Avengers: Endgame and the power of myth

Movies based on Marvel characters use mythical archetypes.
Movies based on Marvel characters use mythical archetypes.
--Marvel Studios Avengers Endgame Facebook page.

This weekend, fans lined up for popcorn and crowded theaters to watch Avengers: Endgame. It was the biggest global opening in cinematic history – a movie with worldwide appeal.

      The superhero flick netted $1 billion worldwide, according to Part of the allure is the diverse cast. But the global appeal of the movie – and, for that matter, the previous 21 movies in the Marvel cinematic universe – also can be found in the power of myth.  
      Myth refers to "specific accounts of gods or superhuman beings involved in extraordinary events or circumstances in a time that is unspecified but which is understood as existing apart from ordinary human experience," according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
      Myths follow a pattern. Whether the story is found in a comic book, African folklore or an Eskimo fairy tale, “it will be always the one shape-shifting yet marvelously constant story that we find together with a challenging persistent suggestion of more remaining to be experienced than will ever be known or told,” writes Joseph Campbell in the classic, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (Princeton University Press; 1949).
      Most all movies – even Avengers: Endgame, with its multiple superheroes -- use the mythical hero’s journey found in Campbell's book. Here are some examples of how Avengers: Endgame, works in the tropes of mythology. (But before you read another line, spoiler alert!)
  • The hero is called to adventure.  In this case, the heroes – led by Captain America (Chris Evans) and Ironman (Robert Downey Jr.) – want to go back in time and undo the cataclysm that ended the lives of half of all humans on Earth.   
  • In answering the call, the hero may be given something magic for help along the way -- Captain America’s shield, Thor’s hammer, Ironman’s suit.  
  • The hero may also get advice from an elder, a wise man or woman. The character The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), the mentor of Dr. Strange, is an example.
  • As the hero begins the journey, magical helpers appear. Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) fills the shoes in this movie, arriving in time to save Ironman, who is adrift in a spaceship. But the Marvel series is packed with magical helpers. Shuri (Letitia Wright), the sister of the Black Panther, is another example. 
  • The hero may encounter other mythical archetypes. One example is a shape-shifter, a character who is not what he or she appears. When angry, the thoughtful, mild mannered Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) turns into the Hulk.  
  • The hero undergoes an initiation.  In Endgame, the Avengers learn to navigate the dangers of time travel.
  • The hero may lose an ally to death. When the story begins, the characters have already lost friends and family – the previous movie, Avengers, Infinity War, ended with the deaths of half of the world’s population.  But in this movie, the heroes also lose Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who sacrifices herself for the greater good.
  • After the initiation, the hero confronts the villain. Thanos (Josh Brolin) is a super-villain, and the Avengers take him on together. In some myths, the hero dies trying to save others. That is the case for Iron Man in the last battle.

        To know more:



     Ragnarok and the source of Norse myth

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