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Forget About Saving the World. The MCU is All About Family

We could unpack a lot of stuff with Avengers: Endgame, Marvel’s three-hour finale to its 11-year, 22-movie odyssey (so far). And hopefully we’ll have opportunity to do just that sometime soon—when most of you have seen it and spoilers aren’t quite as big of an issue.

But one thing that I can say about Endgame without spoilers—and one thing that surprised me a bit about the movie—was how critical family was to the movie, and how beautifully those familial relationships were manifested there.

I shouldn’t have been that shocked.

From almost the very beginning, Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has pointed to family as a primary driver for its characters: Iron Man’s Tony Stark and his complex relationship with his father. Loki’s own familial insecurity in Thor. Scott Lang’s desire to be a hero for his little girl in Ant Man. The complex family dynamics we see in Black Panther. And one of the more compelling subplots we’ve seen in some of the MCU’s later chapters is the really difficult relationship Thanos has with his own adopted daughters, Gamora and Nebula. Everywhere you turn in the MCU, we see moms and dads and kids who are either spurring our heroes on to greatness or twisting them into monsters or just … influencing them, in both good ways and bad.

I think we get an indication of the import the MCU places on family in Avengers: Age of Ultron, when Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) brings the Avengers team home to meet the wife and kids. Our suited-up heroes look a little out of place in Clint’s bucolic farmhouse, but Hawkeye looks right at home. This is his world, right here. To him, family is everything. And to those of us watching, the place looks a little like heaven. This, the movie suggests, is what the Avengers fight for—a place called home and the people who make it so.

‘Course, not everyone in the MCU has a family. The folks from the Guardians of the Galaxy flicks have either lost important family members, never had them to begin with or have, shall we say, issues with them.  (It’s not easy having a megalomaniac planet for a father, after all.) But even though they don’t have a family, each of these characters still needs one. And so they form their own.

“All any of you do is yell at each other,” an exasperated Gamora tells her cohorts in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. “You’re not friends.

“You’re right,” says the blue-skinned Drax. “We’re family.”

In Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers considers her family to be her best pal, Maria Rambeau, and her daughter Monica. Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, never had a family before she fell in with the Avengers. In Endgame, she says the friendships she formed there changed her life. “And even though they’re gone,” she says (referring to the dreaded Infinity War Snap), “I’m still trying to be better.”

Just that line suggests the power of possibility embedded within family—how the people who love us just as we are can still push us to be better. As moms and dads, that’s what we try to do with our own kids. We love them even when they draw on the kitchen cabinets or miss curfew. But we’re always teaching them not just to be loveable children, but good, responsible adults. We push them to be, in their own ways, heroes.

And our kids inspire us to do the same. We know that they’re watching us. We know that we’re their first role models—their first heroes long before they’ve ever heard of Iron Man or Captain America. And I think often, that makes us want to live up to how they first see us. How, if we’re being honest, we’d always like them to see us that way

Families are complex organisms. As beautiful as they can be, they’re made of imperfect people who do imperfect things. When I told my grown daughter—jokingly, I thought—how every parent will screw up their kids a little, she instead nodded sagely, with the full knowledge that it was true. Even great families aren’t great all the time.

But when we make the effort and put the time into our families, they can become a safe harbor for our sons and daughters, and for us, too: a place to ride out the storm, a place from which to launch into new adventures.

The Marvel movies, like families, aren’t perfect. All you need to do is look at our reviews to know that. But they get how important families are, and how critical they are in shaping the men and women we eventually become.