Avengers: Endgame hit movie theatres less than a month ago, and what a juggernaut it is. It spectacularly capped Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and is already climbing its way to unseat Avatar as the largest grossing movie in history.
I have no doubt Endgame will eventually make more money than Dances With Smurfs. It's the pinnacle of all technique, business savvy, and marketing that the world's largest media conglomerate can bring to bear. It also is... OK.
You see, at the end of Endgame, I felt a little betrayed. For a decade now I've been defending Marvel movies against cinema snobs. Look at the heart Iron Man shows, I'd point out. Laugh at the quirk of Doctor Strange, I'd continue. Enjoy the laughs of Thor: Ragnarock, I'd implore.
For a decade, I have been trying to make them see the value of Disney's offering. But I was addressing the tribunal of people who will only accept Tarantino's framed shots and Spielberg's masterful coordination of ridiculously complex action scenes. They squirm in their seats from the heat in the seat of their pants every time Nolan methodically deconstructs a scene down to its bare essentials. Wrapped in Kevlar chastity devices, they rejected my pleas.
I don't think they're that wrong anymore.
As the credits of Endgame rolled, I felt satisfied. I was smiling. And I knew that I'd never watch another frame again. I felt satisfied, sure, but also done. Every plot point had been closed without surprises. Every action addressed competently and in an exciting manner.
I also felt like my homework was done. I appreciated Endgame. I enjoyed the fight scenes. I briefly woke from my torpor when Captain America stands alone before the armies of Thanos, just before the Avengers... assembled. But I felt nothing.
You see, no movie is perfect. The Hateful Eight annoyed me - it's the pinnacle of self-indulgent auteurship whose delusions of competence in storytelling cannot be contained. However, it also sports some of the most astounding cinematography I've ever witnessed. Those outside scenes are just goddamn perfect. Damn you, Quentin.
Magnolia is a sprawling mess of a movie. It's too long, too complicated, too abstract except when it's not. It also is one of the most masterfully told stories I've had the privilege to enjoy.
Avengers: Engame is neither of those things. It sets its tone perfectly from the first frame: THIS IS AN EPIC TALE OF JUSTICE AGAINST INSURMOUNTABLE ODDS. And it spends the next three hours being exactly that. Without fail, without variation, without tone.
Endgame doesn't fail at anything. It also doesn't succeed anywhere. It's so soul-crushingly competent in everything it tries that it doesn't delight. It doesn't engage. It gives no sense of... marvel. Pun intended.
I read comics. I have been reading comics long enough to remember Black Panther fighting pirates in the seventies. I was there when Batman heard the Night Cries, and I witnessed Spider-Man's Torment. The Dark Knight is one of the most accomplished pieces of writing on any media.
I know the range of emotion that comic books can deliver. Watchmen is a brilliant crescendo that culminates in a gut punch of cosmic proportions. Avengers: Endgame sadly tries to be the other kind of story. The kind that gives comics a bad name.
The last decade was enjoyable. Superhero movies were in a bad place before Marvel's display of craftsmanship. There now is a genre and market for superhero flicks. There is acceptance and form around them, and this is great.
Perhaps now that Phase 3 is complete, Marvel will ease off on the reins a little, and relax their production schedules. Maybe they will take some risks and let a few directors try something like Deadpool, but not stupid.
I know, I can dream.
The last decade was enjoyable, but I haven't watched a single Marvel movie worthy of joining my collection of Indiana Jones, Godfather, or Star Wars Blu-Rays.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a fantastic machine to behold: perfectly planned, well-executed, and truly splendid in its complexity. But still, in the end, a cold, heartless machine.
And you know what? Warbird deserves better.