Coming to terms with the fact that I absolutely missed a cultural moment
The year was 2010. My friend Manish was turning fifteen. I think. He, myself, several other fifteen year-olds, we all trekked to the local AMC and saw Iron Man 2 on his father’s dime. This was my first experience with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I don’t think I paid any attention to that particular crop of comic book movies before I sat down in that AMC, 17 dollars of Dr. Pepper and Junior Mints in hand. Unlike apparently every other boy, I didn’t grow up reading Marvel Comics, and I just had no frame of reference for these characters or why it was so important to people that they were all appearing on the screen together. People in that theater audibly gasped when a Captain America logo appeared in Iron Man 2. I think I still associated Captain America with bold-faced racist 1940s war propaganda.
That night, I got home and very half-mindedly thought that I was probably not going to watch another one of those movies. It’s been nine years, but I remember feeling that I would never want to watch another movie where Roberty Downey Jr.’s completely unlikeable rich dipshit was the protagonist. I figured that the Marvel Comic Book Movies would do fine without me and that I would do fine without the Marvel Comic Book Movies. I had missed cultural trains before, and this would be no different.
Little did I know that the Marvel Comic Book Movies would become the final cultural train to miss.
I believe I have seen three and a half of the twenty-two Marvel Comic Book Movies. There was Iron Man 2, there were both of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies (the first of which I watch not knowing it was supposed to be a part of the whole Avengers thing), and the first half of Iron Man 3, which my director at the summer camp I used to work at was able to obtain during the summer of 2013 while it was still in theaters. I managed to stick out the first half despite the Serbian subtitling and the audible laughter of an audience sometimes overpowering the film’s audio, but I got up and left when the video and audio became desynced.
I am out of the loop. I am out of the loop by my own doing, yes, but out of the loop, I remain. I didn’t go see these movies, and I’m paying the price. I’ve absorbed all of the fatigue surrounding superheroes (and I mean the superhero as a concept moreso than anything else) without getting the joy that the people who love these movies get. At least they get movies that they enjoy! I just have to wait until it’s over, or at least until some sort of new cinematic trend takes its place. I’m just an outside bystander, and from the outside, this is all very… weird.
What’s going to stick with me is how okay people seem to be with that weirdness. The brouhaha that developed out of this year’s Captain Marvel, the twenty-first film in the series, which also happened to be the first with a woman as a protagonist, is illustrative of this. That Marvel Studios/Disney were celebrated for breaking ground rather than laughed at for taking a full fucking decade to bring forward a female lead is weird as shit. They made a movie about a space wizard before they made a movie about a lady, and they had to wedge that movies in between a series of Air Force recruitment ads even to get it out. That’s weird. Even weirder is the fact that a significant number of nerds reacted to this very milquetoast movie’s existence with rage, manifest in hour-long, barely-edited google hangout rant videos or twenty-minute-long, poorly-edited rant videos featuring an avatar of an Emo Philosopher Fox or something.
That Disney went and scooped up both Marvel Studios in 2009 and 20th Century Fox in 2019 to praise at the idea of the Fantastic Four and X-Men meeting Spider-Man and Iron Man on screen rather than suspicion at the obvious monopolization of the mainstream film industry under the Disney umbrella is fucking weird! That these movies act as Trojan horses for media monopolization before they act as artifacts of the medium itself. I don’t remember before the Disney/Marvel Studios merger in 2009 ever hearing about media conglomeration from the average person who wasn’t watching like CNBC and Fox Business Channel all day. But now there’s not only an acceptance that two of the biggest companies in terms of cultural creation are going to flatten under one umbrella, but there’s a rejoicing in that act because some of the superheroes might finally meet up on the big screen.
Finally… What strikes me as perhaps the weirdest is the detached, frustrated, even fatigued attachment that fans of the franchise take to it now. The fans’ emotions building up to this last movie, at least from my vantage point, seems to be weirdly diametric – There’s the camp that will be buying the toys and t-shirts, and joyously waiting in line to get into the theater on Thursday night, yes, but there’s also a significant chunk of the fandom I’ve observed to be going through the motions, watching out of obligation more than out of anticipation. MCU fans are starting to sound like New York Jets fans, threatening not to come back for the next disappointment but too attached not to do so. Endgame, at least, will be the final film in the series, providing a much-needed finish line for fans to cross with characters they’ve come to care so much about.
Er, no wait, actually, the weirdest thing about this franchise is that it’s not going to end and everybody seems to be okay with that. I never saw Thanos’ Revenge or whatever the one that came out last year was called, but I didn’t need to. I went on social media and had the climactic scene that defined the movie replayed over and over to me through memes. The scene wherein a significant number of important and beloved characters feel themselves fade away out of existence at the hands of Thanatopsis or whoever made an incredible impact on culture last year, particularly when Spider-Man, the young, spunky character who people seemed to enjoy watching since his first appearance in whichever movie it was a few years back, faded to oblivion in his mentor’s (the alcoholic rich guy I was talking about earlier)’s arms. That must have fucking hurt, to see this new character, so full of life, so beloved, narrate his death right in front of you.
It must have also been kind of difficult to feel any finality to that knowing that there’s a Wikipedia page for a movie entitled Spider-Man: Far From Home scheduled to premiere in three months, setting up a long, probably just as never-ending arc, probably featuring the Fantastic Four and the X-Men and the Silver Surfer and all the other 200 Marvel characters, speckled with more studio acquisitions by Disney until there’s an endless well of cinematic GameMasterAnthony birthday parties for fans to line up for every three to five months until, feasibly, biology provides our bodies with the end that the movies never give us.
And for the love of Christ be cool about people bringing their kids to these movies. These movies are morality plays on the level of Goofus and Gallant mixed with explosions and bright costumes intended to sell Happy Meal toys and bedsheets. Children deserve priority treatment.
And for the other love of Christ, why didn’t they put an intermission in this four-hour movie somewhere? The amount of Aspartame in one small-size AMC Diet Coke (36 oz, $37.99, $34.99 if you have the AMC Gold Plan) will have you running to the bathroom every forty minutes if you’re lucky. If you manage to hold it ‘til the end, congratulations! Look forward to several Infinity Stones of your own during one very bloody trip to the AMC Men’s Room ($12.99 per entry, $11.99 if you have the AMC Gold Plan)because you have Kidney Cancer.