On Avengers and loss

Don’t read this if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

I left work early to see pretty much the first possible showing for Avengers: Endgame that I could with Kerry the day it opened. I’d been waiting excitedly for the culmination of a 22-movie story arc that started back in 2008 with the original Iron Man movie. It came out around the same time that my father first told my sister and I that he had cancer. He had shielded us from the news, waiting for the school year to end, and didn’t tell us how dire the situation really was. (I only found out recently that he’d been given months to live at the time.) I’ve written already about the day we lost him and what I said to everyone at the funeral.

My father died on Ash Wednesday, about seven weeks ago, and this past weekend was Easter Sunday. My mother was in town, and the three of us remaining went to church that day, as he would’ve wanted. It was, expectedly, difficult: The point in the mass, called the intercessions, when the priest leads the congregation in praying for all the hardships in the world — including those who have died — was impossible for me to get through without crying. I clamped my eyes shut, trying to hold back tears and not start bawling in the middle of this packed, pastel-colored Manhattan mass.

What I didn’t expect, however, was to have an even stronger reaction to a movie based on comic books and cartoons I watched as a kid.

I guess some part of me should’ve realized that a movie that is ostensibly about what comes after loss — the last movie saw half of the universe’s population eradicated — and how those people left behind continue. I guess I didn’t expect the Russo brothers, the film’s directors, to deal with the subject so head-on. There’s literally a scene where Captain America is leading a therapy group for those struggling to move on, five years after losing many close loved ones and friends. The strongest beings in the universe are shown feeling supreme guilt, hopelessness, and denial about what happened. Thor looks more like me by the time Endgame takes place than the god of thunder, swilling beer and playing video games in an attempt to forget all that he’s lost.

Many of the Avengers don’t want to hear it when Ant-Man suggests there might be a way to bring back the dead, mainly because it does sound supremely ridiculous, and they don’t want to hope again. Time travel ended up being a great plot device for the Russos, as it allowed them to bring back Thanos, and I think literally every A-list actor that had ever appeared in a Marvel movie in the last 11 years. It was like a visual greatest hits of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fan service and plot at the same time.

I wasn’t prepared for how the scene when Tony Stark went back in time and spoke with his father would make me feel. That moment at the end, where he hugged him and said thank you to a father who was universally loved for what he contributed to society, broke me down. It made the inevitable conclusion, when Tony died, feel even stronger for me. But it also made the last 20 minutes of the movie extremely difficult for me to watch.

We knew Tony was going to die. Robert Downey Jr. has been playing this role for 11 years. It was time to give it up, even if the fans didn’t want him to. And when Peter Parker hugs him, and drops the respectful formality that he has for him, and just calls him “Tony,” and asks him not to go, I could hardly stop myself from openly weeping in a public movie theater. The tears were involuntary.

The funeral scene unsurprisingly prolonged the heartbreak I was feeling for these fictional characters. All I could think was how much they’d been through, and how much I’d been through in these last 11 years. I thought of my father, and how much I missed him. I thought of the family I still have here, and everyone I love. I thought that there would be good days and bad days ahead, and the bad days would show up sometimes when you least expected them, and that there was little you could do about it. (That being said, I hope by the time the Star Wars saga — something my father introduced me to — concludes later this year, I’ll feel a little stronger.)

I left the theater feeling numb, and still felt that way when I woke up the next day. It’s been about 48 hours now, and I felt fine until I started writing this. But thinking back over the film, I took solace in the many signs of hope for the future. I thought about Sam Wilson inheriting Captain America’s shield; Peter Parker returning to school; Valkyrie taking Thor’s crown and him presumably losing his gut.

I’m still kind of amazed that this film made me feel worse than any moment since I’ve left Massachusetts. I think it stands as testament to the work done by the directors, the cast (Downey Jr. put in one of the best performances I’ve seen of his), and everyone involved. But I think it also shows that I’m not as strong as I want to be, or may feel like I am sometimes. But that’s ok.

I might just wait to see the next Marvel movie a little while after opening day.

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Online writer and editor, longtime tech reporter. Past stories of mine can be found at: mikeis.online

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy

Online writer and editor, longtime tech reporter. Past stories of mine can be found at: mikeis.online

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