Last night, Twitter user Scott Gustin shared a few video clips of audience reactions on opening night of Avengers: Endgame. The thread included the scene where Captain America lifts Mjolnir, the portals scene, and a fun one of present Steve Rogers staring at 2012 Steve Rogers’ ass and declaring, “That is America’s Ass.”
Just stop what you’re doing and enjoy listening to the #AvengersEndgame opening night crowd react to Captain America wielding Thor's hammer.
— Scott Gustin (@ScottGustin) April 7, 2020
“Regardless of how you feel about Marvel,” I tweeted, “you can’t read this thread and not understand there is no other studio out there eliciting this sort of full crowd emotion right now.”
But watching it trend, seeing people’s reactions to it since last night, thinking about my own reaction when watching it again, I’m willing to go a step further and say that the Cap wielding Mjolnir scene is the best scene of any movie in decades. Think I’m crazy? I’m not. Think I’m just a Marvel fangirl? I–okay, maybe there’s some truth to that, but I swear that’s not what this is.
My argument is simple: Just listen to the crowd reaction in that first clip. Ask yourself when is the last time you heard that at the theater, if ever.
Watching Movies As A Kid Was Its Own Kind Of Magic
Think back to how it felt to go to the theater and watch movies as a kid. Everything was so much bigger and brighter. Part of it is because, as a kid, your standards aren’t quite as high. But most of it is simply because back then, it was new. Seeing a movie was magical, every single time. I’m 39 years old now, and the most memorable movie experiences of my life, I’m sorry to say, weren’t from indies or dramas or (usually) Oscar fare. That’s not to say they’re not wonderful on their own merits, but they had a more cerebral effect on me; I was moved by intellect when I watched them rather than pure emotion. No, the movies that elicited the biggest emotional swells in me (and thus, created the strongest memories) were the tentpoles.
I remember being 8 years old and standing in the hot sun to see Ghostbusters II and it being so packed we had to sit in the front row. I remember still loving every minute of it. I remember watching Jurassic Park at age 12 and thinking, “Oh. This is what movies can be,” sucked in and awed all the same. I remember being 13 years old and being put in charge of my sisters and cousins because I was the oldest and we had gone to see The Nightmare Before Christmas, how proud and grown-up I felt. I remember watching Twister at age 15 and genuinely believing the tornado was real and then walking out of the theater with my best friend absolutely pumped. We spent the rest of the summer driving around in his pickup truck on back-country roads, blaring the soundtrack and trying to find storms. I remember watching Titanic at age 17 and sobbing to my high school boyfriend and first love that our love was just like Jack and Rose – precious and rare, doomed but tragic, as teenagers are wont to thinking of their relationships. My friends and I watched Titanic a lot over that Christmas break. I remember being 19 and watching The Matrix with my college friends and being hit with a wave of “What the fuuuuuu…”, my eyes opened to something newly possible on screen. I remember being 21 and in my last semester of college, overcome by the first and worst bout of depression I’d ever experienced and without the tools to cope. My friends dragged me to see Spider-Man and for the first time in what felt like an eon, I felt the fog lift. I felt emotions again, ones that weren’t deadened and numbed by depression. I felt.
We all have stories like that.
As you get older and more jaded, though, the magic wears off. It’s not that you don’t want to feel it, it’s just that time removes the newness of experiences. The emotional impact is lost through attrition. Plot twists aren’t as shocking; visual spectacles aren’t as enthralling. Going to the movies is still a lot of damn fun and there is plenty to love about it in adulthood – I still love it so much I made a career of it. But that huge upswell of pure, unadulterated joy? The kind of joy that goes beyond happiness to a place of primal emotion, where you’re laughing and crying at the same time because there’s so much bubbling up inside your body doesn’t even know what to do with it all? Those moments are few and far between and precious when they happen, if they do at all.
Which brings me back to Marvel and, in particular, the Cap lifting Mjolnir scene.
That Scene Triggers A Pure Emotional Response
Watch that clip again and listen to the wild cheering. I defy you to not smile, feel uplifted, feel an echo of that swell of emotion. Watching Avengers: Endgame in theaters (and Infinity War before that) was the first time in years I was overwhelmed by primal emotion in the way that I had been as a kid, laughing and crying, devastated and made whole, living and dying with the MCU Avengers I’d come to know and love over the past 11 years. It was powerful and purifying. It was something I thought I’d never feel again watching a movie. I know I’m not alone in this.
That’s the best of the communal moviegoing experience. Movie theaters are our modern temples. We worship, together, at the altar of movie screens; our tithes are tears, laughter, screams. In a world where people are increasingly disassociated and disconnected from one another, for a few hours, we’re all separate-but-together, bonded by the shared experience of being moved by the same thing at the same time. We purge ourselves of those emotions and in that heightened state, we are a little more connected to the world around us – to the friends sitting beside us, to the other people in the audience, to the characters on screen. And no movie has made us feel more connected in years than Avengers: Endgame. No scene has bonded us together like watching Steve Rogers, the formerly skinny kid from Brooklyn who can do this all day, reaching his final heroic form and picking up Thor’s hammer just when all seemed lost.
That’s why I say it’s the best movie scene in decades. Not out of pandering populism or judgment of quality, but simply because of how it makes us feel. Moments like that are why we go to movies. Moments like that are why we’ll keep going to movies, long after this pandemic has passed. Watching a movie in a theater reminds us of our shared bond. It makes us feel alive. Man, I can’t wait to see what movie makes us feel this way next.