The Big Screen Cometh
Last night, after a lot of waiting (a LOT of waiting) I finally got to sit in a cinema and watch Avengers Infinity War for myself. After all the hype. After basically a decade of waiting for all of these story lines and characters to tie together. It was one hell of a night.
Now, I get that some people just aren’t wired for superheroes movies. Or comic book movies. I really do. Particularly when it comes to the Marvel movies. They’re brightly coloured, they’re funny and they’re everywhere. They’re overloaded with CGI and incredibly well-paid actors. There’s no avoiding them when a new one arrives.
In some ways, I am reaching the point of comic book movie overload myself. Well, comic books onscreen, really. There are so many TV shows, so many other franchises chasing after what the MCU has hauled into its huge, doubtlessly Scrooge-McDuck-like bank vault. There are so many sequels. So many people telling us that their expanded universe is going to be the best. Or that we do need a Superman TV show set years before he was born, back on his home world where no one really had his abilities. There's no doubt that the quality is dipping into spandex soap opera in some places, whilst DC still tries to find the right gear to pull comfortably into the cinema fast lane.
However, for all of that, there’s also no denying I love a good Marvel movie. I love the spectacle of it all. I love the post credits scene. I love the ever-expanding scope of the worlds they’re building and I love the fact that Marvel is getting braver now. They’re beginning to trust their directors and their audiences a lot more these days. Unlike some of the other iterations of the Marvel universe, where great directors were taken to task if they didn’t follow the corporate brand of it all, the MCU seem to have finally cottoned onto the fact that their movies thrive when each production is given a chance to breathe. A chance to stretch their creative legs. Look at Black Panther or Thor Ragnarok or even Spiderman Homecoming. Hell, even Ant Man. With Infinity War, we’re beginning to see them harvest the seeds they first sowed when Robert Downey Junior appeared on our screens as Tony Stark and reset the idea of the superhero blockbuster by giving it an arch sense of wit and more grown up streak of dilemmas to cope with.
Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to review Infinity War here. There is a near infinite number of people on the internet who are going to do that today. No, what I wanted to talk about was opening night. I love the opening night of a big movie. I truly do. The atmosphere. The anticipation. The reactions in the room, after the lights have gone down.
To say I studied drama at college, I’ve drifted away from seeing a lot of theatre. Also, as a fan of comedy, I’m getting to less and less than stand-up shows these days. I think it has something to do with the London-centric gravity of those worlds. The most interesting shows always seem to land there. Either in huge stadiums or small and interesting places far from any tube station. Either which way, it turns two hours of entertainment into a weekend of travelling and some fairly steep ticket and food prices. When it comes to the movies, though, there are plenty of cinemas around here. Plenty of places where you get a brief taste of that magic. Because, all around the world, I think this spell is cast the same way. Trailers, hype and chatter. Friends waxing lyrical about the movie for months. It’s all about the speculation. The rumour mill for Infinity War has been running at full tilt pretty much since Whedon made the first Avengers movie. In fact, I think the rumour mill has been forced to set up franchises and pull 24 hour shifts to cope with the discussion over the past few months.
We ended up going to see the movie over in Leicester last night. Plans were made, times were set in hopeful stone. People left work a little earlier to allow for traffic. Whilst others rushed down motorways to get something to eat pre-screening. Then we met in the lobby and you could practically taste the buzz in the air. People clutched their tickets and their black 3D glasses. The anticipation was flowing fast and loose. People taking last minute stabs at what we were about to see before we all crowded into our screen and found our seats.
As always, on a night like that, the adverts seems to go on forever. We watch the people onscreen try to make us want shampoo or a new car or a new phone and we do our best to keep our cool and ignore our bladders. Popcorn rustles, betraying the irritation and impatience. People check their phones, trying to figure out if they need to stay during the end credits. Mates mock mates who’ve gone on about this all day. In some cases, total strangers end up sitting next to each other and talking for the first time in their lives about the fiction that’s brought them here.
Then the ads give way to trailers. The trailers give way to a reminder about cinema loyalty cards and making sure your phone is very much turned off. Then there’s a couple more ads. The people in the dark get restless. They mutter when they’re reminded about the dangers of recording the movie. Then that certificate screen comes up, the curtains pull back and the lights dim out completely.
That’s when the opening night turns electric. In that moment. The whole movie ahead of you. The adverts behind you. The people around you (hopefully) settle down. There’s a final flurry of giggles and hype before you’re off. Diving through the logos. Hearing familiar music, waiting to see where this journey chooses to start.
After that, time moves fast. Particularly when it comes to the likes of Infinity War. So much to do, so little time to do in it. As the plot moves forward, you feel the people around you get hooked. They laugh when you laugh. They gasp when you gasp. Occasionally some truly deep cut easter egg will get a reaction out of you that only a couple of others seem to understand. Those are your people. You can spot the date night couples, one having to explain to the other why certain events have caught the whole room so off guard.
With a blockbuster done right, you get the code of the three act formula as the story drives forward. You know roughly where you’re heading, but that doesn’t stop your eyes from widening or your jaw dropping a few times. Not always for the big FX stuff either. No, we’ve seen all that on our phones when a new trailer dropped. It’s normally the character moments, the revelations and twists that make us sit up a little straighter in our seats.
Around the end of act two, some people try to silently peel off for the toilets. That jumbo portion of sugar and bubbles or latest pint finally taking its toll. Plans are made onscreen. A final push of some sort. A battle. A confrontation. A desperate last attempt. We’re in for the ride now, whether we’re in 2D or 3D. We're captivated and we watch with hope and horror and humour as that fight unfolds and the FX teams go to work. We cheer, we dread, we look forward to being amazed. Those fights always play out through the classical training of myths. The hero with a troubling wound. The cheating heel. The peril. The stakes. That last minute bid to re-establish equilibrium.
After the dust has settled, loose ends are tied up or highlighted in case of sequels. We get some last jokes, some pay offs to work done nearly two hours previously. Then the credits begin to roll and the room takes a breath.
Sometimes, as with Marvel, you have time to turn from the avalanche of names onscreen and discuss the frenetic distraction you just witnessed. Other times, you’re already heading out. Walking back out into the world, knowing now just how much the trailers lied to you. Knowing just how wrong or right you’d been. In some cases, as with last night, no one discussed the movie as we went back through the cinema. There were more people queuing to get into the late night screenings and everyone from our screen seemed pretty good about not sinking any ships with their untightened lips.
During the car ride home you can’t help but get drawn into talking about the movie over and over again. It’s a last gasp of the hype that got you out the house. The final swig at the bottom of the glass, before you get home and check to see if the internet has decided this movie is too popular yet and turned the echo chamber over to the haters. Who are going to hate. The negative whiplash is never far around the corner for a popular blockbuster these days. But that’s where the big event movie will live now. In whispered debates, until most people have seen it. Hopefully locked behind the dreaded word. Spoilers. Which are going to spoil. Then it will be discussed over and over again, as the months turns into years and the sequels appear on the horizon. As the hype resets. As new characters are cast and everyone sets their eyes on the cinema website and waits to book their tickets for another trip to the land of blockbuster madness and another true piece of geek theatre.