[Editor’s note: The following post contains spoilers about the ending of “Avengers: Endgame.”]
Why was I asked to contribute some words about the release of “Avengers: Endgame”? What is there I could possibly contribute to the discourse surrounding this film that has taken over culture for the last week? I am not a critic, nor do I have any particular insight to this type of film that would make my opinion stand out above all others.
Well, sort of. Full disclosure: “Avengers: Endgame,” like all Marvel movies is distributed by Disney, for whom I worked on the screenplay of “Christopher Robin” from 2015-2018. So while I know nothing about the inner workings of Marvel, I do know a fair amount of the production and marketing of Walt Disney Studios movies. But also: I know this as a fan. I love Disney movies, Disney theme parks, and Disney clamshell VHS tapes. So unlike (apparently) a lot of people, I actively root for Disney’s success. I am really intrigued that Disney bought Fox. I am eager to see how many of the top 10 grossing films of the year Disney puts out. I have a lot of friends there at the executive and producer level, and I want the best for them.
Also, I would like to see “Avengers: Endgame” win best picture at the 2020 Oscars. Not because I think there won’t be some Q4 movie with artistic merit and inherent filmmaking quality irrefutably higher. (Or, irrefutably lower but likely to win anyway.) I want this because “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” achieved this in 2004, and there has simply been no other accomplishment in the art (yes, it is an art) of blockbuster studio filmmaking since then that could justifiably warrant such an honor.
This is no doubt a notion that will cause much eye-rolling, just as the celebration of the unprecedented financial dominance for “Endgame” has done. But to dismiss this as a reality is, to me, no different than being a person who, still in the spring of 2019, says “superhero movies boo,” and stubbornly refuses to engage with the absolute fact that we live in a world where the Avengers teaming up one final time — on the same weekend as the Battle of Winterfell — is more culturally relevant, exciting and important than the World Series and Superbowl combined. If people haven’t accepted this by now, they are free to remain obstinate, I guess.
I, for one, am thrilled to look ahead to a future where the NFL no longer exists and serious analysis of Star Wars, Marvel and whatever the next “Game of Thrones” might be takes a seat at the cultural table once reserved for the fading era when full grown adults would pore over sports statistics and post-game analysis. (My DP Sean Price Williams was once asked if he ever was into sports. His answer echoes in me always: “Yeah, when I was a kid. Before I discovered important things. Like movies and comic books.”)
What was once “nerd” culture is now the sole remaining representation of anything resembling a monoculture. I was mercilessly picked on and mocked in middle and high school for wearing X-Men shirts, reading Nintendo Power instead of Sports Illustrated while refusing to participate in gym class, and carrying action figures around in my backpack. So when I see the heroes whose adventures I began obsessively following circa 1992 (I was always a Make Mine Marvel kid) taking center stage in American culture, I know what it must feel like to have bought Apple stock in the mid-1990s. In a New York Times discussion that was published after I started writing this piece, Aisha Harris puts it bluntly: “I think that it’s good that ‘nerds’ have their day now. Things that people used to get made fun of for 20, 30 years ago now everyone loves and accepts that it’s cool.”
What this points to is a sort of mobius strip in which somebody like myself, who rejected and decried “popular” things as a necessary act of adolescent rebellion, have seen a reversal, wherein the things I hated have declined in popularity and the things losers like myself embraced have become the mainstream standard. Now, it’s the ones who once had their tastes validated unquestioned standing up and bemoaning their present marginalization. This displeases them. I suppose this is a more fun position to take when you are 14.
It’s taken us a long time to arrive at this “endgame.” I think back to the seismic year of 2002, when the five-year cycle of sci-fi/fantasy that had been brewing (starting, really, in 1997 with the “Star Wars” re-releases, and rolling through “The Matrix,” “The Phantom Menace,” the first “X-Men” movie and the dueling kickoffs in 2001 of the “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” franchises) culminated with “Spider-Man” and “Attack of the Clones” in May and “Chamber of Secrets” and “The Two Towers” in November and December. Franchise starters or continuations all, they set the stage for the replenishing systems of incredibly diverse variations on these genres. Because, really, those four movies have next to nothing in common in terms of setting, tone or aesthetics.
When people dismissively bemoan “the state of things” culturally and use Marvel/Disney dominance as their primary target, all I can see is a square, flat-topped father drinking a beer in a barca lounger while the game is on, telling his son to quit playing guitar/painting/writing/reading comic books/daydreaming and get a real job. It’s hard for me to empathize with the person who feels lost in a world where the biggest show in the history of television stars dragons and the biggest moment in the biggest movie of the year (and possibly all time) involves Mjolnir the Asgardian hammer, whose name I learned how to pronounce when I was nine.
There are countless athletes and Olympians whose names I have no interest in learning. But why be so negative about the entertainment that is fully culturally dominant and very pleasurable to millions? This is being a bully, slamming me into a metaphorical locker and screaming “nerd.” Ultimately, I couldn’t care less what people want to spend their time watching (so long as I am not asked to participate) and would like everybody else to feel the same. Isn’t that the freedom that Tony Stark died for?
Alex Ross Perry is an American film director, screenwriter, and actor. He most recently wrote, directed, and produced the Elisabeth Moss-starring punk rock drama “Her Smell,” which is currently in theaters.