If you happen to watch old Hollywood epics such as 'Lawrence of Arabia' or 'Ben-Hur', you'll encounter something that might seem like an oddity nowadays - an intermission.
Yet, in the '50s and '60s, it was relatively standard in large-scale movies such as these. The idea being that you'd step out into the gorgeously-appointed lobby for a martini, smoke three cigarettes, make witty banter, and then return for another hour and a half of Peter O'Toole looking messianic in the desert.
Well, now it's 2019 and the Russo Brothers are attempting to bring back the intermission for 'Avengers: Endgame'. Recent internet reports have suggested that the follow-up to 'Infinity War' will have a runtime approaching three hours. All well and good, except you've got to wonder why a story such as this can't be adequately wrapped up in shorter time.
There's a good chance that there's some kind of emotional crescendo building with 'Endgame', which likely involves an exit for beloved characters such as Iron Man, maybe Captain America, and whoever else has a contract that's due to expire. It makes sense, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has now become so dense with characters and its own lore that it probably needs a purge of its cast list to keep it fresh and financially viable for another ten years.
No doubt the Russo Brothers have made their case for a three-hour movie to Disney executives, the cast and the crew of 'Endgame', and are now test-marketing it with audiences. In a recent interview, Joe Russo explained that "...(for) the first three screenings, not a single person got up to go to the bathroom." The likelihood, of course, is that audiences will eat it all up regardless because there are people who want to see three-plus hours of action and if the pacing can sustain it, why not?
And that's what is really going to make this either a narrative success or failure - the pacing. Trying to maintain pace for three hours isn't just difficult, it's impossible. Moreover, you have to wonder how big can the story be, how necessary are all parts to it, that something can't be excised to keep the film to a reasonable running time?
Telling a story cleanly and efficiently is a lost art in mainstream blockbusters of late. There are the prerequisite endless backstories and tie-ins with other movies, new locales and characters have to be shown off, and it's all got to fit with the overall brand that it's attached to.
You only need to look at something like 'John Wick' to know that storytelling in mainstream blockbusters can still be done with elegance and economy. Could you imagine an intermission in 'John Wick' or even something like 'The Empire Strikes Back' or 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark'? Absolutely not.
Yet, for those two examples, there was arguably just as much world-building, character development, and interweaving of sequels and prequels that 'Avengers Endgame' could possibly have. There was every opportunity for 'The Empire Strikes Back' or 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark' to add on an extra hour. Belloq could have gotten an origin story. We could have learned more about how Boba Fett came to be on the bridge of Darth Vader's flagship.
Instead, directors, editors, and screenwriters all decided that some things weren't necessary to tell a story and made the decision to cleanly cut them out in favour of efficient storytelling. If 'Avengers: Endgame' ends up at three hours and the only way to break it up is by adding an intermission, you'll no doubt need it to try and figure out why it needed to be that long in the first place.