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After only its second weekend at the box office, “Avengers: Endgame” has officially surpassed the $2 billion mark in global revenue, crushing the record for the fastest film to reach that milestone. It is now the second highest-grossing movie of all time ($2.188 billion globally), passing “Titanic” in 11 days and second only to “Avatar”, which it will surely topple in weeks (or maybe even days) to come.
“Avengers: Endgame” is the culmination of 22 Marvel films produced over the last decade, beginning with “Iron Man” in 2008. Each of the films (or series of films) features different characters and their back stories in the Marvel Universe, all of them threaded together into a larger narrative that reaches its dramatic conclusion in “Endgame.”
I grew up reading Marvel comic books. I can still remember riding my bike up to the Holiday gas station in fourth grade to buy my very first comic book, which happened to be an issue of The Avengers. So I’ve been waiting for films like these and the technology to pull off the visual feast of super abilities and battle scenes that ravished my imagination as a kid through this often overlooked art form.
But even as an avid fan, I have wondered how long before the general public would grow weary of superhero films. To be honest, I didn’t expect Marvel to be able to sustain this as long as they have, or for “Endgame” to be such a colossal success. Even for people who aren’t big into superheroes, one wonders: what’s the appeal?
“Endgame” is epic on about every scale. The film brings together an eclectic group of superheroes, played by an all-star ensemble of actors. The CGI is incredible, delivering visual battle scenes that are stunning. It takes us to places unknown throughout the galaxy, even into the mind-bending realm of quantum physics and time travel. So much of it is over the top really, bordering on the ridiculous. The plotline has tons of problems, and the film is really long—just over three hours.
And yet it works, somehow. And not just for comic book fans. Here’s why I think it works, at least in part: First, because the writers and directors have succeeded in getting us to care about these characters. Especially for those of us who’ve been tracking with them over the last decade, we’ve come to know and love them. And we love the dynamics of their relationships. Their witty one-liners, their playful banter, their moments of vulnerability and compassion. We’re willing to suspend disbelief for wacky plotlines because of our investment in the characters. (Spoiler alert!) In the end, when the whole cast gathers to grieve the loss of a fallen hero, and the camera swoops through the entire ensemble, we find ourselves standing there too. We, too, grieve not only the loss of a hero but the end of something special with the dynamics of all of these actors. Marvel studios will spin out more movies in the future, no doubt. It’s way too lucrative not to! But this really is the end of something extraordinary.
The second reason I think “Endgame” works is because the real force of the film is not in the largeness of its characters and their extraordinary powers or in the cosmic battle scenes. These are entertaining for sure. But the most powerful moments in “Endgame” turn out to be the smaller, quieter and more intimate moments. The moments when we see the humanity of these characters and their relationships, and it puts us more in touch with our own humanity.
Seeing this film during Eastertide spurred reflection on the largeness of the empty tomb, the epic scale of what happened on that first Easter when the earth quaked and the stone was rolled away. I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and its cosmic, history-altering consequences. But as with “Avengers: Endgame,” I wonder if the most powerful scenes of the resurrection story come in the quieter, more intimate encounters. Jesus speaking Mary’s name in the moment of her grief at the tomb. Jesus sitting with his disciples on the beach, smiling at them as fish sizzles over the fire. Jesus looking Peter in the eyes and tenderly asking, “Do you love me?”
And I can’t help but wonder if it’s in the quieter, more quotidian moments of our own lives that Christ’s resurrection power continues to be most on display. As Easter people, perhaps we’re most heroic not when we’re thinking of God’s kingdom in the abstract or trying to “change the world,” but when we’re present to the inescapably local nature of the gospel, the intimacy and tenderness of real relationships where we daily choose, in a thousand ordinary ways, to lose our life in order to find it.
Brian Keepers is the lead pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Orange City, IA.