Sunday, April 29, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

For the last ten years, Marvel Studios has been doing the impossible.  Just look at the list of decisions they've made on the road to total dominance of the movie box office, Hollywood's action-adventure machine, and sizable chunks of the cultural conversation.  Every one of them, at the time it was made, elicited loud cries of "why?", and more importantly, "how?"  How can Marvel create a movie universe without the rights to tentpole heroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men?  How can they launch their new franchise with C-list weirdos like Iron Man and Thor?  How can they create a successful team-up movie combining the heroes of five previous films?  How can they incorporate genuinely out-there concepts like the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, and Ant-Man into their burgeoning cinematic universe?  How can they re-incorporate Spider-Man into that universe, relaunching the character for the third time in fifteen years?  How can they accommodate directors with a more definitive viewpoint and agenda, like Taika Waititi or Ryan Coogler?

And yet, every single time we've asked this question, the answer has been "like this".  I don't like all of the MCU movies and I don't think all of them are good, but every single one of them works.  Through a combination of inspired casting choices, a firm grasp of the kind of world they wanted to build and the stories they wanted to tell in it, and sure-footed leadership from mastermind Kevin Feige, Marvel has created a universe that is always entertaining to visit, with characters we can care about, settings we can become attached to, and, even in the worst films of the bunch, moments worth experiencing.  It's all the more impressive an accomplishment when you look at other studios' (and even Marvel's sister division in charge of Star Wars) attempts to replicate it, almost all of which have resulted in half-baked or genuinely unwatchable fare.

So even though I wouldn't say that I walked into Avengers: Infinity War with high hopes, I had certain expectations from it.  I'm not a great fan of any of the MCU's team-up movies--I think Avengers is more impressive for being attempted than for its limited success; I get more annoyed with Age of Ultron whenever I think about it; and though I praised Civil War when I first watched it, it has aged very poorly for me, and I now remember mainly its risible politics and the fact that it has made me dislike Steve Rogers.  But for all that, I still believed that the question aroused by the Infinity War concept--how can Marvel rope together dozens of characters from multiple storylines into a battle against a single universe-destroying villain, and make a successful and entertaining movie out of it?--would be answered with the same definitive success as previous ones.  I didn't expect to love Infinity War, but I expected it to work.

Instead, it is barely even a movie.  The answer to "how can you give each of these lovingly crafted characters the space and attention they deserve" turns out to be "you can't".  Characters in Infinity War turn up to prop up the plot and move it along, nothing more.  There's barely any space for meaningful interactions or even the occasional revealing plot point.  In fact, there's barely any space for story.  Infinity War is simply non-stop event, one fight scene leading into another with only the minimum of connective tissue.  And if that conjures up images of something energetic and exhilarating like Mad Max: Fury Road, Infinity War is the exact opposite, dutiful and airless.  None of the fight scenes are bad, but they're the same CGI spectacle we've seen many times before, and all so clearly in thrall to the demands of the plot that there's no space to be excited, surprised, or worried.

Infinity War proceeds along three storylines.  In the first, the Guardians of the Galaxy pick up Thor, left adrift in space after his crew of Asgardian refugees was slaughtered by Thanos, who was in search of the Tesseract Cube (along the way Thanos kills Heimdal and Loki; Valkyrie's whereabouts are never mentioned).  Thanos is, of course, the estranged father of Gamora, and she reveals that his goal is to kill half of all living beings in the universe, to which end he needs to collect all six of the Infinity Stones, which will give him control over all aspects of reality.  In a second storyline, an advance party of Thanos's henchmen arrives on Earth looking to collect the Time Stone (wielded by Doctor Strange) and the Mind Stone (currently powering Vision).  Strange, Tony Stark, and Peter Parker fend off the invaders but in the process end up trapped on Thanos's ship on its way to his homeworld, where they decide to mount an attack against him.  Finally, nearly every other major MCU player converges on Wakanda, where they hope to detach the Mind Stone from Vision so they can destroy it and foil Thanos's plan, and where they end up in a last stand against Thanos's regrouped forces.

