Growing up as an only child, I lived in a house with an alcoholic who did not spare the rod when he got his load on. In the relative safety of my bedroom I would escape into a world of comics.
Perhaps the idea that there were heroes in the world making the wrong things right gave me some hope to hang my hat on. I never thought these heroes were real – though often I wished they were – but they helped me believe in the possibility of good triumphing over evil.
My favorite characters were Captain America and The Avengers. Anyone who knows me well might be surprised by this. I’m no believer in American exceptionalism, and my personality along with my sense of humor might seem ill-suited to the corniest character and the straightest of straight arrows that Cap was the embodiment of. It may have just been his inherent, unshakable decency that made him my favorite. There was a kindness in him, and a sadness too. Cap was a man out of time. A guy from the 40’s who woke up one day in the modern world never knowing where he fit in. I could relate to that last part.
As I got older and became a man, I guess you could say I put away such childish things as superheroes. I became a huge movie buff, especially for strong, adult-oriented dramas.
But then one day the “childish things” came back. Suddenly super-hero movies were en vogue. It seemed novel to me, and the young boy I used to be was cheered by it. While on their face, super-hero movies are inherently silly, there was proud nostalgia in seeing first-rate productions of characters who sustained me throughout a difficult childhood. And while I may be a movie snob, I’m not so big a snob that I can’t appreciate a well done costumed hero flick.
When I heard that the latest and final Avengers film, Endgame, was going to be three hours long I was not encouraged.
Though the reviews for this final installment were off the charts, I still entered the movie house with measured expectations. I’m no easy piece when it comes to comic book movies, but when they’re good, I don’t mind saying I have a special place in my heart for them.
And some of them are good. The first Avengers movie, Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man, the first Iron Man, and several others were a lot of fun. A handful were even better than that. Here I’m thinking Logan, Black Panther, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy all represent the tip-top of the food chain for me.
But the previous Avengers: Infinity War had been particularly frustrating for me; too many characters, too much CGI (to no great effect), and most irritatingly the “heartbreaking” finale where half of the characters die.
But they weren’t dead. Two of the heroes that “died” were Spider-Man and Black Panther, and they had stand alone sequels to make. All the tragedy that ensued had meant nothing, because there was nothing at stake.
The opening sequence of the final Avengers, with Hawkeye’s family disappearing, was fabulous, and I admired how it took the time to show the characters adjusting to the new world Thanos had left them. But even so, the first two hours felt protracted and slow-going. I didn’t have a major problem with the time travel aspect, which was no more nonsensical than in any other movie (several of which are amusingly name-checked), so I was able to suspend my disbelief.
My major issues began with the caper portion of the film, with the remaining characters going back in time in an effort to undo what Thanos had done to the planet. This part of the movie got long. Real long. Shift in seat long. My mood was about to drop.
And then it happened.
All the excessive set-up was put to the side and the heroes finally turned their attention to the battle the film had spent so much (too much time) bringing forward.
And it was terrific.
I think all of us would like to believe that when things are at their worst, we would be at our best. The truth is, we often fall short of that. But it is something to aspire to, and these characters from my youth represent that. Finally, after much preamble, they got to be their best. They got to be courageous, fierce, and selfless.
There’s a moment in the film when, right on the brink of defeat, the cavalry arrives; Cap, Thor, and Iron Man are no longer alone. All the characters line up behind the good captain, who is weary, and withered. He takes in the sight of his friends returning to his side. A deep sigh leaves his bleeding mouth, and then he speaks two words, the last of which escapes his lips not as a yell, or a battle cry, but as statement of purpose; spoken just above a hush, through gritted teeth:
At that moment a chill ran up my spine. The ten-year-old boy hidden away in his room, reading his comics, leaving the dark things on the other side of his bedroom door was summoned. And it was exhilarating. I didn’t expect the emotion it brought forward. The flutter in my chest, and the wetting of my eye.
I had to catch my breath.
It took a long time to get there – yes, a little too long – but when all seemed to be lost, this massive series of blockbusters so prone to excess finally found it. That thing that I’d been waiting for and wishing for, and had all but given up on.
And look — in these serious times we lives in, our days often are full of darkness. Goodness and decency seem in short supply. But watching these heroes at their best, I forgot about that and escaped, just like I did as a child reading my comics. Once again those dark things were outside my door. I believed in goodness for a moment. I believed in decency. I believed in heroes.
My god, how good it felt.