Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame ★★½

As I was driving home from seeing Avengers: Endgame I was passed by someone I recognized as a co-worker. On the back of his car was an “infowars.com” bumper sticker, and I wondered if he talks about fluoride turning frogs gay and reptilian humanoids drinking the pineal glands of newborn infants with the other bus mechanics. I imagine that would be a little bit embarrassing to actually converse about, almost as embarrassing as I might feel when discussing superhero movies at work. But why should I feel ashamed of it? When people I work with talk about movies, it’s never about Barry Jenkins’ latest rumination on the trials and tribulations of Black America or what won the Palme d’Or that year. No, it’s always capeshit, and when they talk about it they usually don’t say anything beyond whether they liked it or not. I never hear if they can see parallels to current international politics in Iron Man’s authoritarian leanings or the Malthusian roots of Thanos’ murderous motives. It’s more “I liked it when character X fought character Y, and character Z made a quip that amused me.”

Really, there’s no harm in that. These movies do have some degree of political and philosophical subtext, but they aren’t rich pieces of illustrated literature that warrant some voluminous dissection. Most people who have followed along with Kevin Feige’s grand-sweeping film empire have done so not to expand their realm of experience and perception but to get their dose of mindless spectacle. The reason why it’s embarrassing for me to talk about these films in any serious way is because it says a lot of a person who would sit three hours for something they obviously dislike. I could have rewatched Barry Lyndon or La Dolce Vita, but any self-respect I might have had is out the window after willingly subjecting myself to it all knowing full well I'm probably going to dislike it. It’s amazing also that general audiences can get through the first hour alone with its glacial pace and weepy dreariness. Just like the first two episodes of the final season of “Game of Thrones” it is comprised of people standing around and droopily talking to each other about how hopeless everything is, then the weepy music perks up when all the people you forgot were still alive meet each other again. Huzzah, m'lady!

I would argue this sort of dynamic works well for HBO’s flagship fantasy series because a) there’s a palpable mise-en-scène while the endless glut of characters don’t just unceremoniously emerge and disappear from the background like whack-a-mole, and b) the show is comprised of hour long episodes so the start/stop momentum of broader narrative arcs is excusable. I think I might have really enjoyed the Marvel "Cinematic" Universe if it had stayed where it belongs: on television. When it slows down it’s pure tedium, and when it speeds up it’s like a cartoon chipmunk hitting me in the nuts with a clown hammer. I could see myself loving it if it were a farce, but the tone is entirely dependent on which character inhabits the frame. It doesn’t seem that bad while watching because we’re conditioned to accept this scattershot melee of ideas after 20 movies of Ritalin-snorting chaos. Granted, it's a tighter wrapped package than the new Star Wars or the live-action Disney remakes, but that's a pretty low bar in the first place.

What we're left here with is space-"Bonanza". Broadly painted American ideals like faith in authoritarian power structures, "the good guys have the greater good at heart", a nuclear family is the most fulfilling ideal possible, etc. are the implied hope of all character arcs. Then there's a checklist of one-off progressive ideals - the movie's only gay character is casually accepted in conversation during his lone scene, a white man relinquishes his power and privilege to a black woman, and, despite 85% of the action occurring between buff, Caucasian dudes, there's that one sequence where every female character happens to be on screen together. "You go girls! Even you, jade vagina-egg-peddling Iron Woman!" None of these shoe-horned, faux-gressive add-ons are inherently bad, their presence just seems so ham-fisted since it's obviously an afterthought and entirely beside the point. Well, these are all totally different issues that could be unpacked at a different time, but that's what I mean when I talk about a clown hammer to my nuts.

Maybe I should be thankful that a major studio has the audacity to test the limits of good faith with its audience. Maybe I should be thankful that this is (hopefully) the consummate end of another era of blockbuster bombast. I'm still bitter that this movie eats up box office receipts while independent cinema languishes in obscurity in failing art-houses barely populated by retirees and the idle intelligentsia. "But movies like this are HELPING those small markets" blah blah blah. Ask Kansas City's historic Tivoli theater about how much help the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been for them. That's right, you can't because they closed, and there's no time traveling deus ex machina to resurrect that one.

In conclusion, I'm embarrassed I saw this movie, and one of my co-workers thinks that Sandy Hook was a hoax.

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