The third of these storylines is nothing more than make-work, wasting the presence of such vital MCU players as Captain America, Black Widow, and pretty much everyone from Wakanda.  The emotional crux is meant to be the revelation that Vision and Wanda have been carrying on a secret affair since they ended up on different sides in Civil War, which now turns to tragedy since only Wanda's powers can destroy the Mind Stone.  But introducing a romance half a scene before telling us that it is doomed is a tough sell even if the lovers in question are well-developed characters (as seen with the example of Natasha and Bruce in Age of Ultron).  Doing it with Vision, who is underwritten, and Wanda, who is inconsistently written, is a losing proposition, and so the entire storyline ends up feeling perfunctory, a chance to check in with our favorite characters--here's Shuri showing up Bruce!  Here's M'Baku doing the Jabari war-bark!  Here's Natasha with a new hair color!--without letting them actually be the people we've come to care about.

The Tony/Strange/Peter storyline is little more than an excuse for three of the MCU's most inveterate quippers to quip against each other, which is entertaining as far as it goes but not much more than that.  The film's only real weight of emotional significance comes, strangely enough, from Thor and the Guardians.  There's a genuinely touching scene between Thor and Rocket in which the former recounts the losses he's experienced in the last few years and tries to convince himself that he's still up for a fight.  But most of the heavy lifting is done by Gamora, who struggles with her fear of Thanos, her guilt over the role she played in this atrocities, and her terror that he will capture her and learn from her the location of the Soul Stone, the final, lost Infinity Stone.

The problem here is that Gamora is by far the MCU's most underdeveloped headliner.  She has an incredibly fraught, complicated backstory, and yet the character who has shown up on screen has always been overshadowed, playing a sensible mom type to her more flamboyant crewmates (and sister).  And that's before we even get to the fact that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 apparently took place four years ago, and that Infinity War has so little space to fill us in on what's happened to the Guardians since then that it has Peter awkwardly reveal that he and Gamora are romantically involved during a fight with Thanos.  So when Thanos tricks Gamora into thinking she's defeated him in battle and she breaks into uncontrollable sobs, it comes as a surprise in the worst possible way.  We know so little about Gamora and how she feels about Thanos that we have no idea how she'd react to his death, how she thinks she'd react, or how she'd like to react.  Zoe Saldana does the best she can, whether it's urging Peter to kill her if it looks like Thanos is about to capture her, or breaking down when Thanos tortures Nebula to get her to give him the location of the Soul Stone, or multiple scenes opposite Thanos himself.  But she can't get around the fact that we have no idea who Gamora is, and that the writing for Infinity War isn't really interested in changing that, as the first Avengers did for Black Widow and Bruce Banner.

And then there's Thanos himself, who has been looming over the MCU since Avengers in 2012, for the most part to very little effect.  Infinity War doesn't quite rescue him from the MCU's villain curse, but there's a solid argument to be made that he is the film's most interesting, rounded character, perhaps even its protagonist (that would certainly be one way to interpret the end title informing us that "Thanos Will Return").  After so much buildup, and with so much hatered registered towards him from Gamora, Nebula, and Drax, it's a reasonably clever choice for Infinity War to depict Thanos as even-tempered, patient, and wistful.  When he listens to Gamora rail against him, or explains to her that in killing half the population of the planets he visits, he's saving them from resource scarcity, it's hard not to feel (despite the absurd purple CGI) that there's a thinking, feeling person in there, however monstrous his reasoning.  In the end, however, the film can't quite make Thanos work.  His relentless pursuit of carnage can't be squared with his oh-so-reasonable demeanor.  Unlike, say, Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Infinity War doesn't do the work of building a character whose tremendous power and longevity has led them down a path of destruction that to them feels entirely rational.  One eventually comes to feel that Thanos is pursuing his horrific plan of galactic genocide simply because the plot needs him to

(It should go without saying that Thanos's overpopulation bugbear and his proposed solution for it are hideous claptrap.  Reducing a population by half, whether through violence as Thanos used to do, or by making people simply disappear as he wants to do with the Infinity Stones, would result in immediate economic and industrial collapse, and therefore mass starvation and most likely war.  It should go without saying, but because Hollywood continues to linger in the grip of Malthusianism decades after the rest of the world saw it for the racist nonsense that it is, I'm not sure that it does.  After all, we see Thanos tell Gamora that her home planet, whose population he massacred only twenty years ago, is now a paradise, which suggests the film does want us to see merit in his approach.  So, before the first thinkpiece suggesting that "Thanos Was Right" drops, I want it on the record that no, Thanos is a moron.)

