who were snapped out of existence in Infinity War. All the weirdness of multiple universes and half the population disappearing for several years was largely left for later stories to deal with, and it didn’t exactly amount to much in Spider-Man: Far From Home. It was hardly a mind-blowing experience, not really using its time travel premise for anything more than a trip down memory lane.
Now, we’ve got the WandaVision and Loki series on the way, and as much as I’m glad that WandaVision seems to be trying something “riskier” and weirder, and that we’ll see the ramifications of an alternate timeline’s Loki escaping with the space stone and galavanting across reality, I’m wondering how far it will go and how much it will carry over into the cinematic universe’s overarching storyline, and how much of it will just be shallow window dressing to give the appearance of something fresh shaking up the franchise. Even WandaVision appears fairly self-contained so far, with Wanda’s alternate realities seemingly limited to a specific location and no guarantee that anything lasting will come of them, although I’m optimistic that things could go bigger with her appearance in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
But that’s the thing. We’ve been building towards these things for so long, slowly adding in stranger and more mystical, metaphysical elements, waiting for them to really amount to something, but it’s continually obvious that the complete wildness of comics is being toned down to make things more palatable to the moviegoing audience, and if we don’t move past that soon, it’s going to get pretty stale watching promising concepts get squandered by a failure to fully embrace and explore them.
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