Superhero saga: Actors Robert Downey Jr and Bradley Cooper at the premiere of Avengers: Endgame in Los Angeles. Picture: REUTERS
Superhero saga: Actors Robert Downey Jr and Bradley Cooper at the premiere of Avengers: Endgame in Los Angeles. Picture: REUTERS

The wait to find out what happens on the other side of the snap is over. By the time you read this, the roll-out of Walt Disney’s Avengers: Endgame will have already begun unspooling to fans across the world, the epic finale featuring gargantuan battles as well as a resurrection, of sorts, at the end of Marvel’s superheroes-and-foes saga.

The film, which opens on April 26 on a record 4,600 screens across the US, and locally, is the culmination of a 21-movie build-up of standalone instalments, sequels, spin-offs and superhero mash-ups that began with the release of Iron Man in 2008. In that time the franchise has generated $18.6bn worldwide in ticket sales, a springboard for infinitely profitable television shows and merchandise.

The movie poster released by Marvel Studios for Avengers Endgame. Picture: MARVEL STUDIOS/IMDB
The movie poster released by Marvel Studios for Avengers Endgame. Picture: MARVEL STUDIOS/IMDB

Most of that has accrued to Disney, which bought Marvel in 2009 and under its auspice built up a wave of hits the likes of which Hollywood has never seen. Three of the top-10 worldwide grosses of all time belong to Avengers movies, and a fourth, Black Panther, is already one of the most successful standalone franchises ever. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, the brain behind the movies, has become the industry’s biggest producer, overtaking Steven Spielberg in box-office ticket sales.

A long look back

At first, Endgame takes us back to the beginning. All the way back to the original superhero sextet from 2012’s The Avengers – Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). As the first Marvel release under Disney’s own distribution banner, that film was the sixth-biggest-grossing movie worldwide, at $1.5bn. Those six, having set the template for generating billions at the theatres, now must find a way to bring life back to half of the universe.

Since the first film, the core group has introduced groups such as S.H.I.E.L.D and HYDRA, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the forces of Wakanda and, in this instalment, Captain Marvel, the company’s future-facing female hero. If you are a comic-book fan, you know all these things already.

But if, like me, you didn’t grow up reading the comics, there is a lot to remember, even if you’ve seen all the movies. The important thing to remember is that these are the good guys (and girls) who have to stop the evil ones, Loki and the mighty Thanos, a genocidal warlord from another world who wants to conquer the universe. The last time we saw Thanos, in Infinity War, he’d completed his hunt to unite the six Infinity Stones, which he used, with a snap of his fingers, to wipe out half the living beings in the universe.

Arriving at the end

To get here, Disney’s Marvel has made a couple of bets that have paid off handsomely. One was teaming up with Sony Pictures on Spider-Man: Homecoming to help revive everyone’s favourite web-slinging franchise, so that the Sony-owned Spidey could join the Marvel Universe storylines. And another, of course, was that a black superhero with a largely black cast would have such broad appeal. When Black Panther made his kingly entrance in 2018, he did it to the tune of $700m from the US and Canada, the third-biggest domestic movie in history.

When we find the Avengers this time, they’re recovering from the devastation of the Thanos snap. Some are in therapy groups; others, like Thor, have really let themselves go. But there’s still hope embodied at the heart of the movie through Tony Stark. He can’t help but try to find a solution to save the day.

You could argue that this is all Stark’s doing. The first phase of Marvel’s master plan started with Iron Man, arguably the most popular of the Avengers. His character, a wealthy industrialist who builds a special armoured suit and technology to fight evil, has been a constant in this long series of films and their complex storylines. In the meantime, it’s given Robert Downey Jr a lucrative career. According to estimates, his earnings are among the highest in Hollywood.

But Iron Man isn’t the future of the Marvel universe. Captain Marvel has recently been introduced to us in her own standalone film, which has beaten that $1bn threshold globally as well. And Feige has said in interviews she will lead the Avengers into the next phase, which he’s mapped out five years ahead.

Technically, the story’s arc will conclude with the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home on July 2. But Endgame is the battle to end all battles. Infinity War set records for opening weekends domestically ($257m) and worldwide ($640.5m), but Endgame could exceed $270m in its first weekend, according to Box Office Pro. Based on the screening I attended, I’d wager fans are unlikely to be disappointed: there were grown men and women weeping in the seats alongside me.

Here’s a spoiler I don’t mind spilling: the one thing Marvel fans won’t need to wait for after the three-hour run time is a post-credits scene — there aren’t any. It’s perhaps the only thing that super fans could complain about. But for me, it put a firm close on this chapter of the story.

Bloomberg

• If you’ve been dying to see how Marvel’s epic Avengers saga pans out when the film opens this weekend, you may be out of luck. Presale tickets for the film have exceeded all previous SA records, according to Ster-Kinekor, with more than 150 000 tickets sold across all distributors for preview screenings and first-week ticket sales. You’ll either have to try your best at the cinema on the day, hope for some scalpers or wait until next Thursday to see whether the Avengers can undo the damage caused by Thanos’s snap.