To be clear, none of what I've written so far is the reason I've come down so hard against Infinity War.  If the movie was only what I've described in the preceding paragraphs, my reaction to it would be a resounding "meh".  Not as good as Avengers, not as bad as Age of Ultron, possibly better than Civil War but mainly because it has no political message with which to infuriate me.  The thing that makes me say that Infinity War is barely a movie is its ending, in which, well, Thanos wins.  The film climaxes with an epic battle between most of our heroes plus the Wakandan armies, and Thanos's forces.  (This would be a lot more exciting if it weren't so painfully dumb; naturally, if one side is invading from space, and the other is surrounded by a force-field dome, the thing to do is to have armies square off against one another on open ground like in The Lord of the Rings.)  The point of this battle is to give Shuri time to remove the Mind Stone from Vision without killing him.  But when Shuri's lab is overrun, Vision convinces Wanda to kill him and destroy the Stone, which she does.  At which point Thanos, who already has possession of Strange's Time Stone, rewinds back a few minutes and retrieves the Stone, killing Vision.  He then completes the Infinity Gauntlet and uses it to remove half the living beings in the universe, including Bucky Barnes, Wanda, Sam Wilson, T'Challa, Peter Parker, Doctor Strange, all of the Guardians except Rocket, Nick Fury, and Maria Hill.  Roll credits.

Look, I don't have to tell you what this means, right?  The combination of comics + lots of major character death + an established McGuffin that can and already has rewound time pretty much writes the story for you.  True, some fans are already debating how much of the carnage of Infinity War is going to be rewound in Avengers 4 (personally, I think it's obvious that it's going to be everything, though perhaps some minor characters will die in the new timeline, just for appearances' sake).  But to be honest, if the argument we're having while walking out of the movie theater is "how much of the movie we've just watched is going to be cancelled out of existence by the next one?" I think we can probably agree that we are not the richer for having watched it.

One of the reasons that I despise the way pop culture has come to conflate character death with meaningful drama (a development for which I mainly blame Game of Thrones, but which the MCU has happily indulged in) is that even when that death sticks, it never ends up feeling real and significant--more like a gimmick to make people gasp and then move on to the next big moment.  The previous Avengers movies teased us relentlessly with inane "who will die" slogans, only to kill off minor characters (one of whom was revived almost immediately on TV).  Infinity War obviously couldn't take that approach again, so by the time Thanos killed Gamora as a sacrifice to earn the Soul Stone, I was pretty sure that her death, and the ones that had come before it, were going to be rolled back.  The ending of Infinity War virtually guarantees this.  It's not that I want wholesale slaughter, but when characters die, I want it to matter.  When characters suffer, or argue, or even just talk to one another, I want it to matter.  The way Infinity War ends is a promise that nothing about it--the entire 160-minute slog--is going to matter.  That the purpose of the whole exercise was the "gotcha" of the credits rolling on Thanos's victory.

You can get away with something like this in comics or TV, where it's clearer that you're telling a chapter in a story.  (In fact I would argue that the excellent second season of DC's Legends of Tomorrow tells a story that is virtually identical to Infinity War, to the extent that I'm pretty sure the Avengers will use the same tactic as the Legends did to defeat Thanos.)  But those formats usually have enough space to make the journey worth the readers' while, even if parts of it are going to be erased.  Infinity War, as I've written, is nothing but forward momentum, so to discover that the only thing that momentum was leading us to was its own cancellation--and that we're going to have to wait a year before the actual story happens--feels very much like having been cheated.  It certainly doesn't help that Marvel has been insisting for years that the Infinity War story hasn't been split into two, even changing the names of Infinity War and Avengers 4.  As the saying goes, you can trick your readers, but you can't lie to them, and pretending that Avengers 4 isn't Infinity War 2 was a lie.

A lot reviewers are going to praise Infinity War for having a "brave" downer ending, but that's not what we've gotten.  A downer ending has weight.  It leaves you feeling something besides shock.  But shock is all Infinity War has to offer, bolstered by the freedom to do whatever it wants with its world, because none of it is really going to matter.  It's the kind of emptiness I've come to associate with the DC movies (Wonder Woman excepted), where grandiosity and melodrama are allowed to stand in for genuine emotion and meaning--something I thought the MCU knew instinctively to avoid.  There's no substance to Infinity War, only spectacle, and the fact that this was the capper that the remarkable ten years of the MCU have been leading up to leaves me thinking that I have massively overrated this entire effort.

18 comments:

Brett said...

