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Chen: Marvel has saved the movies

Sophie Chen, Columnist

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Warning: This column contains spoilers for the movie “Avengers: Infinity War”

Like most people walking out of my 6:40 p.m. showing of “Avengers: Infinity War,” I was feeling a bit zombified. But while my lungs felt like I just had the wind knocked out of me, my heart stirred with something that felt a little like contentment. Around me, people were talking with a kind of solidarity that wouldn’t have suggested we had walked into that theater as complete strangers three hours ago. I guess seeing some of Earth’s greatest (fictional) heroes dissolved into the ether was quite the jarring experience.

Beyond the intensity of the movie’s ending, the widespread chatter also spoke to the reach of the Marvel universe. Many characters’ deaths hit moviegoers hard because we had been following their stories for years, their images branded into our collective consciousnesses by Disney’s pervasive marketing and merchandise campaigns.

While some have hailed the massive popularization of the Marvel universe as ruining film, I think it’s done quite the opposite.

Nowadays, we’ve all receded into our own streaming bubbles. An abundant serving platter of platforms and choices has turned us into picky consumers, often refusing to watch plotlines if they don’t strike us in just the right way. For example, I personally love the hyper-specific, anthropomorphic animated show “BoJack Horseman.” Yet, I will never watch the also hyper-specific, anthropomorphic animated show “Rick and Morty” because, frankly, I’ve never been fond of the main character’s vocal timbre. It’s grating, and, more importantly, I know I have a host of other programs to peruse.

Having myriad on-demand choices through streaming services has also robbed us of a little bit of television and cinema’s fun. Half the joy of watching a series occurs off-screen. The best moments are ones that send you searching for your friend’s equally surprised reaction or reaching for your phone so you can vent your anger through text. But when your friend is watching “Black Mirror” while you’re 55 episodes deep into “Parks and Recreation,” it just isn’t the same.

That is why the Marvel universe offers such a refreshing contemporary moviegoing experience. It’s a return to the way moviegoing used to be: where a steady release schedule created a shared cultural phenomenon that allowed everyone to experience the same stories in the same time frame. The confidence with which “Infinity War” proceeds through its complex storylines — putting the audience in medias res from the get-go — shows that Marvel believes itself to be a franchise so universal that its audience shouldn’t need an introduction to its latest characters; we should already be caught up with its supernatural gang.

And, for the most part, we are caught up. The fact that many of us can actually follow the tangle of storylines the movie juggles demonstrates that we have, in the past few years, actively subscribed to the fantastic vision the franchise is selling. We know that almost all of our friends will understand the line, “I am Groot,” and we know that we also share Bruce Banner’s secret — that he’s “always angry” — with hundreds of millions of people around the world. Soon, almost everyone in America will know what it means to say, “I don’t feel so good, Mr. Stark,” just because of all the Twitter memes that have incorporated the phrase. The franchise that occupies the next biggest proportion of our imaginations is “Star Wars,” and that saga arguably fosters more intergenerational hostility than kinship. Truly, in this day and age, Marvel is one of a kind.

So, here’s looking forward to the next Avengers movie. And the next one after that. And however many more that follow. The beauty of it all is that no matter how many Marvel movies there end up being, moviegoers will watch them with the knowledge that, across the world, millions of people are doing the same.

Sophie Chen is a Weinberg junior. She can be contacted at sophiechen2018@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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