I watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 this week. Pretty good! This isn’t a review, given how long ago this film came out (way back in May 2017). But the movie got me thinking about end-credits scenes. End-credits scenes are a weird thing (have I complained about end-credits sequences before? Oh well, we’re doing this).
The target audience of a nerd-pop culture film’s mid- or end-credits sequence is the “fan,” right? Someone who knows it’s coming because they’ve read about it in advance. Or someone who knows the conventions of the genre. And it’s someone who knows these things and decides that an obscure thirty-second clip is worth sticking around for.
I stick around for credits of most movies. It’s not because I’m hoping for sweet end-of-film footage; I just like to watch the credits. It’s cool to see the huge cast and crew associated with any particular production, and it’s a fun way to find out just who that supporting actor was, or just what that cool song in a great moment was, or even where the film was shot. Sometimes there are funny, quirky things to pick up on in credits, too. And the music is often quite nice! Credits, if nothing else, are a nice time to reflect on the film.
I suppose if end-credits scenes get more people to stick around and take in some of the names of the people whose hard work has made the film possible, then that’s a net positive. But the scenes themselves are almost always pointless. At best, they can be humorous. Some provide a little extra closure (why not have them at the end of the film, then?). Most just tease future plot lines, or try to tie a film to a larger shared universe, or simply let the fans in the audience nod with satisfaction and say, “Yes, I know that character being referenced!”
It’s reflective of the general commodification of nerd culture. Knowing and possessing all the Things in your favorite franchise is essential to being a fan. This is fortuitous to increasingly monopolized media companies, which have learned to sell the True Fan package to millions of people willing to buy in. Somehow “nerd culture” still feels niche while catered to anyone buying. The weird territoriality of that nerd culture, the possessive tribalism, nonetheless remains. So it becomes all the more important to be able to exhibit extensive and obscure knowledge.
Ironically, this is all happening when it’s also easier to know about a media property without ever engaging in it at all. We live in an era of Wikia communities. You could learn about all the characters and events of Star Wars or Marvel comics without ever even seeing a film or reading a comic. It’s not a low-cost push-back to the need for buy-in, though. It’s a stripping down of creative works (yes, even creative works prepared as part of larger franchises) into streams of facts. All part of the knowledge/possession nerd mentality. Here, knowledge/possession literally represent the same thing–ownership of facts.
Whoa, but this was about end-credit sequences. I don’t know if I have more to say on that subject. If something doesn’t advance the plot or develop the characters or otherwise enrich the film, why would it be included? If such a scene was included in the two hours, plus or minus, of the film itself, we would view it as unnecessary. But by being at the end, it can be disregarded as un-serious.
Maybe most people really like end-credits sequences. And they’ve meant different things for me at different points. I remember being excited with Nick Fury’s appearance at the end of Iron Man because it promised more and a larger universe. But now we take these shared-universes for granted. Now we’re always being sold on the next shared universe. We have an endless parade of Marvel movies and DC movies and Star Wars movies and Star Trek movies and whatever else is generally palatable to a larger public to sell. Now the end-credits scene is just bloat, a ritualized ceremony expected by the audience.
What I can say is that I watched the credits for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and I saw the end-credits sequences, and I was baffled and of course looked up each reference I didn’t understand, and I saw no value to the existence of any of those moments. Except teenage Groot. I’m willing to accept that.