Disclaimer: This article includes many, many spoilers for Avengers: Endgame .
The line between arts and entertainment is very fine, and most people have different opinions on what constitutes a piece of work as “art.” Some believe it must have a message, some believe it must have historical context, and some believe the only requirement is beautiful aesthetics. What about modern Hollywood blockbusters? Action movies are not typically described as art, and yet they are films with messages, context, aesthetics, and more. A prime example is Marvel’s Avengers series. Recently, Avengers: Endgame debuted, bringing in $1.2 billion on its opening weekend alone. To accomplish this, creators included not only the expected stunts and special effects, but also hidden motifs and symbolism.
Two main colors dominate Avengers: Endgame more than any others: red and blue. Not only is red a part of the main color scheme of all three leading avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor), but it also adorns the majority of the clothes throughout the movie. For example, while abandoned in space, Tony Stark and Nebula were both dressed in a combination of red and black. Later, red became a part of the suit that the team wore to prepare them for time travel. Red almost seems as if it is the Avengers’ signature color. Additionally, blue appears repeatedly, though not quite as prominently. Broad examples include all of Iron Man’s technology and Thor’s lightning. These colors could possibly be a reflection of the two conflicting main Avengers and their viewpoints and relationship, red for Iron Man and blue for Captain America. Interestingly, the skin of the main villain, Thanos, was a combination of these two colors, however slightly more tinted red (which makes sense when considering that Iron Man eventually brought upon his death). Purple smoke also came from his ships when struck by Valkyrie. After Thanos is defeated, there is a slight montage of some of the Avengers returning home. Blue and red return in this setting. As Scott Lang and his family sit on their roof, they look into the deep blue night with red and blue fireworks, and Wakanda returns to its former glory with bright orange accents and various city lights glowing among the night sky.
One of the more abstract metaphors in this movie is that of shapes. Especially with Captain America and Iron Man, each original avenger has a shape that can sum up their personality and their journey. Captain America’s shape is a circle, the same as his famous shield. This circle displays how he completes his journey at the same place where it started, with Peggy Carter. Iron Man’s shape is a triangle, the shape that is displayed from his chest. This could have many meanings. There were three Iron Man movies, and there were three Avengers movies if you count Infinity War and Endgame as two parts of the same film (though these could be coincidences as three is a traditional amount of movies for a Marvel series). Lastly, it could represent his family structure, which was so integral to his character development in this ending movie. To see other interpretations of shapes for the other four original Avengers, look at the image attached.
Different body parts play small, interesting roles in this film. First, Thor continues his eye-related character development (his father was missing his eye while ruling as king of Asgard, and Thor becomes finally loses his eye shortly before accepting the title of king); while he has a replacement, his mother notices the difference. Also, there’s an exceptional amount of attention called to arms, specifically the left one. Thanos uses his left hand to execute the snap, and it then gets cut off. Hawkeye has a sleeve of tattoos on his left arm, Nebula injures her left arm reaching for the power stone, and Black Widow sacrifices herself in exchange for the soul stone by letting go of Hawkeye’s left hand. However, as soon as the Avengers begin to use the soul stones in a glove, they are used on the right hand. This is true for Hulk, Thanos, and Iron Man. It is hard to come up for an explanation for this, but one is signifying a shift in power and convenience. Lastly, Iron Man foreshadows his own ending sacrifice when he requests that Ant Man give his past-self a heart injury; this prediction is highlighted especially when considering the dialogue. After the request, Ant Man asks “Promise you won’t die?” and Iron Man tells him that he’s just giving him a mild cardiac arrhythmia, avoiding answering the question. This apparatus will later be a key part of his funeral.
One of the most common themes in art is that of fire and water, and Endgame is no exception. Fire appears a lot during the major fight scene, especially when something important is happening (Ex: there is fire behind Thanos as he gets dusted) but this is mostly a result of the chaos. What is more interesting is the motif of water. Water appears several times. Starlord splashes in water before getting jumped. Hawkeye kneels in a pool of water after losing Black Widow and obtaining the soul stone. Rocket and Falcon almost drown after Thanos attacks the base. During this time, Hawkeye is running through a tunnel with the stone-filled glove with water at the bottom. Lastly, during the final fight, a dam breaks and Dr. Strange must contain the flow in a massive spiral. Water is a resource, the thing Thanos has fought so hard to protect. Everyone can agree that water is a good thing, but it almost always appears in a time of panic or pain. This displays the concept that Thanos could not understand: bad will always accompany the good, and the good does not erase the bad.
Thanos undergoes an extreme character shift from his prior appearances. In Infinity War, Thanos’ goal is balance and restoration. His methods are wrong, but the audience can sympathize with his motivation. This is what makes him an effective villain. However in Endgame, he turns weirdly spiteful. He gives this speech to Captain America “In all my years of conquest, violence, slaughter, it was never personal. But what I’m gonna do now to your stubborn, annoying planet, I’m going to enjoy, very, very much.” Additionally, Thanos removes his helmet before charging at Captain America, a tactical disadvantage born from emotion. While this allows for him to do more damage, it takes away from the overall message.
Endgame is a movie of rebirth. At moments of redemption, the sun comes out. For example, the sun shines behind Captain America as he stands against Thanos’ army. Captain Marvel is also a good example of this, as her warm light shines in Tony’s bloodshot eyes as he is stranded in space. Another common theme is children and legacies. Obviously, Captain America passed on his title to Falcon, but in the very first scene Clint also calls his daughter Hawkeye, and in the first appearance of Tony’s daughter she is wearing an Iron Man helmet. With the exception of Thor and Hulk, every one of the original Avengers has finished their journey and the majority will continue their legacy.
This article is written completely from a cinematic point of view, but what do longtime Marvel fans think about this new addition? JR Surban (12), Marvel superfan, thinks that this was an effective end of this era: “Endgame is complete fan service and I like how they took small iconic moments from the past 21 movies…It created a lot of nostalgia and it led to a more controlled and emotional story.” Another superfan, Nicholas Mundorff (12), believes that Infinity War was better executed. “Infinity War is the best because it has the good writing and comedy like most M.C.U. movies but it also has the best villain out of all the movies and seeing all the characters throughout the universe interact is really cool. Also, it has a plot that actually matters, there’s real stakes involved if they don’t win…I did like Endgame, but I also thought it was a bit disappointing as there were multiple things I think they should have shown more instead of just talking about.” However, both agree that Marvel managed to create a special connection with its audience and cannot wait for what’s to come.
The truth is, there is no guarantee that anything I’ve posed is true. Sometimes, motifs and symbols appear as accidents or coincidences. However, does that even matter? Is art defined by the artist’s intention or the audience’s reaction? The creators may not have intended some or any of these themes, but what really matters is the audience’s personal interpretation and connection of the art. So in the end, Endgame is art only if you personally define it as art.