*MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD*
It’s hard to overstate how much these films have meant to a significant portion of the population. Many of us literally grew up with these larger-than-life icons as a new pantheon of gods, not to be worshipped, but existing as a heightened form of aspirational achievement. Many of us grew up thumbing through pages of colorful comics, watching as these heroes fought fantastical battles against gods and humans alike. As a child of the 80s, only a handful of the most iconic heroes received even the most cursory glance from the mainstream, as only Superman and Batman possessed enough cache to achieve mainstream cinematic appeal. For many of us, an Avengers film was only a pipe dream, as only Spiderman on the Marvel side had enough muscle to break into the mainstream in the 90s. That all changed in 2008. I remember standing in CompUSA, a now defunct computer store, and watching the trailer for the original Iron Man movie. Even in that moment, an actual Avengers movie seemed like a near impossibility given all the moving parts involved. In addition, my favorite character in the comics, Captain America, had virtually no mainstream credibility, and had only been seen in the most ridiculous of B-Movies, with most people not having any idea who Steve Rogers was.
And now, here we sit, more than a decade later, and what we once thought impossible has happened. Marvel has not only strung together an unprecedented level of quality across 22 films, but ended the entire saga in the most fulfilling way possible. Endgame is the culmination of over 70 years of Marvel storytelling in the comics, and more than a decade in film. That such an ending could ever hope to live up to the hype seemed absurd, and yet here we are, by all accounts having likely witnessed the greatest arc of movies in history, brought to a satisfying conclusion. For this review, I need not harp on the greatness of Robert Downey, Chris Evans, or Josh Brolin and the incredible depth they brought to their characters across this entire saga. Marvel’s casting has been impeccable and remains so here.
LAST WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
It’s incredible that this movies use a mechanism I hate with a burning passion and still succeeds: Time Travel. I absolutely despise when storytellers undo having written themselves into a corner by whipping out the old time travel trope and fixing everything. I started to hate it in this film as well once I realized that was the direction things headed after the early, shocking demise of current timeline Thanos. I still don’t buy their repeated explanations for quantum realms, divergent timelines and the like. Yet, this is the only storytelling mechanism I can think of that would allow for a suitably epic finale. Thanos retired and destroyed the stones, completely within his character. Any attempt to bring him back into the war after this action would have seemed fake and out of character. No, in order to bring forth armies and a final battle worthy of this film, only one thing could do it without poisoning the characters: time travel. So, for the purposes of the movie, one must set aside the obvious paradoxical scenarios that these situations bring about, and just have fun.
One staggering scene after another, we see the characters lurching back and forth through time in alternate angles of scenes from the older movies. I couldn’t categorize the sheer amount of call backs and fan service moments if I had to, so suffice it say that each of these scenes is a joy to watch as they live through events from previous movies at different angles in an attempt to undo Thanos’ snap and bring back the half of the population he disintegrated. This all leads to numerous time bending shenanigans, which results in likely the most over the top insane battle ever put to screen. As expected, the CG effects and cinematography are top-notch, which leads me into the small criticisms of the film.
They use the CG so heavily that it appears slightly synthetic, but given the scale of events that’s a serious nitpick. I already voiced my general displeasure with time travel, so I won’t belabor the point despite being able to pick out many timeline and sequencing problems. Another issue I had was with the appearances of Captain Marvel. She shows up as the ultimate badass in the first ten minutes, then disappears all the way until the finale where she shows up at the exact moment necessary to wreck Thanos’ plans. Another criticism that one might level at the film is that it’s too “fan-servicey” and by that I mean the film would be almost unwatchable to anyone not already invested in these characters and events. My last criticism would be on the portrayal of Thor. I can’t say I was a huge fan of turning him into trembling fat guy, but I guess the logic is that he’s experienced so much loss it finally broke him failing to stop Thanos.
Despite a couple of characterizations I wasn’t a fan of, I couldn’t have been happier with the portrayal of both Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. The two were responsible for the biggest moments in the film, with the latter’s stellar moment producing an eruption of cheers in the theater. As a fan of Cap, I couldn’t have asked for a better send off than what he got, kicking ass, living happily ever after, and passing the shield on to the next generation. Tony’s arc was equally satisfying, starting out the MCU as the arrogant playboy prima donna, all the way up through alcoholism, and finally giving his life to save the world. They sent both of the iconic Avengers off in spectacular fashion, and it will be interesting to see how they are replaced going forward. Downey and Evans set the bar incredibly high, and I wouldn’t mind a few more time travel shenanigans to get the two back in the game at some point.
While I’m here, I’ll address the big moment of Captain America lifting Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer. There seems to be some confusion how that was possible so I’ll outline it briefly. The enchantment specifically says: “Whoever wields this hammer, if they be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” So, the question of whether the hammer can be lifted becomes one of worthiness. We saw in Age of Ultron that Steve could shift, but not lift, the hammer. This leads to two conclusions:
1. He wasn’t worthy at the time given he still held onto the secret of the death of Tony’s father at the hands of Bucky. Once absolved of that secret, his worthiness was clear.
2. He was worthy, he just elected to not show off and bruise Thor’s ego in front many people at the party.
Either way, this was a moment I was sure would happen, given he’s wielded the hammer multiple times in the comics, but it still came off as an incredible moment. All in all, if one is a fan of the Marvel universe, and given how much money it’s making that’s looking like an ever increasing colossal number, then this is the greatest finale possible for this arc. As a matter of fact, I have difficulty even imagining them topping Endgame, but then again, I can imagine quite a bit, especially with 70+ years of comic stories in the tank.
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My next-door neighbor took his own life three days ago.
