If you could have collected the sighs of satisfaction emanating from movie theatres and home TV rooms this past weekend, they would have been as loud as thunder.
We collectively attained peak movies and peak TV in the same time frame, as stories years in the telling reached thrilling climaxes: Avengers: Endgame and the “Battle of Winterfell” episode of Game of Thrones. It bodes well for an entertainment industry that has felt under siege by the advancements of digital technology.
Avengers: Endgame is the 22nd and final film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Infinity Saga, which began with Iron Man in 2008. Endgame also concludes the epochal battle for survival — MCU superheroes vs. supervillain Thanos — that began with last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, which ended with one of the biggest cliffhangers in movie history.
Endgame brought the Marvel fan base out like nobody’s business: a $ 1.2-billion (U.S.) take at the global box office, including $ 350 million in the U.S. and Canada alone. These are figures never before witnessed for an opening weekend and not likely to be seen again soon, if ever. So much for predictions of the death of theatrical movie-going, brought on by Netflix and other streaming services.
People really, really wanted to know what happened after omnipotent Thanos snapped his fingers and killed half of the universe’s life-forms, and they bought a record-breaking number of movie tickets to find out.
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Game of Thrones, meanwhile, has been busy setting its own viewership records: 17.4 million people saw the April 14 premiere of the concluding Season 8 of the hit HBO show about scheming humans and marauding zombies.
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Sunday night’s third chapter of the six-part series finale brought the much-anticipated Battle of Winterfell segment, where the undead White Walker zombie hordes led by the enigmatic Night King finally engaged in battle with the living warriors and backstabbers who have been anticipating their arrival since GoT arrived on small screens in 2011.
The episode was titled “The Long Night,” a reference both to the prolonged bloody battle and to the murkiness of the scenes overseen by two GoT veterans: director Miguel Sapochnik and cinematographer Fabian Wagner. Puzzled watchers took to the Twitterverse to complain about how hard it was to follow the action, but fans of independent film and its unclear shakycam esthetic could have given them an answer: Welcome to every indie film, ever!
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Ultimately, MCU and GoT aficionados both got satisfying resolutions, even if they weren’t exactly the resolutions all of them had craved — every such endeavour has its Monday morning quarterbacks, as Twitter can attest.
But what was most striking about the confluence of this past weekend’s record-setting entertainment spectacles was how both mass media events attested to the everlasting value of storytelling, at a time when it sometimes seems as if there are no stories left worth telling.
People still want to engage with great yarns spun with compelling characters, even as attention spans fade and screens shrink to the size of smartphones.
It’s a fact that Robert Redford points out every year at the Sundance Film Festival, which always has some sort of “Power of Story” theme going. Redford knows, having been an actor, director and producer for decades, that nothing succeeds like a tale well told.
It’s a truism that we all sometimes forget, but which this past weekend brought to the fore with record-shattering reminders. The real trick is finding more great stories.
Peter Howell is the Star’s movie critic based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @peterhowellfilm