I have a complicated relationship with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (As complicated as something as ultimately frivolous as a movie franchise can be). I have more often than not critiqued them rather than praised them. I thought Infinity War was, to put it elegantly, a piece of shit.
Yet, I have seen almost every Marvel movie (All but Ant-man 2). I have several blog posts about these movies – more than anything other than the cultural blackhole that is Donald Trump. The simplest explanation for this is that if something is popular enough, I will eventually bang it out, even if its a long and daunting endeavor like Game of Trhones, because I feel a weird sense of obligation to participate in the dwindling monoculture. Part of it is a desire to connect with other people – to have some connecting point of reference even with my deep personal fears of being an offputting weirdo. The other part of this obligation is ego – the desire as a writer and a resident social media hot-take artist to have an opinion on what people are talking about.
And while that is the genesis of the connection, it runs deeper than that. Generationally, I grew up in an in-between point from when “nerd culture” stuff was deeply uncool and best kept a secret and when it was mainstream. (Or rather, taking nerdy stuff seriously was deeply uncool. Properties like Batman and Star Wars have always been popular). I grew up as in the nerd sphere by default by my first passions being Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Pokemon and my grade school successes being academic rather than athletic. Comic books were never part of my personal cultural nerd interests but they were always tangental. My adolescent deep dives into the secret expanded universe of Star Wars was my version of the comic book store.
In hindsight, its werid that Star Wars was my main fix when it never really belonged to my generation. The only star wars film to be released in my formative years was Revenge of the Sith (I was 10 and just starting to get into Star Wars). Harry Potter and super hero movies were the two fixes of my generation. (Iron Man came out when I was 14, but this admittedly may be the disconnect, as my generations super hero movies were pre-MCU and generally a more casual experience.)
Basically, this is all a really long way of saying that the context that I´ve watched the Marvel movies under has been pretty unusual. It has always been important enough in my interests to be appointment viewing, but never important enough that I was the target audience.
My biggest problem with the MCU is that most of them (especially post-Avengers 1) feel emotionally disingenuous. What I mean by that is during serious emotional, almost every MCU movie feels the constant need to undercut it with a joke, that almost every bit of dialogue with every main character feels constantly loaded with quips. There’s a fear of playing anything straight. Everything has to be self-aware and constantly winking at the audience. Every 3rd act of the movie has to be two giant CGI armies punching each other while the lead character (Almost always a conventially attractive white male) cracks jokes.
It was to my great surprise then that Avengers: Endgame – the sequel to the movie I disliked so much, was first one in a long time that connected with me on an emotional level. On a technical level, it is not all that much different from other MCU movies. The improvements are marginal but extremely important for my personal enjoyment. The biggest one is with what I stated above. The emotional moments were pretty much all played straight. The restraint made the jokes much, much funnier even if I suspect they weren´t all that much better written than say, Infinity War. The smaller cast for most of the movie made things feel so much less bloated and made it much easier to empathize with characters. It made the giant battle when everyone gets involved feel properly grand and large rather than just another third act battle in a movie where everyone is involved doing everything the whole time.
If I were to grade things on an ¨objective¨ scale, I wouldn´t say Endgame is that much better than the several movies that came before it. The difference is in that with the marginal improvements (and probably my lower expectations), I was able to connect in that unique theatre experience way.
What I learned in this experience is why both theatres and spoilers ultimately matter. It has nothing to do with the large screen or the surround sound. It´s the same quality that necessitates most sports fans to tune in live rather than watch it after the fact. It is why the many studies done on how spoilers are ¨actually a good thing” completely miss the point. The event movie is just the main event of the movie experience. After all, what would be the point of dissecting art if there was no one to argue with?
It´s really easy to form a narrative in your own head that people ruin everything – I´ve done so many of times, but it is for the collective, shared moments like these that are a helpful reminder that large crowds of people aren´t completely without merit.