Avengers: Endgame

Of course these movies mean something to me. Back when I was still rating them with stars, I tossed 'em out like candy, and I've talked at great length about which ones helped me along my healing process. I have to finish this decade-plus of narrative, and my entire body of film criticism, with the assertion that I'm not made of freakin' stone--but all I can take from my reaction is the knowledge that Evans' Captain America means a lot more to me than Downey's Iron Man does; that there are particular entries in this serial that will always speak to me, and I will always resent their association with the entries that don't. Those connections won't mean the same thing to you. I left this film hoping that James Gunn gets to exact some oblique revenge with Vol. 3, just completely ignores everything that Endgame tries to force upon his Guardians. But that wouldn't be his revenge, that would be mine. What I'm saying is that I understand everything that you want here, the conclusion and the culmination that we were all promised--and furthermore, I understand that we won't be able to hear all of the same notes. But there's a seam in that mindset, and I saw it straightaway: I didn't mean to bark-laugh when the pre-credits sequence reintroduced us to the Great Dustening, but I think all the time we've spent with Infinity War has taught the lowly viewership about how we, Marvel and the Russos view death + the snows of yesteryear. The idea that we're not supposed to laugh at such an obvious sight gag--one that absolutely killed in Ant-Man and the Wasp!--speaks to a division between intent, execution and audience. Maybe I'm the seam here. But two characters fight over which one will sacrifice themselves and it turns into a slapstick routine; Buster Keaton meets Alphonse and Gaston. Come on, guys. Seriously. You can't see it?

Here, the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes the often-mocked credo of the comic book, "death is never permanent," and finds a concept more realistic, more grounded, more affecting--"sometimes people stay dead"--without ever once considering this as an equally ridiculous notion. The Russos don't find much interest in the implications of this scenario--like in their last two War pictures, they only expect you to be devastated by them. But this time, we're talking about a tragedy beyond what could possibly be commemorated through memorial sites. It would land somewhere closer to mass suicide and total infrastructural collapse--and where Endgame is concerned, there are no tragedies, there is only Marvel. Your thoughts of past Marvel movies are the statues and memorials that last beyond death and genocide--and they're regurgitated here with a weird dispassion, a victory lap whose only statement is that these "statues" mean everything to you and absolutely nothing to us. So drink up.

Maybe that's the true expression of what Endgame calls Inevitable. Time travel was the final piece of comic book logic to enter the MCU, and there are at least a few things to take from that late addition: by the way these confrontations twist through plotlines and paradoxes, the Thanos of Infinity War remains forever victorious--I guess it is a separate work after all. But whatever Back to the Future had to say about revisiting familiar images at a different angle, Endgame makes it clear that any such lessons are not to be taken seriously. Is that a reflection of Endgame's refusal to see Back to Future as anything but a pop culture reference, or of the fact that there are too many images within the MCU that aren't worth remembering? For God's sake, Endgame revisits Thor: The Dark World, and I can't see any reason to do that beyond reminding you that the black sheep are still available for your... reappraisal? (I would have given anything for Edward Norton to appear in the big Star Trek VI roll call.)

But no, reappraisal can't be the prize here. If you want to talk about Iron Man, the life and death of, you might also want to talk about how he began this universe as a metaphor for the incoherence of American foreign policy--and if his great sacrifice, his turn with the Infinity Gauntlet, is to do exactly to them what they did to us, then maybe we should think about why we respond like this, why we mourn, why our self-awareness extends exactly as far as the Avengers roster. But we already know the answers to these questions: because they were the bad guys, because I've been watching these movies for eleven years, because I've kept the exact same hopes-and-dreams through that same period of time, and there's nothing left to reconsider.

***

This concludes my Letterboxd diary, and my career as a film critic. Thank you for reading.

A few acknowledgments:

To Bill Chambers, who changed his mind and took a chance on me some thirteen years ago, who taught me plenty and gave me some of the most exciting experiences that a young film writer could have. I can talk all I want about what I did and will do after Film Freak Central. But all of that work, the fact that you're reading it, and the possibility that it contains even a trace of coherent prose--none of it would be here without him. End of story.

To Sean Burns, once a byline I admired, suddenly thereafter a confidante-for-life--someone who, at high risk to himself, fought for my sake against a hostile PR agency when they blackballed me from preview screenings. Then he fought against me, for the sake of my work, the first time I decided to quit this silly business. And he's still there, man--he's still fighting, and he still understands.

To Walter Chaw, who encouraged me, as he has encouraged so many, to think beyond, to educate myself if I wanted that context, to consider perspectives outside of myself. He gave me a dressing-down for putting Iron Man 2 on my Top 10 that year, I'm here to tell you eight-and-a-half years later that he was right the whole time, goddamn it.

To Brandie Posey, whose artistry and ethic will always be the stuff of legend. For all the time that's passed, for all the kindness and goodwill I've felt from her heart, I'm still honored and astounded that she gives me the time of day. Friendship with a superhero, man--nothing beats it.

To Jason Harris, who always gave me black-hearted, day-brightening commentary about whatever bullshit I just said; whose sarcastic super-cool rivalry couldn't hide a shared affection, or the demand for intellectual rigor that always prompted me to raise my own standards.

To Ally Iseman, who taught me that it was possible to be more expressive and more compassionate, to talk freely when I needed to talk, to find comfort in the familiar refrain: I love you, buddy.

To Sarah Jane Remmler, my sister, then now and always, standing tall from the other side of the world and making up for the time we both lost.

To Rob Rehner, right-off-the-bat cool guy, that fellow with whom I shared several languages--and he still uses them all to teach and learn, to help me reckon with the stuff I didn't understand.

To Kristy Fiore, who knew how to bring me up, talk me through, and help me understand the conclusions that I needed to make.

To Matt Hingstman, my old pal Lank, whose wavelength I am grateful to hear, whose willingness to challenge and engage my most self-indulgent paragraphs of media theory I am grateful to know.

To the other people whose lives and work I encountered through Letterboxd. To aleph null, unfailingly kind, whose approach to media, theology and media-theology I'm finding ever more essential. To Logan Kenny, as emotionally honest as any writer you'll ever find. To pd187, the preeminent postmodern artist on this website.

To the readers who have jumpstarted a discussion or dropped a kind word through FFC and Letterboxd into today: Simon Fallaha, Jer Fairall, FreonTrip, and the many others who have come and gone.

Thank you.

And it's four o'clock in the morning, yeah, the people have gone away
You and your mind and Lake Shore Drive
Tomorrow is another day
And the sun shines fine in the mornin' time
Tomorrow is another day
But it's okay

Ain't no road just like it, anywhere I've found
Runnin' south on Lake Shore Drive, headed into town
I'm slippin' on by on LSD, skippin' on by on LSD, I'm trippin' on by on LSD
Friday night, trouble-bound

End.
July 5, 2013 - April 26, 2019