By: Sam Gardner

        The first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man, was released in 2008. I was only 7 at the time, and I wasn’t a comic book fan. In fact, I probably didn’t even know who Iron Man was. Sometime in the next few years, I saw the movie on Netflix, and while I thought it was a good movie and enjoyed it, I thought it was just a cool action/sci-fi hybrid. I had no idea that it was the first in a series of narratively interconnected movies. Like many others, I never even knew about The Incredible Hulk, which was released the same year but to a much colder critical and popular review.

        In 2010, Iron Man 2 was released, but 9-year-old me didn’t follow movies and didn’t know of it. But in 2011, two important movies were released: Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. I would watch both once they were released on Netflix, and while I loved both of them, I was still oblivious to their interconnectedness.

        Nearly a decade later, I can clearly remember being at my grandmother’s house, scrolling through the Netflix options, searching for a movie to fill the time, when I stumbled across Thor. Similarly, I can recall watching Captain America: The First Avenger on the floor of my bedroom, enjoying the adventures of Steve Rogers on my tiny green iPod Touch.

        After I watched Steve Rogers transform into Cap, I became more interested in this universe. I entered the deep realm of comic book lore and learned that all of these exciting movies were actually connected! Better yet, there was a movie coming out which would feature all of my favorite heroes!

        When I saw The Avengers in 2012, it was the first time I had watched a Marvel movie with the knowledge that it was only one part of a larger universe. As an 11-year-old boy, already enamored with Star Wars and Harry Potter, I instantly became a massive fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I eagerly followed the movies for the next several years. I didn’t love every movie, but I loved the MCU as a whole, both the mere concept of a grand narrative and the actual experience of watching the movies themselves.

        Fast forward to April 2019. I saw Avengers: Endgame only a few days after it was released, and when I emerged from the theater, I was speechless. As a writer, I rarely find myself at a loss for words, but this movie accomplished the feat.

        The movie itself was terrific, but rather than concentrating on the characters and plot of the movie, I found myself focusing on what Avengers: Endgame means to me, and many others, on a more personal level.

        From the very first “Marvel Comics #1” in 1939, children and adults alike have enjoyed reading and watching the escapades and adventures of their favorite superheroes, thwarting the evil efforts of thrillingly malicious supervillains. For many older viewers of the Marvel movies, they can be an experience rife with nostalgia and remembrance, for times and heroes long past. For viewers of all ages, Marvel stories are an important and memorable part of their life. The entire universe has grown into a cultural focal point, capturing the imaginations of viewers everywhere and of all ages.

        Many of Marvel’s younger viewers, myself included, grew up idolizing the superheroes of Marvel comics. We’ve grown comfortable with the heroes we know, the actors who play them, and the sorts of villains they tackle. While each new movie was its own story and its own experience, we could always count on the heroes to emerge, more or less, the same as they were in the beginning of the film.

        But for me, this connection seems to run even deeper. I’m a senior in high school, months from graduation. In less than 6 months, my life will change dramatically. I’ll be a freshman in college, far from the home I’ve enjoyed for 18 years, far from the public schooling environment I’ve endured for 12 years, and far from the friends I’ve made along the way.

        My life as I know it will soon end. Everything I’m comfortable with will, at a minimum, change, and at most, cease to be a part of my life. Similarly, as this 22-movie-strong chapter of the MCU comes to a close, I have to accept that things are changing. Many of my childhood heroes will be retiring or moving to a supporting role, and new heroes will take their place.

        I know that I’ll be continuing as well, moving on to a new chapter of my life. New friends, new interests, and new paths lie ahead, and while I am excited to embrace this new chapter in my own life, it is scary.  

        The Marvel Cinematic Universe, I realize, will also continue. With the scheduled summer release of Spider-Man: Far From Home on the horizon, I know I’ll be able to see familiar heroes fighting the good fight, but I also know that things will be different. The movies will feel like something new, with new faces and new plotlines.

        But you know what? I’m not dreading either change. I’m excited to see where college will take me, and I can’t wait to embrace an independent, adult lifestyle. I’m excited to see where the Marvel Cinematic Universe goes next, and I can’t wait to join new heroes on their adventures. No matter what happens next, the memories I have will always remain. I can always go back to re-watch the original MCU movies, and I can stay in contact with my old friends.

        While we must always remain grateful to the old times, we cannot allow old memories of good times to prevent us from having- and more importantly, enjoying- new experiences.

        So thank you, Marvel, for a childhood full of colorful superheroes, exciting battles, and Stan Lee cameos.  Thank you for all 22 films and 11 TV shows. Thank you for the excitement, the sadness, the anticipation, the shock, and the relief. Thank you for the memories.

        I can’t wait to see what comes next.