Positive Reactions to Negative Endings
By Thomas Hoffman
While it is not necessarily a tearjerker, the latest Avengers installment does not exactly contain an “upbeat ending.” It is certainly a darker ending than it’s rival DC’s Justice League (2017), which despite the more upbeat ending, received much more negative reviews. The lack of a “happy ending” has not prevented the new Avengers movie from becoming the second highest grossing film of all time. The public in general was not disturbed in the slightest by the lack of a completely happy ending; in fact many viewers do in fact seem to prefer this type of ending.
I once heard a creator of All in the Family lament how too many people identify with Archie Bunker. Archie Bunker’s mentality was not meant to be a role model.
Spoiler Alerts For Star Wars: Rouge One, The Avengers Endgame, Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4 Ahead:
There was a time when Star Wars: Rogue One had a happier ending where several members of the cast escaped. Many viewers prefer the ending Rogue One ended up using, where the entire cast makes the ultimate sacrifice. With this situation, it’s a similar problem, too many people identify with the Empire. Yes Rogue One’s ending, as well as The Avengers: Endgame is more realistic. (If anything in these worlds can be realistic).
Many characters survive Avengers: End Game, but one major character does make the ultimate sacrifice. We also “sort of” lose yet another character.
I once heard a pundit analyze why the public was so obsessed with celebrity relationships. The pundit wisely explained that we (the public) are not living the fairy tale so we want someone else to live the fairy tale. In situations like The Avengers: Endgame, the reverse is true. The public is not living the fairy tale, so they want the movie characters to be deprived of a fairy tale ending as well.
In The Avengers: Endgame, one character leaves a posthumous hologram recording pointing out that while we want a happy ending, they are not always feasible. This of course is true. However, many people prefer the “non-happy” ending because they feel it reflects their own real life.
In Toy Story 3, many people prefer the bittersweet ending where Andy is pressured into giving up his toys, rather than save them for his own future children. In Toy Story 4, the cast survives but Woody does leave the “toy family.” There is speculation and controversy if Buzz and Woody will ever see each other again. Some (including Tim Allen) have actually compared the Toy Story 4 ending to the ending of Avengers: End Game.
While “fairy tale” endings or even “non- bitter sweet” endings are indeed not always feasible, we should not feel threatened or distanced when fictional characters achieve them. Shouldn’t the public view these endings as hopeful, rather than unrealistic? This could be a reflection of the mood that the public is in or of society’s values at the current time. In fact, because the characters are more than fictional to some people, and because many people identify with the characters, it is interesting how the public reacts to the fate of their beloved characters.