“Avengers: End Game” Ethics

I should begin by noting that there is no way I’m going to see this movie, unless I’m in the hospital, it’s on TV and my best alternatives are “Ellen” and Don Lemon.  I’m sick of CGI movies, sick of super-hero movies, and  have never been enamored of the genre since Christopher Reeve took Margot Kidder flying. As for this particular super-hero movie, the fact that it is 3-hours  is a minor problem, overwhelmed by the fact that I would have to watch the previous long Avengers movie, “Infinity War” to have a prayer of knowing what the hell’s going on.

However, many fans of such films are annoyed by the fact that “End Game” is so long yet has no intermission. They should be. One should be able to see the entertainment one has paid for without having to miss a chunk because nature calls. Movies don’t have intermissions any more, but that doesn’t mean there’s a good reason for them not to.

A New York Times article about the mini-controversy suggests that intermissions are old-fashioned, like phone booths or not saying “fuck.” No, three-hour movies are old-fashioned, if you want to think that way. We are told over and over that technology is training us to have the attention span of kittens, and indeed the running times of Hollywood major releases have been declining. In addition, a three-hour comic book movie is like a two-volume Bazooka Joe bubble gum comic.  It demands special accommodations. (And an IQ of 24 to get excited about, but never mind.)

Disney-Marvel, however, refused to offer the film with an intermission. There’s no artistic reason to refuse: all it takes is scripting the film to have a climax or reasonable dramatic break  in the middle.  There are benefits of allowing audiences to get up and talk. They can sometimes clear up plot confusion among them, an especially useful pause with these assaultive monsters with dozens of characters wearing masks, particularly if one has missed some of the 22 —Twenty two!–Marvel films that led up  to “End Game,” which is to say “if one has a life,” some mid-movie annotation might make the second half comprehensible. And, of course, people buy refreshments during intermissions, which adds to the theater’s profit.

Yet, we are told, it’s money, and only money, that is the rub. To hell with the fact that sitting for three hours is uncomfortable for many and impossible for some, the added 10-15 minutes would make scheduling tougher, and require fewer showings. This film is selling out at a record pace—take me now, Lord—and fewer showings means lost revenue that can’t be made up with sales of 4 buck cokes and 3 buck boxes of candy.

Too bad; that’s no excuse. The industry is the entertainment industry, and it has an obligation to make the entertainment experience  entertaining, not an ordeal or an endurance contest. I’m  an unshakable ally of artists who feel that three hours or more are necessary to tell their stories the right way; I fought to present long plays and musicals constantly during my 20 years as a theater artistic director.  I’ve also sat through many 90 minute plays and movies that felt like a month in Cleveland, and others twice as long that seemed too short. The theater, however, has intermissions. Then again, most super-hero movie fanatics think live theater is old-fashioned. Most of them have never seen a professional stage play, and never will.

I’m digressing again. Sorry.

There was a brief period in the late Sixties and Seventies when Broadway experimented with intermission-less shows, led by musicals like “Man of La Mancha” and “Follies.” The conceit  in “Follies” was that the action took place in “real time” at a reunion, so the dramatic tension would be dissipated if the story was interrupted. But “Follies” is a long show, though a magnificent one, and its original run lost money. Eventually, the no intermission experiment was deemed a failure.

When “Follies” is produced today, there is an intermission.

Baseball has been dealing with a related problem. Baseball games used to average two-and-a-half hours. Now the games average three hours or more, and the added length is all dead time—pitchers taking too long between pitches, managers changing pitchers like the Kardashians change boy friends, batters stepping out of the batters box for no discernible reason. The biggest culprit in adding time to games, though, is TV ads. Now that every game is televised, the breaks between innings are a minute or more longer than they were before cable. There are 21 inning and mid-inning breaks in a baseball game: that’s 21 minutes right there.  Making the breaks shorter means less ad revenue, but MLB decided to be responsible–baseball is entertainment too—and take the hit in the interest of its fans. This season, inning and half-inning breaks are 30 seconds shorter.

Ethics note to Hollywood: either have intermissions, or make shorter movies.


