I’ve had some cinematic experiences that have stayed with me. Not just the quality of the film itself, but the entirety of the visit and the effect it had on me. I wept openly in a critic’s screening of Good Will Hunting. I rippled with nostalgic awe watching the re-release of Star Wars on the big screen with old friends. I saw Goodfellas at a midnight screening in Manhattan with my best mate. I came out of watching The Matrix into dazzlingly blue sky and startling sunshine in the alien-like quality of a New Jersey day, which made me wonder if I was actually in a simulated environment. But watching Avengers: Endgame on a Sunday morning is easily the most incredible movie experience I have ever had.
Initially, we hadn’t booked any tickets for the film – it was on everywhere, so we thought we’d be able to see it fairly easily – but in the end decided we should see it as soon as we can to avoid spoilers (which was an excellent decision). We had gift vouchers for Vue cinemas but for some reason you can’t use them to book seats in advance, so we had to hope that we could get tickets on the day. This meant getting up at 6:30am on a Sunday morning to go to Islington for the first screening at 8:25am (a journey which entailed going through London Bridge train station, and thus walking in the opposite direction from the hordes of marathon runners taking the train out to the start of the run in Greenwich, making it even more surreal).
When we arrived at the cinema, the doors were still locked; there were already a few people waiting – more and more would arrive to wait. And wait. And wait. The doors to the building wouldn’t open until 10 minutes before the programme was due to begin, and it was a mad rush to get to the ticket counter. I ran up the stairs and was the second in line, which was good, until the bloke in front took ages to buy his tickets for a screening LATER IN THE DAY and took ages to do so and then for the ticket machine to run out of paper. I thought the fates were playing cruel tricks with us …
Fortunately, the gods of cinema were smiling and we were able to purchase our tickets, visit the loo prior to the 3.5 hours sat in the cinema, and sit down to the most profound silver screen experience in all my days of being entranced by moving pictures in a dark auditorium.
At the end of my notes on Avengers: Infinity War, I was worried about the filmmakers sticking the landing with Avengers: Endgame. I did not have to worry – my expectations were satisfied and the story completed in the most amazing way. The film did not feel like 3 hours – the time seemed to fly past, even with the deliberate pacing of the first section. Much speculation was made over how events of the first film would be undone, but what wasn’t speculated on was the fact that ‘The Snap’ would have a lasting effect – after the opening scene showing Clint Barton at the time of The Snap, we’re moved to Five Years Later. I was not expecting that, nor was I expecting so much to have changed, and for this to have a significant impact on the world and the characters.
Despite the weight of all this (such as PTSD Thor), the film is very funny, and has a blast with the fan service of the time heist section, acting as wonderful jaunt around the previous films, as well as providing some tender moments as well. That’s an amazing balance to pull off, especially leading into the biggest fight scene in the MCU. In the screening we were in, when I saw Mjolnir start to slowly lift off the ground, I smiled as I knew what was going to happen next. But the audience gasped in shock – it was an electrifying moment of shared immersion in a world, and I’ve never heard anything like it. Easily one of the great bits in the MCU, only to be topped by the next bit: Cap, all alone on the battlefield, facing Thanos and his army, before hearing, ‘On your left’ and the opening of the portals. (Long-time listeners to the Empire podcast will be aware of the ‘Portals’ refrain, and it’s quite true – one of the truly great pieces of cinema.) I get a shiver of delight just remembering it.
After the fighting was when the tears came – not sad tears, because I really don’t care that Tony Stark is gone (I have nothing but admiration for Robert Downey Jr taking a chance on the character and making him something that led the MCU, but I’ve had enough of Tony Stark and he was taking over everything, so I’m glad that we can move on from that), although there were some in seeing the reactions of Peter Parker and Pepper Potts (I don’t think they allowed anyone without an alliterative name show emotion).
No, my tears were of happiness – I blubbed for most of the end of the movie through the cathartic joy of the existence of this film, the journey that we’ve gone on with the characters, the fact that all the actors were there on the screen together (the funeral scene was happy tears); even the credits with the main characters getting special credits made me sob. Is it a perfect film? No – Black Widow, as the main (and for long time only) female Avenger, deserved better than her fate here; the female Avengers lining up on the battlefield was a great moment of showing the range of Marvel’s female superheroes, but it did feel a little false based on the male-centric dominance of the MCU lead superheroes. However, these cannot prevent my total and utter enjoyment of this movie.
I knew there wasn’t a post-credit scene but I waited for the credits until the end to compose myself. I was a mess, but in a good way – it was an overwhelming maelstrom of emotions having witnessed the culmination of an epic story, using the adventures and characters I’d read for so long, turned into an event that made such a huge impact on the world. With the announcement shortly after that the opening weekend was over $1 billion, it seemed that the entirety of the world had gone to see the film on opening weekend; part of this was to see the final chapter in the story, but part of it was also to avoid spoilers. Was there any film that was so sensitive to spoilers? Everyone wanted to talk about it – I can’t remember the last time when the filmmakers had to announce that they would be doing spoiler discussions a few weeks after a film; it was crazy. Everyone wanted to talk about it, to discuss the secrets of this rare moment in pop culture.
Coming out of the screen afterwards, we were still buzzing and my emotions were so close to the surface whenever I remembered certain scenes and dramatic beats – we would discuss them, away from ears of people who hadn’t seen the film, trying to absorb all that happened. As I said in the opening paragraph, I’ve never had such an emotional response to a film in all my years – I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and so have lost the veneer of ‘cool’ that male cinema goers must enshrine themselves with or because I am more in touch with my feelings, but I was pinballing between emotional states for the rest of the day. Sat in a Franco Manca having a nice pizza or walking along the canal in a slight daze, I was still overwhelmed and buzzed and drained and elated. It was quite the sensation, something that can never be recaptured. I have watched Avengers: Endgame again (of course I have; I could watch it again and again) but it was never going to match that exhilarating first time; it never could. But that first time was so amazing, it really doesn’t matter …