Sunday is the one year anniversary of Avengers: Endgame. People, including Lainey, have been In Their Feelings about the Avengers recently, starting earlier this month with that viral thread of audience reactions to some of Endgame’s biggest moments, and more recently with #IfTonyStarkWereInCharge trending on Twitter. We’re missing the Avengers, a situation not helped by the Black Widow-shaped hole in our schedules. We were supposed to be covering the Black Widow press tour right now, with wall to wall photos of Scarlett Johansson, Rachel Weisz, and Florence Pugh in many outfits, and a parade of interviews to pore over. But of course, it’s not happening. And more and more, it feels like that updated November release date for Black Widow is optimistic, and all the theater-bound movies are going to have to slide back again. I mean, whenever theaters reopen, will you be comfortable sitting in a room of coughing, sneezing strangers, even with reduced capacities and more space between patrons?
Endgame was engineered as the end of an era, but now it feels like the end of something much bigger than just the MCU. I don’t think the theatrical experience will die completely, and Marvel movies would be the last type of movie to vacate the theatrical space, but increasingly I feel like theater-going has fundamentally changed. It will take a while for people to feel truly comfortable in crowds again, at least until we have a widely distributed vaccine, and even then, people are rapidly adjusting to new paradigms in media consumption. We were already sliding away from the theatrical experience; just a few months ago, at the dawn of a new decade, I thought we had about five years until the paradigm shift completed and at-home viewing became the #1 way to consume movies. Now I think it might be two years. Tops.
This nostalgia isn’t just about the Avengers, it’s about what they represent within pop culture. It isn’t an exaggeration to say we might never again have an experience like Endgame, where the WHOLE WORLD went to see the same movie on the same weekend. Not only did we have a communal experience in that we all watched the same thing, but we all had that experience in communities—it’s double communal. Tiger King proves that we can all watch the same thing and share it in real time, but it lacks that extra sense memory of crowds. I vividly remember the crowd I saw Endgame with shrieking when Cap picked up the hammer, hollering when Carol showed up, and by the time the portals started opening, people were literally on their feet cheering like we were watching game seven of the World Series. And that feels further and further away, with real doubt setting in if we’ll ever have a movie experience like that again.
We miss the Avengers, sure. Over the last decade, Marvel movies have become the unofficial marker of the start of summer. We should be having a similar experience right now and we’re not, and we feel that loss pop culturally. But I think at least some of the nostalgia is driven by the latent fear that an experience like Endgame is now impossible. I saw Endgame in a theater with four hundred people. The stranger sitting next to me grabbed my arm when Sam’s voice came through Cap’s radio. She started to apologize but we ended up holding hands, gripping tighter and tighter as more portals opened. On my other side, my friend was on his feet fist-pumping like Jordan was dunking on Ewing. Everyone was screaming their heads off, feeding on the accumulated excitement of a capacity crowd. But when theaters reopen, they likely won’t sell more than 50% of tickets. We’ll sit every other seat, at least. With less immediacy of contact, can we whip ourselves into such frenzy? Or will it feel strange to look across a chasm and try to connect in a celebratory moment? There is much uncertainty, and so we cling to the one thing we do know for sure—we saw Endgame together, in packed theaters around the world, we shared in a common experience, and it f-cking rocked.