It was a crisp and sunny Friday, one of the nicest since the arrival of spring. I enjoy pacing around on my back deck and pondering, it’s where a significant amount of my writing emerges. I enjoy staring off into the quiet woods and contemplating, this time I was noting the explosive vegetative growth that had occurred in only a few short days. As I reflected, the siren of an ambulance interrupted, as it drove through my neighborhood and wove through the woods down the path to my neighbor’s house. During winter, I can see through the barren forest over to their house, but spring’s vegetation obscured everything but the flashing lights of the ambulance. Throughout the day, people came and went, and the police lingered for quite some time. I was sure that something gravely serious had occurred, but accidents are common out here in the country, perhaps he fell off the roof cleaning gutters. Turns out, he’d committed suicide.
Just the morning before, I’d been out walking the dog and waved at him as he drove by in his pristine Corvette. He always waved and helped the neighbors and seemed to be fine. Often, we don’t always know the internal battles people wage with themselves, as people have become exceedingly adept at maintaining a stoic face while hiding severe inner turmoil. We have reached a point where I doubt anyone would deny that we have serious mental health issues in this country. Depression is an insidious parasite that starts small as a vague sense of unease and gradually grows and expands into an endless abyss. I’ve been there; and that’s why I’m writing this article. I can’t say I’ve totally beaten it, and I can’t say I have all the answers, but I feel I can help, as I’ve beaten back the darkness many times over. Let me preface this by saying that although I have a great deal of fitness, diet, and research experience, I am not a doctor, so consult yours, but understand that these are the techniques and tactics that have worked for me over many years, and are also supported by science. In the writing of my book, I conducted extensive research, and I will also link many articles throughout this blog. With the disclaimers out of the way, let me start with the central premise of this article:
If you have depression, you must get help. However, anti-depressants are not enough. I’ve taken anti-depressants and I can say with a high degree of confidence, that they do work, but only to certain extent. They cannot solve underlying issues that poison your mind. Ask anyone taking anti-depressants if they are actually happy, and as I can attest, the answer is usually no. They blunt the edges of depression, but as long as the root issues remain, you will need additional help. There is only one way to truly combat depression and defeat it. You must wage a multi-front war on every aspect of your life, because it ALL matters in the fight.
Let’s go step by step, first a few of the multitude of reasons for depression:
1. Brain chemicals cause depression. This is the predicate for every anti-depressant prescription. You have a chemical imbalance, and Drug X will fix that imbalance. Serotonin, Dopamine, Endorphins, Oxytocin, and others all contribute to your happiness and state of well-being.
2. You can become depressed by circumstances and stress in your life. Perhaps you’ve been abused, cheated on, or fired from your job. All of these can contribute to depression.
3. Nihilism and dissociation can cause depression. Perhaps you have a misanthropic view of the world. You belong to nothing, and believe in no higher purpose or entity, be it religion or any cause greater than yourself. This creates a sense that nothing and no one matter in the grand scheme, so why bother caring about anything?
You may even have a combination of all three or something else, which makes solving the riddle of depression a daunting task. Now comes the difficult part: the truth. An anti-depressant, by itself, will not fix your mental health long term. To make sustainable changes, we must understand one critical piece that is left by the wayside in many of these discussions: We can, to a large degree, influence our own brain chemistry. Every action we take, from eating, to exercise, even just the act of getting enough sun, all influence the mix of chemicals swirling around in our head. We know exercise induces endorphins, and different foods and vitamins can influence serotonin and dopamine. Even just sitting in the sun can bring about more serotonin production.
Earlier, I used the metaphor of a multi-front war. Think of your mindset as a battlefield. When a country goes to war, there isn’t just one type of unit or soldier, there are hundreds, that all comprise the theater of war. Used correctly and in conjunction, ships, soldiers, and planes all combine in a full scale battle plan. In the mind's battlefield, you must view each tactic as one piece of the strategy to win the war. With this in mind, let’s look at a comprehensive battle plan to beat back the unrelenting assault of depression.
1. Anti-Depressants: The starting point. These can be necessary in the early stages to blunt the edges of depression, but make no mistake, they will not SOLVE the issue.
2. Exercise: It is a fact that exercise releases and regulates both Endorphins and Serotonin. If you are not exercising, even if it’s just a walk with the dog, you are leaving a potent weapon on the table. Attempting to fix depression without exercising would be like going to war without the Navy.
3. Sunlight: Yet again, studies show sunlight influences serotonin, as are other bodily functions and vitamin production. Even if it is just sitting or walking the dog, try to get some level of sun infusion each day.
4. Diet: We all know junk food triggers dopamine and makes us feel good temporarily. However, studies have shown that a healthy diet can blunt the effects of depression, as there are many foods that can affect a positive mindset long term.
5. Stress relief: Be it video games, shooting guns, playing with dogs or children, or journalling, find the activity that warms your soul and make sure you are getting enough. I’ve found writing to be a great tool for pouring out emotions, especially journalling.
6. Belief: I see people every day who have accepted their fate, who believe that this is just the way it is and they can’t do anything to change it. Do not allow this to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe that, you will find ways to make it true and fail. You can beat it, and once you start to believe it, radical changes will come.
7. Toxic People and Environments: The reality is, it will be difficult to beat back the inexorable assault of depression if you have toxic people and behaviors influencing your life. I’ve had to end friendships of over twenty years because I could not sustain the toxicity of those friendships any longer. These people and situations will poison your mind and make progress difficult.
These are just a few of the tactics I’ll cover in this series. It is a daunting task to take your life back while standing at the precipice of the abyss. I intend this to be a series where I will tackle each of these more in depth. If you have questions or need more specificity in the interim, hit me on email or social media. I wish you the best, and I hope these articles will help someone in their struggle. If there's an area you'd like to see addressed, let me know and I'll get it done.
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