The last instalment of the Avengers saga has garnered over 3.8 billion yuan in China as of 8 p.m. May 4th, just slightly over a week since its official release in the country.
The superhero epic has already overtaken Operation Red Sea, a 2018 Chinese action war film, as the third most successful film in Chinese box office history, right behind Wolf Warrior 2 (5.6 billion yuan) and The Wandering Earth (4.6 billion yuan). However, while the film is still far from the number one spot, it has already broken at least one box office record outstripping The Wandering Earth by earning 2.5 billion yuan in just six days and 16 hours.
Avengers: Endgame and The Wandering Earth are in many respects hard to compare. While the former is a standard product on the Hollywood film production assembly line, the latter is a real breakthrough for the Chinese film industry. Yet both bear extraordinary significance as important milestones. Avengers: Endgame is the final chapter of the 22-film Marvel Cinematic Universe that has been accompanying the post-90s generation in China for almost a whole decade. And it is this generation that is on track to accumulating the consumption power never yet known in history. Most die-hard Marvel fans would hit the cinemas two or three times to rewatch the film and pay their respects to the beloved characters.
One of the top comments posted on the leading movie rating website in China Douban.com read, “I am one of the post-90’s generation, I used to envy the previous generations: 40 years ago, the audiences witnessed the finale of the Star Wars trilogy in film theatres; 20 years ago, the audiences were able to see the final chapter of the Lord of Rings in theatres. We, the movie fans have different joys and sorrows, but now we share a common memory: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thank you, Avengers.”
The Wandering Earth, on the other hand, comes with a patriotic undertone, which is also strongly valued by the Chinese youth. Not only is it actually the first-ever hard sci-fi film produced in China, but it is huge enough in scale to compete with the biggest Hollywood blockbusters in terms of visual effects and its grand themes.
Avengers: Endgame certainly got better reviews both at home and abroad. According to Douban.com, it holds a rating of 8.6, and mind you, it is extremely hard for films to score over 9 points on the platform. On Rotten Tomatoes it got an 89% approval rating compared to the 72% held by The Wandering Earth. Reviews for the Chinese hit film tend to be mostly positive with slight criticism laced into them. “The film’s dazzling, and big, and genuinely epic in its concerns and portent; but frankly, it’s also kind of a chore to get through”, one of the top critics from Alternate Ending said.
Science creates fantasies
Another aspect that makes both films huge milestones in filmmaking history is technology. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) of the US is currently operating a program called The Science & Entertainment Exchange (The Exchange) that is known for sharing the knowledge behind sci-fi blockbusters and superhero movies. It’s a program that connects entertainment industry professionals with top scientists and engineers to create a synergy between accurate science and engaging storylines both on film and TV. It has provided scientific consulting on several Marvel film sets, including Thor, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Avengers: Infinity War.
In Avengers: Endgame, for example, Hulk told Ant-man not to get into contact with his previous self, an idea actually inspired by the British physicist David Deutsch’s essay on time-traveling titled Quantum mechanics near closed timelike lines and published on April 9, 1991.
“While the younger and older versions of a time traveler are interacting, the younger one makes a note of something that the older one says, and then, after traveling back in time, deliberately fails to say that thing. This proves that according to classical physics people (or automata) who would behave in the way just described when traveling in time do not travel in time.”
For those of you struggling to wrap your heads around the complex science, here’s how Hulk puts it, “If you go back to the past, your past becomes your future, and your present becomes your past.”
Creators of The Wandering Earth are no strangers to scientific purism either, inviting experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and China National Space Administration, to help the crew figure out what Jupiter’s Great Red Spot looks like from a close distance and assist with a fair amount of brainy scientific lingo among other issues.
Weak characters and plots — still a lot to catch up
Chinese productions still have a long way to go in terms of character development, compared to their western counterparts. One of the reasons behind Marvel’s rise is the set of heroes that have already become so much more important than the films themselves. Regardless whether the Marvel screenwriting is good or not, characters like Captain America, Iron Man and Black Widow have all become personal icons held dear by the hordes of dedicated Marvel fans.
The Wandering Earth, however, could have done a better job in this domain. The protagonist holds deep grudges against his father for not saving his mom, an ailing patient, keeps blaming the general for failing to save his grandfather and calling him a disrespectful nickname “old thing”, which seems like what street hooligans would do. The scale of these characters doesn’t seem to match the scale of a heroic movie about saving the world.
Some viewers have also pointed out that some of the lines sound weirdly embarrassing, especially when the girl, at the end of the film, announces through the speaker, “our teacher told us, in this era, hope is as precious as a diamond.” However considering her age, she would hardly have anything better to say being as panicky and nervous as she was at that critical moment.
Other characters in the rescue team also seem rather plain, and unsophisticated, and even them sacrificing their lives for the big cause fails to make them any more interesting. However looking at the cast, it all makes sense. Most of the leading actors are still rather young, and lack experience. Nevertheless, we’ll keep out hopes high and wish them to grow to be excellent actors.
Featured photo credit to 凤凰科技