The odd thing about it is that it's not really an Avengers movie, although it's sold as such and that may have been what they were trying to make. It's a Thanos movie, and I definitely think he's the (villain) protagonist of it. If anything, some of the weaknesses in the Avengers storylines in this come from the movie trying to have it both ways - to have character beats between them be meaningful and developed even though Thanos' storyline is the focus of the movie, with the result that both are a bit under-prepared (the fact they end it with "Thanos will return" says it all).

It honestly might have been better if it was centered much more on Thanos, Gamora, and Nebula, with the rest of the Avengers being more or less cameos. But then fans presumably would have been angry that the Big Convergence of the MCU had most of the heroes playing minor roles.

His relentless pursuit of carnage can't be squared with his oh-so-reasonable demeanor.

That didn't seem that strange to me. Some pretty horrible people have also been quite mild-mannered, and I thought it helped make him come across as someone with his own horrible logic for why he's doing this (and it is horrible- I didn't get the impression that the movie wants you to think he's something more benign than a genocidal madman who thinks he's a well-intentioned extremist saving the universe).

Chris said...

I think the problem with these kinds of crossovers is that there are only so many characters you can cram into a movie before it's no longer possible to do justice to all of them (and if you try, you'll end up not doing justice to *any* of them; there simply aren't enough minutes in a film). I already noticed this in the Expendables franchise when it got to its third entry, and the characters aren't nearly as important in these movies. I suspected that Infinity War would run into the same problem, and I think it did.

About the movie being nothing but momentum, it's funny you should say that because I think that can often be an asset. Specifically, all those "middle act of a trilogy" movies that are considered the best - Empire Strikes Back, X2, The Dark Knight - I think that's a lot of why people love them. They don't have to spend half their time setting up the characters and the setting; they don't have to come up with a satisfactory resolution to all the plot lines introduced in the previous two movies; they can jump right into the action and all they have to do is keep the plot moving, raise the stakes, and then leave you on a cliffhanger. I agree that that fell flat here, and I don't know if it's because of the quality of the film or just the fact that audiences have seen this happen too often at this point. (I suspect both).

And as far as the reset button goes... My assumption was that everybody we saw disappear when Thanos snapped his fingers would be back when they did an Infinity Glove reset, but that anyone we saw "really" "die" wouldn't be. I really hope I'm wrong, because I agree that Gamora's gotten robbed in the characterization department in the last few movies, and it'd suck if this was all there was to her story. (Speaking of which, damn. The entire GOTG corner of the Marvel Universe gets it REALLY bad in this movie).

Will Fischbach said...

Thank you for this excellent and thoughtful article. I left the theatre somewhat underwhelmed as well, not to mention questioning why so many reviewers had lauded it. (I felt the same way about The Last Jedi). I think I was most hopeful when it looked as if Tony Stark was going to die—for reals. That would have at least added some element of suspense and risk, a la “no one is safe,” and perhaps led to some other interesting character development. But alas, no. It’s funny - you have a movie that kills off scores of beloved characters in a way that is meaningless and risk-free.

Justin Howe said...

"if the argument we're having while walking out of the movie theater is "how much of the movie we've just watched is going to be cancelled out of existence by the next one?" I think we can probably agree that we are not the richer for having watched it."

*standing ovation

terenceblake said...

I really enjoyed the film, although I couldn't understand why I did. I felt manipulated by the technical perfection of the movie despite its absolute lack of ideas and of real stakes. I used to like the comic version because Thanos was unique among super-villains in having an explicit philosophical position: Nihilism. Also he was no cold calculating rationalist psychopath: he was passionately in love with Death. This gave a craziness to the comic book saga that is missing in the film. The hubris in the comic is in the desire to win Death's love, not in the means to do this by gaining Infinite power and killing off half the universe. With the film, the passion, the craziness and the hubris are all flattened out into the film-makers' calculative desire to make such a film featuring as many super-heroes and escalating powers as possible. Thanos the Nihilist in love with Death has been replaced by Thanos the Calculator, who provides a good symbol for those who calculate the film (how many actors, who must be excluded, how many special effects, space and time limitations, budgetary considerations). This replacement of the passionate lover of Death by the cold Calculator is a movement within nihilism, from nihilism as content (comic book Thanos) to nihilism as form (film-makers of Thanos). Many thinkers (Heidegger and after) have argued that the hegemony of calculation is the fulfilment of nihilism, its ultimate form).

