AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Chemically unassisted sleep is, as a rule, challenging for me. It is the healthy, more reliable path by which to arrive at REM sleep (which everyone assures me is very important) but that sleeping state is frequently defined by vivid dreams of depravity and inadequacy. And the long stretches between filled with recirculating snippets of whatever pop lyrics the day has carried to me; the ongoing challenges of working with the public and the sorrows that inevitably brings; whether or not I've made up my mind about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That last one may eventually bear fruit: I was contacted recently, under the aegis of the Desk of the Editor, by a Humboldt State University journalism student seeking an interview regarding said universe and its ongoing success. I suppose I shouldn't name that student here but should probably seek my own interview to shore up my limited understanding of journalistic ethics.
Anyway, I've deflected thus far. Partially because I can't imagine the conversation producing any insight, at least not on my part, more likely producing a portrait of a thick-tongued bumbler with no idea of his place within the cultural landscape. And the request made me realize I've been ambivalent about all this MCU business, at least in part because I've been avoiding actually parsing my thoughts on it.
I've seen and reviewed the greater part (almost all? I haven't been keeping track) of the 22 or however many "Infinity Saga" movies the juggernaut has churned out since 2008, and my comments have mostly been charged with the sometimes unintentional snark and cynicism I now see I have once again deployed in this very sentence. I've been frustrated from the outset, before I even realized the Machiavellian reach of the master-plan, by the mass-production of the Marvel model, the obvious gearing up to produce a global commodity, rather than art or even entertainment. It feels and has felt like a convenient by-product that kids will fall in love with these movies, and the heroes within them, when the real motive is to lift as much cash as possible from the pockets of the parents of those kids. I'll grant that many of the parents and other adults love this stuff, too.
And so here I find myself again railing against these movies as part of a business model I dislike and see as a corruption of a medium I hold dear. But is that fair? Am I actually seeing the movies for their own merits, or simply dismissing them as part of system I am loathe to support? I think the answer to both questions is yes: As much as I genuinely thrill at the more rousing moments and enjoy the main-cast banter, I've never felt truly invested in any of the characters, nor fully immersed in the world they inhabit. Is that my fault or that of the movies? Mine, clearly, but try as I might I can't change the facts.
And so we arrive at Avengers: Endgame, the final entry in the current MCU cycle and apparently our culture's great watershed moment. It's a vast and multi-faceted thing, the product of the labors of hundreds (thousands?) of technicians and artists and craftspeople, with a three-hour running time and a story that moves pretty adeptly through both time and space, that folds in tragedy and triumph with a leavening of comedy. (It has everything, a true assembling of the component parts that were integral to the movies that came before.) It is both too much and not enough. (I'm forgoing a synopsis here because a spoiler-free synopsis would basically be comprised of the title alone.)
The direction by Joe and Anthony Russo, returning, is more a master-class on project management than an example of cinema-art, but such is the nature of the thing. To have merely been able to bring the story to the screen, from an undeniably complex and nuanced screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and have it make any sense whatsoever, let alone sustain tension and excitement, is no small feat. And the performances, while they are what we have come to expect, are also compelling and committed. (Even I can get at least a little excited at seeing so many movie stars on the screen at the same time.) But the seriousness of the piece, the requisite epic climactic battle scene and the antiseptic aesthetic, while effective enough, serve more to distance than to involve. PG13. 181M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
— John J. Bennett
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— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill