By the way, I can’t believe I failed to bring up “Avatar: The Last Airbender” at any point! Definitely one of the all-time great American sagas with one of the all-time great finales, very much in the same vein as Return of the Jedi in terms of rising above the idea of killing the bad guy. It’s funny that “Game of Thrones” has so much sex and violence but is ultimately a pretty juvenile series, while ATLA is appropriate for four year olds, but is 10x more emotionally mature and sophisticated than GOT.
UPDATE: Jonathan wanted to add this, which, as you’ll see why, I’m more than happy to include:
- After we finished recording, I realized that Matt had made a pretty genius observation on this topic that passed without much comment. Matt is 100% right that beheading Thanos in the first 5 minutes of ENDGAME was an attack on unhealthy audience appetites. The moment was especially jarring because virtually every other installment in the Avengers franchise had basically ended with “punch the villain into submission” as the final solution (which might explain why I haven’t liked earlier installments in the series). ENDGAME changes everything. It serves up violence right at the beginning ... but instead of solving things, it makes everything worse! That single move accomplishes so much in terms of plot and theme. It’s a huge escalation -- suddenly our heroes are encountering a problem that violence can't solve. It creates enormous uncertainty in both the audience and characters. AND it’s retraining our palates to crave deeper truth (what we need) rather than simplistic fighting (what we want). In the big finale, the movie is smart enough to give us some epic fighting. But all of that noise falls away for the true climax: Tony Stark's sacrifice. Killing off such a beloved character should incite riot -- but we accept it because we’ve seen where the simplistic solution lands us. Even better, Tony Stark in that moment is really reflecting the growth that the audience has experienced over the course of the movie. We’re right there with him as he realizes that this is not a problem he can laser-blast his way out of. The climax of ENDGAME isn’t happy; but it is deeply satisfying. And in the long run, that’s much more important.
I agree with Jonathan: I’m awesome.
I especially like in Endgame how Thanos is about to make some profound moral ruminations on his genocide and we in the audience are thinking “fuck this guy and his profundity! He killed billions of people!” Then Thor just chops his head off before he can finish his point and we’re like “Oh hell yeah” ...but then it’s instantly unsatisfying.
Oh, and Jonathan, one more piece of advice: Don't overdo the loss-for-loss’s-sake in the final book. The one thing I really hate about the Harry Potter books is that they killed off Fred in the finale, which felt like “final book sense of loss” just for the sake of “final book sense of loss”. I think Rowling felt like “I’m killing off many beloved characters, but I need one that’ll really hurt even more than the others” and it was just too much. It ruins the other books as you reread then, knowing how tragically things will turn out for Fred and even moreso for George, losing his twin. You don’t kill off the comic relief!
(When I read the books to my daughter, I meant to cut out that death, but it snuck up on me. Now that I’m reading them to my son, I’ll figure out how to snip it out.)