By Mark York
There is nothing quite like the Marvel Cinematic Universe — that is, if you ignore DC, which is generally a wise decision.
The intertwined structuring of Marvel’s films allows characters and plot points from initially independent films to coexist; an element from “Thor,” for instance, might play a role in “Iron Man 3,” even though one film does not rely on the events of the other. It is a brilliant marriage between business and artistic liberty that, by jove, actually works, providing the studio the best of both worlds: the flexibility of a television show, and the gargantuan box-office scope of cinemas. “Avengers: Endgame” represents the pinnacle of this extensive timeline, so I was obviously interested.
Though, I have a confession. Despite their significance, I am not familiar with Marvel’s films. Not to say I am a Marvel novice. I have seen glimpses of “Infinity War,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” and I sort of sat through “Black Panther” that one time my dad rented the movie as I was engrossed in an especially high stakes game of Pokemon Showdown. And of course, I too have personal attachments to these superheroes. Iron Man, Captain America, Scarlett Johansson (Spiderlady?), Wizard-Sherlock, Second-Best Spiderman, Shooty-Arrow Guy, Feathers — Feathers is my favorite — what a catalogue!
Still, my screenwriter colleagues claim I am not prepared to see “Endgame.” Concerned, they tell me, “You haven’t seen the movies,” or “You can’t name all of the Infinity Stones.” “There is no superhero called ‘Feathers,’” said another. “You are going to be so lost.”
I refused to accept such slander. As the newcomer I apparently am, I decided to provide a fresh, uninitiated point of view to this cinematic phenomenon. Thus, I got my tickets, avoided the temptatious lure of the campus black market, and saw the film.
It was immediately clear that I made a terrible mistake.
First, here was everything I thought I needed to know about “Endgame.” Thanos is a buff California Raisin who remarked one day, “Life is great — if only there was less of it.” So, he got to work, collecting six Ring Pops for his gauntlet in hopes of wiping half the population. This is a very reasonable thing to do. The Avengers — our titular group of superheroes — attempt to stop him, but after some bad math, stupid decisions and lackluster aiming, Thanos does the infamous snap and only half of our cast is left. Though I might have gotten some, let’s say, particular details wrong, it seemed to suffice. I saw “Infinity War,” now it was time to see the sequel.
But “Infinity War” and “Endgame” do not operate like typical sequels. This information is not the main course of backstory, nor is it even the appetizer — it is the waiting line. I was as prepared to properly digest this film as your goldfish is to cross the Atlantic.
I should have known, as soon as the first Avenger said the phrase ‘time travel,’ what I was getting myself into. “Endgame” became a tour of several Marvel movies past, a melting pot of several, completely out-of-context moments that serves as a love letter for fans, and a punch in the ribs for me. Suddenly, characters I thought were supposed to be dead were walking about, different versions of currently active characters were doing their own thing, and convoluted lore-building mechanics that I assume were pivotal parts of their respective movies are simply thrown into the picture like garnish. I suppose I was supposed to just go with it. Ok, so the Avengers had this issue with some giant ice cube once that is apparently an Infinity Stone, too. Ok, so the blue lady was a robot (with apparent wi-fi issues). Ok, so Wizard-Sherlock runs some sort of bald-headed time cult. Ok.
It is difficult to keep track of, to say the least. And, if you are unfamiliar with the more intimate details of several Marvel movies, but you are hoping to get the fullest experience out of this movie — stop.
Watch “Missing Link” instead, I heard it’s really good.
This movie is not for us, fellow casuals. There are huge revelations that stem from the tiniest of seeds. There are obscure little Easter eggs that define whole character arcs, leaving me with a whole bundle of characters. Who is this Peggy Carter person? What is Shooty-Arrow Guy doing killing a bunch of people, with not arrows? Is there a reason that random van pooped out Ant Man? And, most jarringly, why did Spiderlady dye her hair red? Or, did she dye it blonde? Well, it’s two different colors now and I spent ten whole minutes thinking about it, nearly missing Sunday-morning Hulk in his sweater-vest, eating fries with the utmost civility!
The point is, “Endgame” is the product of this deep cinematic universe, and in order to make the most out of it, you need to be familiar with its predecessors — its many, many predecessors.
I do not mean this to be discouraging, per se. When I saw this movie, I was accompanied by many friends, and all of them knew more about Marvel than me. This was to varying degrees, of course. While there were some who could tell you precisely the entire history of Asgard, or count all of the moles on Thanos’ left shoulder (incidentally, I heard he had half of them removed during a midlife crisis), there were others who simply ogled Tom Holland from the screen. Regardless, they had formed connections with the cinematic universe that I hadn’t, and whenever I gazed about in confusion (a very common occurrence), I saw the variety of expressions on their faces. While some looked just as puzzled as I, there were others with the widest eyes and the largest smiles. I heard the most unusual of noises too. Absolutely nothing could beat the whoopees of the audience when Captain America, in the midst of the big climatic fight, just sort of jacked Thor’s hammer. I don’t know why — did Thor write his name on it? Apparently this was a big deal.
The point is, “Endgame” is not perfect — far from it! But, in the moment, it did not matter to the fans. This was not just a normal movie to them, it was an event, it was something that happens to and around them. It was as if they were transported to a different realm — a realm entirely of this studio’s making. And that is a truly special experience that, by the looks of it, should not be turned down.
If you can, dear reader, do not make the same mistakes as I. Hold off on the “Endgame” hype. Do your research, have a little patience, maybe have a marathon or two, and it will be worth it. You can only see “Endgame” with a fresh set of eyes once, and there are no magic-store gauntlets or infinity Ring Pops that could bring that back.
Contact Mark York at mdyorkjr ‘at’ stanford.edu.