There is a lovely hashtag circulating on Twitter, #ThankYouAvengers. It’s full of people remembering their favorite characters and moments, and a hell of a lot of people mentioning they literally grew up with the Avengers, going from elementary school to college over the course of the eleven-year franchise. Some people mention how these movies got them through a tough time, or brought them to new friends. I started writing for LaineyGossip in 2010, around the time Iron Man 2 came out. My earliest “beat” was covering nerd news, particularly the Marvel movies as they built toward The Avengers. So thank you Avengers, for the job security.
Everyone is reminiscing about the MCU as if it’s over, and while it is not—after Spider-Man: Far From Home, Marvel is expected to shed some light on their Phase 4 plans—the “Infinity Saga” of the original Avengers has come to an end. The question is, then, what is the legacy of the MCU to this point, and can you actually have a legacy for something that is still ongoing? This is not Star Wars, that had years, decades even, in between trilogy rounds. Marvel is a perpetual motion machine, so what does the legacy of the OG Avengers look like in that context? Is it anything other than a box office behemoth?
I think it’s hard to measure what the impact of the MCU really is, beyond business implications, because it hasn’t been long enough for many cultural markers to set in. We won’t really know the impact until this generation that grew up with the Avengers, the ones just now in college, start, like, naming their children “Tony” and “Natasha” and “Banner” (a cooler option than Bruce, back me up, Duana). We won’t know until Marvel inevitably reboots the OG characters and we can see how nostalgic everyone is for Iron Man and Captain America. Sure, we love them NOW, but with new heroes continuously emerging from the Marvel pack, will we even have a chance to miss them once they’re gone?
But at the same time, there is an undeniable cultural impact happening now. The box office is the most obvious sign that everyone went all-in on the Avengers, but there is also a slew of new references in our pop cultural lexicon. I never thought I would live in a world where everyday average citizens know who Thanos is, or care about the fate of Asgard. Not to mention snapping your fingers for dramatic effect has a whole new dimension. And we have a new language of heroes. I grew up making references to Batman and Superman. My younger cousins, who are in that generation that came of age with Marvel, reference Iron Man and Captain America, and Captain Marvel just took down Batman at the box office, meaning more people are buying into her than either Bat-Bale or Batfleck. (DC is only just finding their footing, and I expect Wonder Woman 1984 to be HUGE, but Captain Marvel outstripping the last decade of Bat-movies is nothing to sneeze at.)
There is a certain type of person who wants all this superhero stuff to go away, but the way the Avengers have embedded in our pop culture, and the fact that Marvel has no intention of slowing down, doesn’t make that seem likely. If anything, as we enter a new decade of storytelling with (mostly) new heroes, it seems likely Marvel will only double-down on their cultural dominance. That may or may not be scary, depends on how you feel about the world choosing to celebrate heroes who are generally f-cked up people who never stop trying to do the right thing. For now, the Avengers’ legacy is as a kind of cultural glue, something we all agreed to do together for a decade. Maybe in ten or fifteen years, when the name “Natasha” rockets up the baby-name charts, we’ll see if there was a deeper impact than just cultural diversion. But if the #ThankYouAvengers hashtag is anything to go by, the OG Avengers can at least walk away knowing they touched a lot of people’s lives.