My attention was effectivelyly captured by a continual series of breaks in space and time, in setting and characters, in tone and mood, in demonstrations of power. Hence my feeling of being manipulated. Not so much by the pathos of Gamora's tears at killing her adoptive father (she was being manipulated, he did not die) or by the Scarlet Witch's despair at killing the love of her life (his death was just as quickly undone) as by the calculated cinematic montage.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Brett:

Some pretty horrible people have also been quite mild-mannered

Yeah, and that's clearly what the movie was going for, but I didn't think it actually managed it. Again, if you compare him with Ego, who genuinely does feel like a complex person who is also very disturbed, Thanos just comes off as a bit blank. A lot of that probably comes down to the fact that GOTG2 had more space to develop Ego, and that Kurt Russell wasn't burdened by CGI that kept him from emoting - almost all of Thanos's personality comes from Brolin's voice work rather than his face or mannerisms.

Chris:

as far as the reset button goes... My assumption was that everybody we saw disappear when Thanos snapped his fingers would be back when they did an Infinity Glove reset, but that anyone we saw "really" "die" wouldn't be.

I continue to think it's obvious that everyone is going to come back. I just don't see how the Guardians franchise can continue without Gamora. Neither Mantis nor Nebula can function as the Guardians' Smurfette. I suppose it's possible that a new female character will be introduced, but then you've left the previous one with a really lousy death scene.

And even though the film largely ignores the significance of this, killing off most (if not all) of the Asgardian refugees would basically leave Thor with no purpose to his existence, so I'm guessing they, and Loki and Heimdal, will be back too.

Will:

This is what I mean, though, when I say that I resent fiction using character death as a shortcut to drama. There's more surprise and risk in Tony's mental health crisis in Iron Man 3 than in teasing the possibility of his death. Hell, I'd argue that what Iron Man 2 tried to do along the same lines was more inherently dramatic than "will he die??????" My disappointment with Infinity War is rooted mainly in the fact that Marvel seems not to realize this.

Brett said...

Abigail:

Fair enough. As I said, I think he suffers a bit in development because they didn't fully commit to making the movie about Thanos and his adoptive children even though he's the protagonist and the movie is centered around his decisions and why he does them.

That scene where he takes young Gamora off her planet while killing half of the people on it? That should have been the opening scene of the movie, before flashing forward.

Phillip Smith said...

I overall really liked the movie, especially once I recognized that Thanos was the protagonist of the film and the heroes were his "villains". Thanos' motivations were okay, but don't address the route of the issue which is the unsustainable overconsumption of resources. His reasoning falls apart pretty easily, to the point where it's odd he wouldn't think of that. I wish they kept his original motivation of wanting to woo Lady Death because it gives a grander and weirder scale to the whole event. Marvel's not afraid of going Cosmic, so why not?

Kat Jones said...

Either the studio is keeping the cast of the next Avengers movie a VERY tight secret, or it's not true that most (or all) of the deaths in this movie will be undone. Unless they're largely undone off-screen.

I've gone through IMDB to check the characters who died in IW, and only a very few show IW2 in their acting credits. And IW2 is already filmed. It's in post-production.

Jacqie said...

Maybe this has already been brought up somewhere and I haven't seen it: doesn't having Thanos use magic/science that can shape reality to kill half the population of the universe instead of.. I don't know, inventing a cornucopia machine, make him either really dumb, unimaginative, or bent on killing for its own sake instead of "resource scarcity"? When you've got the power to do anything and the only thing that occurs to you is "kill everyone", then you're not really trying. Or you really did want to just kill everyone. It makes Thanos's whole justification specious.

Brett said...

@Jacqie

Yep. He's a genocidal madman who only thinks he's taking extreme but justified measures for the greater good.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Kat:

Marvel already has a Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel in production, not to mention Guardians of the Galaxy 3. And if you think they're not ravenous to make more films about Black Panther, their most successful franchise launch ever, I don't know what to tell you.

More importantly, I don't get why you're treating IMDB as an ironclad information source. There's no fact-checking on the site. It's updated by users (and in the case of pre-release projects like IW2, only Pro users can do that). If you think Marvel, who have spent the last two months rigorously policing even the slightest possibility that anyone might spoil the end of IW, are above manipulating the IMDB page for the second film, it might be worth remembering that only a few months ago CBS created an entire fake IMDB page for an actor who didn't exist, in order to hide a twist on a relatively minor project like Star Trek: Discovery.

