Decoding the invasion of Endgame

Published: May 01, 2019, 07:30 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

Spoiler alert: But haven't you already watched the Avengers' showdown?

Robert Downey Jr. as Iron man in  Avengers: Endgame. Pic/ Marvel Studios
Robert Downey Jr. as Iron man in Avengers: Endgame. Pic/ Marvel Studios

Mayank ShekharFilmmaker Ram Gopal Varma, quoting his writer-actor Neeraj Vohra, once explained to me how box-office really works.

The numbers obviously tell you how many people watched a film in a theatre. Hum Aapke Hain Koun (HAHK; 1994), starring Salman Khan, for instance, was the biggest money spinner ever in the early '90s. Hum Saath Saath Hain (1999), a film with the same hero, director, producer, genre, on the other hand, saw its audiences hugely eroded. Why? Because ticket receipts don't tell you how many of those people actually loved the film! The sequel does.

You only have to check out Avengers: Endgame's opening weekend collections in India--R157 crore--for jaws to drop, given a 66.7 per cent jump from the prequel, Avengers: Infinity War, that had picked up an already whopping R94.3 crore, in three days, over roughly the same number of screens!

I watched Endgame again last night. The first time was on IMAX 3D because, as Thanos would argue, it was inevitable. The second time, on regular 3D, to figure what the fuss is about. Between the two, like many others, I continued to loathe the damn 3D glasses that dim the screen toward half-blindness, although the experience wasn't half as terrible as it used to be over a decade ago, when every other Hollywood film, regardless of genre, came with filthy kaala chashmas.

IMAX, though? More of them across the world will be the future/saviour of film, my friend--the gigantic screen as a god-like shrine to submit oneself to, a sound and light show that Netflix will find impossible to match. Virtual Reality, viewed on individual headsets, of course, is even more immersive. But then, just because takeaways exist doesn't mean you stop going to restaurants, right? Right.

And, well, who's seen the future. We're in 2019 still, wholly wrapped inside the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that, over 22 films (picking up over $18 billion), collectively cross-promoting/starring separate superheroes, did not just inspire similar multiverses, but in fact, nearly 'Marvelized' the way movies are watched--as both a continuing and parallel series, pretty much always with a new picture playing at a theatre near you, with a growing captive audience that, of course, shows up all at once, for the $1.2 billion ticket weekend, for the final showdown!

The first Iron Man premiered in 2008, around which time a kid who was eight, is already 19, having perpetually spent the crucial years of his pop-cultural osmosis oscillating between scores and scores of super-characters that would define his nostalgia forever. Job's done. The world's united.

But why are the kids in the back row of my theatre pissing the hell out of me, through the first half of Endgame--kicking my seat, yelling, chattering? Maybe because I have rarely been in such helpless company, outside of flights where gods of aviation ordain that a few unfortunates are always placed on seats next to yappy kids/infants.

With DC's The Dark Knight, which came out the same year as Marvel's Iron Man, director Christopher Nolan plucked Batman and Joker out of the comic space and into the brooding graphic-novel territory, full of text, and dystopian subtext, drawing in adults, who had grown up on the characters. Pre-interval Endgame is similarly gloomy, what with half the universe's species destroyed.

Thanos, the ethnicity-blind cleanser of races is a strange equivalent of Hitler. The grey plaques for the dead certainly seemed (at least to me) a bit like the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. The act of rescuing the planets itself, retrieving the infinity stones, depends on a 'time heist' that involves Tony Stark (Iron Man) devising an inter-temporal GPS, spouting mumbo-jumbo like EPR paradox, Deutsch proposition, trashing time-honoured traditions of time-travel in movies such as Back To The Future, etc.

Or, as Bruce Banner (Hulk) puts it, "If you travel back into your own past, that destination becomes your future, and your former present becomes the past, which can't now be changed by your new future."

Excuse me? That explains kids bajaoing my back, while adults, packing the hall, perhaps patiently scratch their heads as well, although with a surety that they're not being spoon-fed.

And, then, both the young and the old, almost in concert, whistle, hoot, as their favourite Marvel superheroes begin to invade the screen over an overstuffed blast-fest that MCU intrinsically is.

I suspect this is true for theatres--whether in Birmingham, Beijing, Boston or Bhatinda. The film HAHK is often credited with bringing Hindi middle-class audiences (wholly a video generation in the '80s) back into theatres. As did Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1989) before, and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) after, heralding a fresh star-system in Bollywood that continued unabated for decades after.

The current global success of Hollywood can be attributed to them replacing their own star system simply with super-heroes and gigantic spectacle, given assured universal appeal. I partly agree.

Have to say, it's still the gravitas that Robert Downey Jr brought to a lightweight franchise that ultimately makes Avengers, or the Endgame, what it is. Will miss him the most.

Does anybody else think that with age, RDJ's face appears to be merging with Al Pacino's? Just saying.

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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