21 thoughts on ““Avengers: End Game” Ethics

  1. This film is selling out at a record pace—take me now, Lord—and fewer showings means lost revenue that can’t be made up with sales of 4 buck cokes and 3 buck boxes of candy.

    Actually, it’s possible that it could!

    Mid-90s, an ex-employee of mine took a job managing a new 4-screen movie theater in a small town in Maine. Good guy, hard-working. Street smart. I don’t remember the specifics, but he explained how the whole thing works. Numbers henceforth imprecise:

    First week of release, the theater sends north of 90% of the gate to the distributor (thence to the studio). Second week, it’s still big – >75%.

    Each successive week of a run, the studio gets less and the house gets more. A very popular movie in its fourth week might be shown ion a screen with only 50 seats, and only 25 people watching, but the house likes that because they get to keep the lion’s share of the gate.

    And meantime, they’re still selling 4 buck cokes and 3 buck boxes of candy to everyone in the house.

    At most movie houses, it’s rare for a film to show more than three weeks. Meantime, the studios get another blast of revenue with television and streaming revenues.

    Movie world isn’t like legitimate theater. They don’t make their dough on the show. They make it on the peripherals.

  2. Intermissions please! The suspense will not be broken and I won’t have to worry about picking the perfect time to visit the loo.

    • I can remember films where the intermission increased the suspense for me–“Ben Hur,” “The Ten Commandments,” “Gone With The Wind,” “the Alamo,” “55 Days in Peking,” “How the West Was Won.” One of my favorite breaks was in the rare comedy with an intermission, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World.” The intermission came as all of the characters chasing the buried loot were in various crises—Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett in a pilotless plane, Sid Caesar and Edie Adams trapped in a hardware store, Dick Shawn driving like lunatic to rescue his mother, Ethel Merman, and Milton Berle and Terry-Thomas in a ridiculous fist fight.

      And I just realized that not one in ten readers under 40 have any idea who any of those people are.

      As I said, “Take me now, Lord.”

  3. I will admit to watching these movies and enjoying them for the sheer escapism and mindless entertainment. However, I draw a line at 3 hours for any movie. I will not see this in the theaters and will wait until I can watch it at home and pause whenever I want.

    If you have younger kids, I will recommend looking for a children’s theater in the area. The young performers were amazingly talented and put on a fun show. We recently took our elementary age kids to a performance of Mary Poppins and we all had a great time. They generally don’t care to sit through a movie, but were enthralled through the whole thing. And to bring it full circle, there was an intermission.

    • Wonderful movie in every way. Many said it was too long for a family film, but its willingness to take time—Mr. Banks’ long walk to what he knows will be his firing is amzingly bold, and spot on—is one reason the film worked so well.

  4. Thanks for lambasting comic book movies in the usual Jack Marshall at his hilarious, snarky best. Their popularity drives me nuts and is one of my personal hobby horses.

  5. No intermission? Don’t worry, it will come out on the telly and you will get a ten minute intermission for every five minutes of movie, regardless of what the studio planned.

  6. “MLB decided to be responsible–baseball is entertainment too—and take the hit in the interest of its fans.”

    Given the sliding ratings and attendance of MLB games, and the declining numbers of younger (read: short attention span) fans following the sport, one could reasonably argue that
    they’re taking the hit in the interest, not of the fans, but of still being in business in the future. Rest assured, MLB isn’t shortening the games to be kind to the fans, they’re doing it because fewer people are watching baseball, and they’re trying to arrest that decline. I will give them credit for taking the long view and forgoing some short-term profit to focus on the long-term health of their business (a far too rare move in the business world).

    While we’re on the subject of commercials in baseball, I just want to vent my spleen a bit: on the MLB.TV streaming service, many of the commercial breaks don’t show the actual commercials, but instead show a generic graphic that indicates that the game is on a break (I presume this is a contractual thing with the broadcasters and advertisers). This doesn’t bother me that much when it’s a live game, because there’s not really much else they can do, but if you watch a game later, after it’s concluded, the commercial breaks remain, with the minutes-long “we’ll be right back” animation at each one, forcing you to fast-forward every break. It would literally be like five lines of code to edit that crap out of the archived versions of the game. Now THAT would be something they could truly do in the interest of the fans.