Jacquie:

Yeah, as Brett says and as several other people online have observed, the fact that Thanos doesn't seem to have even considered using the gauntlet in order to solve the problem of resource scarcity is pretty telling. But, like most other interesting ideas in the film, this is something that's rushed past with little or no acknowledgment, because there's simply no time for it.

londonkds said...

Personally, I blame the character death fashion on Joss Whedon and his overused "whenever the story flags, kill a much-loved character out of nowhere" manoeuvre.

Retlawyen said...

I agree with a lot of what you've written here. The fact that nobody pushes back on Thanos' plan's intrinsic stupidity (and re: Gamora's home planet, the movie actually seems to be endorsing it) is intensely dumb.

Like, certainly whatever remnant claws itself back from the aftermath of half of the populace vanishing will eat less (hat tip to Y: The Last Man) for a while, but presumably after they have their act together you will have this problem (the 'problem' of life using up stuff? I guess? What is stuff for if not for living beings to use?) again. Is Thanos just gonna hang around and snap his fingers every hundred years?

I don't particularly mind the villain winning at 'the end', so to speak, given that presumably this will be rolled back in the next movie. I think the reason I react differently this from you is that I don't think this will be a 'time unwinds' thing, I think it will be the good guys assembling the Infinity Stones (presumably with 6 folks instead of one to get around the whole idea that only Thanos can use more than one) and wishing everybody who got snapped away back to life.

I tend to think the rest (the Asguardians and Gamorra) will stay dead. If Thor dies in Infinity War 2 (Infinity War Strikes Back!) then his supporting cast's absence isn't a big deal, and Gamorra has already made up with her sister, told off her stepfather and found love. Guardians would struggle without her, but that could very easily be the point of the next Guardians movie. The long term story there is Peter growing up, and this would be the next stop on that journey.

I also liked the connective scenes more than you did. Whoever is writing the dialog for this one is on point. Guardians meeting Thor was sort of a gimme in terms of comedy scenes, but Rocket and Thor talking through his trauma was actually really affecting to me.

I pivot back to agreement with you on the Wakanda fight though. I get that they wanted to give opportunities for heroism to people who basically weren't in the movie, but by that point we all know Thanos is on his way with all the other stones. Whether the heroes beat up a bunch of extras or not isn't going to matter, but it goes on and on for like twenty minutes.

Overall I was torn. The parts I didn't like I really didn't like (sympathy for Thanos! Wakanda battle! Vision and Scarlet Witch are in love but must kill one another, just like Peter and Gamorra!) but there were a lot of really great scenes in there.

Mark said...

"I continue to think it's obvious that everyone is going to come back. I just don't see how the Guardians franchise can continue without Gamora. Neither Mantis nor Nebula can function as the Guardians' Smurfette."

It's true that the levelheaded, practical, kind of boring Gamora isn't the greatest Guardians character. A replacement—say, Nebula—would be an upgrade. I think Guardians 3 will be about Star-Lord trying, and failing, to bring her back.

“And even though the film largely ignores the significance of this, killing off most (if not all) of the Asgardian refugees would basically leave Thor with no purpose to his existence, so I'm guessing they, and Loki and Heimdal, will be back too.”

Thor’s purpose is to be a big charming lunkhead who goes off on fun adventures. He doesn’t need Loki, or even Asgard, for that. His relationship with Loki had gone as far as it could so I’m certain Loki will stay dead. Vision and Heimdall as well.

Marvel has been nothing if not shrewd up to this point. Not killing any of their characters when even Downey has said publicly that “heads will roll” would be massively dumb on Marvel’s part. Loki, Gamora, Vision and Heimdall died in this one. A bunch more people, including a few of the original Avengers, will die in the sequel.

VariousVarieties said...

I enjoyed the film, but admittedly mostly because of the surface-level appeal: the jokes, the action, the two triumphant entrances set to the Avengers theme. Thor listing his losses to Rocket was probably the best dialogue scene.

But beyond the novelty, I'm not sure whether the introduction of Comic Book Events (on a scale even larger than Ultron and Civil War) and Comic Book Death into the films is a good thing. I'm not usually a fan of comics' massive crossover events (the fact that runs such as Bendis/Brubaker on Daredevil were very self-contained and not disrupted by any contemporary events is part of why they're among Marvel's best in the past 20 years).

