Endgame and that Sinking Feeling

Avengers: Endgame comes out tonight. My son asked if I wanted to see it in the theater, and I said I could wait for streaming. Many feel differently. Word on the street is that some believe the movie is a defining moment in a generation, the way Star Wars was, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

In the United States alone, Endgame is expected to bring in more than a quarter-billion dollars in its first three days, and to become “the biggest domestic debut of all time.” Seventeen AMC Theaters are running it for 72 hours straight to try to keep up with the cash waterfall. (Endgame is three hours long, so it cuts into the number of possible screenings in a given day.)

Clearly it will be one of the highest-grossing movies ever, perhaps even beating out James Cameron’s Titanic ($2.187 billion) and Avatar ($2.788 billion), and Gone with the Wind (some $3.7 billion overall since 1939, adjusted for inflation, though it is hard to compare historical gross earnings, since ticket prices have gone up, and profitability has been reported in different ways.)

A few theaters have been showing all 22 movies of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” (MCU) straight through and following them with Endgame—60 hours of nonstop viewing, except for bathroom breaks and sleep-deprivation seizures.

Those 22 previous movies have made $18.6 billion, worldwide, so far. For perspective: if you could save $100,000 each year, you would have to work almost 200,000 years to get to that figure.

I like some things about the MCU products. The character of Tony Stark, for instance, in Iron Man, because I like Robert Downey, Jr., who is the same goof in most movies. Similarly, I like the early iteration in Guardians of the Galaxy of Peter Quill/Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt, and Yondu, played by Michael Rooker, because they are less serious and righteous than other characters. (Of course, we have an Endgame because Star-Lord got too serious in Avengers: Infinity War.) Sure, Captain America has America’s interests in his priggish heart. But have you ever seen the dude read a book? Can he cook an egg? Have a drink, already.

It is also impressive how the writers and producers kept more than two dozen significant characters in front of us in Infinity War.

My weariness with the MCU franchise comes from the sameness of superhero movies, which rely on melodrama and violence, and the lack of consistency in its physical universe. Oh NO! Black Widow got punched in the jaw! I am frightened for her! Wait! A rocket ship fell on her! She is fine!

If nothing else I must cede the staggering achievement of making 23 expensive linked movies. How does one movie get made, let alone 23 as one concept? The “DC Extended Universe” has tried to pull off a similar project but met “uneven critical success,” as they say; their movies have earned less than a third of the MCU gross. Universal’s “Dark Universe” was to have stars such as Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, and Russell Crowe onboard, but it crashed on take-off.

The MCU franchise has made many people much money. It has advanced careers. What is more, Infinity War alone employed 3,300 people in its cast and crew, and no doubt legions of others in farmed-out services. Employment is good.

But the idea of sitting down to watch 23 of these movies, together or separately, makes my heart sink. Sometimes an achievement, as admirable as it might be, is kind of awful, like when those guys on YouTube dig swimming pools in the jungle with sticks, line it with raw clay they carry from a riverbank somewhere, fill it with water from many heavy jugs, and then immerse themselves in it, dirty and worn-out and proud.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.