    • Baseball’s attendance was down just a bit last year, but there wee a lot of flukey things going on, like a Spring with an weird number of rain-outs, and more big losing teams than have occurred in a while. West Coast-East Coast World Series are also often ratings duds. The NFL and NBA are also having attendance issues, though for different reasons. Last I checked, baseball’s attendance was up this spring.

  7. That’s why you have to check the run time and make sure you do the “pickle trickle” right before. In college I remember I was in a seminar that met once a week for two hours, and the professor told the 15 of us in it to do any “business” beforehand, because there wouldn’t be any breaks. Then again, that’s a step up from grade school where the teachers took the class to the bathroom once in the morning and once in the afternoon and you were forbidden to speak.

      • Yeah, you know? Drain the dragon, drain the lizard, break the seal, make some lemonade, drain the main vein, see a man about a horse, wash the crockery, pay the water bill, pay a visit to Urinetown…

        • … ‘participate in Operation Golden Flow,’ ‘piss for the Flag,’ water the porcelain,’ ‘tale a pit stop,’ ‘write my name in the snow,’ ‘water the flowers…’

          and my favorite: ‘shaking the dew off the lily.’

  8. “There are benefits of allowing audiences to get up and talk. They can sometimes clear up plot confusion among them, an especially useful pause with these assaultive monsters with dozens of characters wearing masks, particularly if one has missed some of the 22 —Twenty two!–Marvel films that led up to “End Game,” which is to say “if one has a life,” some mid-movie annotation might make the second half comprehensible.”

    I’d like to try to field some of this. If I can…

    I apologize ahead of time if I seem defensive. It’s not been a good week.

    I have seen all of the previous Marvel films. Even the bad ones. Even the ones I wish weren’t necessary to fully appreciate the fanservice in “Avengers: Endgame”.

    I also work a full-time job. I maintain a household by making dinner every night, cleaning and paying bills. I speak to my grandmother on the phone. I check four non-fiction books out of the library every two weeks and read them. I have friends, families and hobbies. I teach Sunday School. I do have a life.

    I also have a 12-year old dog that I feed, water, walk and inject with insulin twice a day.

    At least, I did until last Saturday when we took him to the vet and cried our eyes out while he was put to sleep.

    I take it back. It’s not that it’s not been a good week. It has been a miserable week.

    Despite all of my busyness, being at home is the worst. Lucky was never at work. Lucky was never at the grocery store or any of the other places I normally go. So I have filled my week with extra busyness. Distraction (along with journaling and some other self-care practices) seems to work when it comes to keep myself together. Last Saturday night, my husband and I watched the movie, “Network” for the first time. Last night, we watched “The Philadelphia Story”.

    Yesterday morning, I went out to eat with a good friend. After that, my family and I sat through that entire three-hour film (which deals, in part, with how different people handle the pain that comes from grief due to loss). Like The Shadow wrote, I watch these movies for escapism. I desperately needed to escape.

    And part of escapism is to be surprised at what happens. There has been a major effort on the part of those connected with the film to encourage fans not to ruin it for others by releasing spoilers. I’ve already seen one fan on social media complain that he went to the men’s room prior to the movie starting only to encounter fans that had just seen it discussing major plot points at the urinals.

    An intermission would only increase the opportunities for fans hanging out in the lobby for snacks or visiting the restroom would indeed talk about what had just been seen…within earshot of many folks who have not. The last thing anyone who’s avoided spoilers wants is to be standing in line for popcorn and hear people on intermission break talking about who’s died so far.

  9. To me, there was a point about 2hrs in that would have been good for an intermission and then there’sthe fact that the credits start rolling at 2:48,, negated by the 20mins of previews at the front end. I prepared myself by being hydrated through the day and not drinking through the movie. I don’t think it’s particularly feasible to have 6 auditoriums of 300 people get up at the same time to use 10 toilets and 10 urinals…that’s just a logistics nightmare…but they could use a smaller 50 seat auditorium to offer special accommodations with an intermission for those especially concerned about it.

    • …and in the theater where I saw it, they 86’d the trailers and went straight into the movie. I expect is was because of the time factor.


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