Although I thought the hazy dreamlike quality of the finger-snap deaths was well-done, I didn't feel them tugging on my heartstrings. Even when Peter Parker went, I was still mostly thinking "OK, what's the pattern in who's going and who's staying?" The deaths seem like a calculated excuse to pare back the characters to a more manageable number (the survivors are almost all Phase 1 characters) - could the follow-up be one of those rare sequels that goes smaller, like Kill Bill volume 2?

I saw Thanos as a twisted version of Jor-El, in his unheeded warnings to his home planet. His plan is definitely illogical (Jenny Nicholson has an amusing video summary of the problems with it), and I *would* argue that his inability to see the alternatives offered by an omnipotence-granting gauntlet is where "the Mad Titan" nickname comes in, he's fixated on something that makes no sense... but that theory is scuppered because, as you and @Retlawyen mentioned, the film does seem to be endorsing Thanos' approach as successful. I'd like to think that when fans say that they empathise with his understandable motives, hopefully it's just the vaguely environmentalist "we need to preserve resources" part, not the "population reduction will solve it" part.

There was a brief discussion in the film's thread at The Mary Sue (and also in a Twitter thread begun by Lindsay Ellis), about whether Gamora's death is an example of "fridging for the sake of manpain": that by suggesting Thanos really loves Gamora, the film is sending the harmful message that an abuser genuinely loves his victim. (It could be possible that the fact that Thanos "loves" her in a possessive way will play into how the sequel is resolved: since he didn't obtain the Soul Stone in a genuine way, his actions with it will backfire somehow, leaving a loophole that the heroes can exploit?)

I found it somewhat dubious that a Nazi - arguably fiction's ultimate Nazi - was put in charge of guiding people to the universe's manifestation of Soul. But then again, I've also seen it suggested that his role in the film (beyond as a fanservice cameo) functions as a way to prove that Thanos exploits no loophole to obtain the Soul Stone: Red Skull is the most power-hungry character in the MCU, and loves no-one, so him being so close to it but unable to obtain it is torture for him.

Look, I don't have to tell you what this means, right? The combination of comics + lots of major character death + an established McGuffin that can and already has rewound time pretty much writes the story for you.

I think that any death rewinding is likely to be something other than the Time Stone. Other fan theories have them spirited away into a duplicate universe, or trapped inside the Soul Stone. My pet theory involves the different flow of time in Ant-Man's Quantum Realm (which gets mentioned in the sequel's new trailer). Not that a more creative method of time travel would do anything to resolve the fundamental problem about reversible deaths not feeling meaningful - but at least it means we might get an amusing scene out of it with Pym, Shuri, Stark and Banner putting their heads together trying to crack time travel!

Unknown said...

I don't think the film sends the message that the abuser genuinely loves his victim through the Thanos/Gamora scene. I think the movie was trying to show the exact opposite. Thanos as protagonist is set up at that place in the hero's journey where he has to make the ultimate sacrifice. He is Agamemnon and Gamora is Iphigenia (or Abraham and Isaac if you want that reference). But instead of seeing all the man-pain that the father has to go through in sacrificing his daughter and sacrificing the child is proof of his manliness/faith/whatever, we see it from her perspective. We know Gamora and have spent two movies with her and we know that the idea that he loves her (not to mention what he's going to do to her) is monstrous. And that even though he feels strongly that their relationship is one best described by love it is very emphatically not that in the eyes of anyone else. In the world of toxic masculinity, maybe it's good to have a scene with a relationship where it's clear that just because the man feels something does not mean that feeling is reciprocated. It's a low bar, but that's where we're at.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

It would be nice to think that there's some attempt to push back at Thanos's toxic worldview, but Infinity War can't do that and advance its story to where it needs to get. Even though we would probably agree that Thanos's love isn't worthy of the name (and even though Gamora says that explicitly), we have to believe that Thanos loves Gamora because killing her wins him the Soul Stone. In the same way, we have to accept that there's merit to his genocide-as-cure-for-resource-scarcity plan because he tells Gamora that her homeworld has not only rebounded from his attack on it but is now prosperous. It's not just that there's no time in the movie to meaningfully address Thanos's dysfunctional worldview. It's that if you did, you'd derail the plot, and getting to Thanos's victory and the "shock" of the disappearing characters is what the whole movie is about.

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