AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
"Avengers: Endgame" arrived in theaters last night. It's perhaps Marvel's most ambitious film to date and features familiar characters like Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, among many, many others. And that might be everything I'm actually allowed to say about the film because while we all know there's going to be a battle for humanity....
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AVENGERS: ENDGAME")
CHRIS EVANS: (As Captain America) We lost friends. We lost family. We lost a part of ourselves. This is the fight of our lives.
CORNISH: ...Who survives that fight, how we get there - well, you won't hear a peep out of the actors, and social media is full of pleas and admonitions not to spoil the film for those of us who didn't see it the second it came out. Todd VanDerWerff is a critic at large for the news and opinion website Vox. In a piece about "Avengers: Endgame," he argues that spoiler paranoia is ruining popular culture. Welcome to the studio, Todd.
TODD VANDERWERFF: It's so great to be here.
CORNISH: Why do you call this spoiler paranoia? This is a huge film. Some people have been waiting a decade to get to this point.
VANDERWERFF: So you know, let me just start by saying I have been in the place where I love a thing and I want to see it, you know, without knowing what's happening, and I totally get that point of view. That said, we're now in a world where trying to police against spoilers has become so all-consuming on the part of so many people, both within the entertainment industry and within the media, and then also just the fans; that, like, we've created this situation where there's this intense anxiety around, am I going to hear a spoiler, am I going to spoil something? And it really extended even to the production of "Avengers: Endgame," in ways I think hurt the film.
CORNISH: In what way?
VANDERWERFF: Well, they've shot a lot of this as sort of a jigsaw puzzle, where they would bring an actor in, the actor would get a, you know, a page of the script that's like something out of the Mueller report, with everything redacted but their lines.
VANDERWERFF: And they wouldn't know who they were in the scene with. They wouldn't know who they were reacting to. And then, you know, they'd come in, they'd say their lines, and that would be that. And, like, you can feel that in the first half of this movie, which sags a little bit and is mostly just shots of a single actor, or you'll see the back of someone's head to suggest there's someone else there, but you don't know who that is.
CORNISH: What's your sense of when all of this started? Because when I think back to something like "Star Wars," the entire film is laid out in the opening credits, right?
VANDERWERFF: Yeah. And you think about something like "Romeo And Juliet" - the opening speech of that play tells you literally every plot point you're about to see. And "Star Wars" - I found an article from 1976, the year before "Star Wars" comes out, and George Lucas, the director of "Star Wars," tells you everything that's going to happen in the movie in that article. So there was this point when spoilers - people didn't worry about them as much. They tried not to spoil twist endings - "The Sixth Sense" being a great example.
CORNISH: That's Bruce Willis, right?
VANDERWERFF: Yeah, that's Bruce Willis. But there was kind of, like, this idea of, yeah, you're probably going to get spoiled on some stuff, but a lot of stories are predictable, so probably, you've already spoiled yourself.
CORNISH: So let me guess - the Internet probably had something to do with this (laughter).
VANDERWERFF: Yes. Boy, did the Internet have something to do with that. And if you look for the earliest examples of people using the word spoiler, they come on newsgroups and Listservs in the early '80s and it's people talking about, I don't want to hear about this movie; don't spoil it for me. That evolves into the term spoiler, and of course, as the Internet entered more homes, it's just become this all-consuming thing.
CORNISH: In the end, are you telling moviegoers that they need to lighten up?
VANDERWERFF: I think that there are levels of how upset you should be about spoilers. If someone spoils "Avengers: Endgame" for you on Facebook two days before it opens, be mad at them, absolutely. But if it's two months from now...
VANDERWERFF: ...And people are having a conversation, it's kind of on you to say, I have to preserve my own experience. And I think we've shifted so much of this conversation to the people who could spoil that we've forgotten that the people who want to remain unspoiled have a responsibility within it, too.
CORNISH: That's Todd VanDerWerff. He's the critic at large for Vox - also host of a podcast, "Primetime;" it's about the history of television. Todd, thanks so much.
VANDERWERFF: It was so great to be here.
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