Do Infinity War!
[Remember, keep sending in your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple each week. I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. I will even "do" pop culture if you give me like...a year.]
Hey can you work your mojo on Infinity War?
How about a review of Infinity War?
Your Thor: Ragnarok review was spectacular. Do Infinity War?
Why haven't you done any MCU reviews since Thor? Would love your take on Black Panther or Captain Marvel if you've seen it.
From a writer's perspective, what did you think about Infinity War?
I'm not going to write a full review of a movie that is really only half over, but I'll jot down some thoughts:
- I took the look I did at Thor Ragnarok because it an is indictment of white supremacy. I felt like I had something to say about that. While I'm capable of examining the afrofuturism of Black Panther, examining it through a post-colonial lens, or unpacking the extended metaphor of feminist defeat of dudebro control, seeing past social gaslighting, emotions-mean-you're-wrong, and holding women back from the strength they have had all along that pits Captain Marvel against an extended metaphor of sexism, I think other voices (namely of black folks and women respectively) are doing a much better job of unpacking those movies than I could.
- With Infinity War, Marvel did something that threw a lot of critics off. They did not even attempt to make a stand-alone film. For the first time, you really were going to miss a lot of context if you hadn't seen some of the movies before. Not just a few wayward details that you could probably muddle through, but really...you were going to be a bit lost. The criticisms I saw that it was too much action and too packed with characters and had little in the way of their development (other than Thanos) rarely seemed to acknowledge that in a lot of ways the MCU itself is "The Story" and "Infinity War" is its climax. (This has some interesting implications below.)
- Also they aren't done. The two-hour movie (and 250-page novel) is losing its hegemony as the entertainment medium of choice. Many people watch what are essentially 8-15-hour "movies" on Netflix or enjoy multipart films that tell a single story. In addition to being the "climax" of the story of the MCU to date, Infinity War is also much more directly part one of a two-part movie, and there's not really any way of getting around that. So I think a lot of the reviews and criticism tried to judge Infinity War as a standalone when it isn't. I left the theater thinking "Shame it's going to be a year to see what happens." It's hard to know if this was a good movie or not when the catharsis is still four hours coming.
- Thanos is the protagonist of Infinity War. That's just the way it's written. I realized that even before the interviews started saying things that verified that read. He's got the want as well as the need. He is the proactive agent going after what he wants. Everyone else in the movie is an obstacle he has to overcome––literally, the Avengers are the antagonists getting in the way of his moral imperative. He sacrifices everything to attain his goal. His people all die in service of the cause, and he has to fight alone in the final reel. He appears to fail multiple times, including a moment where it all seems lost at the end. And then, almost miraculously, he succeeds.
- What Thanos ISN'T, is some tragically misunderstood moral agent. His Malthusian aims to save resources, besides being UTTERLY fucked up, wouldn't work. Anyone with knowledge of population growth would tell Big T that he really only bought the universe maybe 50-100 years at the most, given how quickly a population doubles if it's not at its carrying capacity. Unless he's going to show up and do his uberasshole death snap every half-century or so, it is at best a VERY temporary solution. Perhaps more to the point, that's not why resource scarcity is a thing. His snap, which will inflict the entire universe with PTSD and outrageous grief at once (causing at LEAST as much suffering or more as he claims he will ameliorate) will not double everyone's allotment because it does nothing to shift the have-nots into haves. Rather, without some sort of social leveling mechanism, it will just make rich people richer as they still "own" all the resources.
- Thanos is an analogue for genocide. Why not just double all the resources? I mean, if you have literally ultimate omnipotent power over time and space, why use it to kill half the sentient people in the universe rather than shrinking everyone to half size or giving every race a extra planet of resources per million people? (In the movie, Thanos is not trying to get Death to notice his huge, throbbing...deeeeeeeeeeeestructive power.) Because Thanos isn't, as many have suggested, misunderstood, tragically misguided but trying to help, an antihero, a good ends with a crappy means, or any of that shit. Thanos kills people because Thanos is a stone cold fucking murderer. He never entertains other options because he decided what he wanted to do and then came up with a reason that fit. That he describes his objectives to mass murder HALF the universe in this trauma-bonding way that he had no choice and it was for the greater good, should be sending chills up people's spines (and does except for a bunch of folks who've never been on the working end of genocide or like-atrocities and think: "Dang, this guy has some good points.") Watch what people say when they ACTUALLY commit genocide, and you'll realize that Thanos's dialogue is not random. "I had no choice. There weren't enough resources. Too many mouths to feed. Impossible decisions had to be made. I offered a final solution."
- Thanos is also an analogue for abuse. (Which is why a number of people walked away wishing there had been a content notification.) Thanos tortures one daughter to get the other to do what he wants. He tells people he's hurting them for their own good. He isolates his daughters from their support and family so they have only him to rely on and then tortures them. After each act of abuse (dragging Gamora around or hurting her), he trauma-bonds with her by saying how much he loves her. He stays almost philosophical about HORRIFIC acts of violence (until he is out of control and then he becomes enraged). And he loves like an abuser loves––deeply for the idea of someone so long as they obey completely...or he'll hurt you––which is to say, he "loves" her only in the palest sense of possession. Even in the reactions to Infinity War people essentially continued to gaslight Gamora by proxy, describing Thanos's relationship to her as "tender" and "loving" even though she herself described in visceral detail how it wasn't. Thanos delights in pain, but rather than have the decency to admit it, he obfuscates it, like an abuser (or genocider), behind the idea that he is doing something for people's own good.
- I don't know if they're going to get into this or not, but if half the people on Earth die, a lot more than half the people on Earth are going to die. It's not like we keep going like we are now but we get twice as many Kit Kat bars in a pack and mostly are just WAY WAY sad because half our peeps vaped into ash piles. In fact, the agencies that track things like epidemics and diseases (like the CDC and the WHO) say we're in big, big, BIG trouble if we lose more than 10% to some kind of plague. Removing 1/2 of the people at a restaurant when only half the customers are coming in might not be so bad, but removing half the people who work at a hospital, a power plant, or a water distribution pump is a liiiiiiiiiiiitle bit different. Once our infrastructure stops working, and once people don't have clean water, power, medications, or even a grocery store with food in it, civilization basically begins a domino collapse, and a shit ton more people end up dying in secondary ways. We'd bounce back before things got to Walking Dead season 7 levels, but for most of the developed world, the estimate would be around 90% casualties.
- A couple of above clues show a way in which Marvel is working with the meta-narrative. For example, when it comes to Thanos being the protagonist or people in the AUDIENCE actually treating Thanos the way folks treat abusers and those who commit crimes against humanity ("Well, he does make some good points.") there is some fascinating new rules––or lack of rules, I should say. The meta-narrative of Infinity War broke the established rules of the MCU. And it does it AS THANOS GAINS INFINITY STONES. In the first TWENTY movies, basically the plot was your standard KNOW THYSELF romp of Joseph Campbell's hero's journey. The protagonists needed to learn who they (really) were, what they stood for, how to work together, or some variation of learning that they had the power to stop the antagonist all along. Infinity War turned this on its head. Quill (Starlord) got a lot of shit for screwing up the attempt to kill Thanos, but he did what he was supposed to do. He completed his full development arc and pulled the trigger to kill Gamora. He grew as a character and learned what was more important than his feels. He learned what it meant to serve something bigger than Starlord. By the 20-movie-precedent set by the MCU, he should have won in that moment.....but it didn't matter It was as if the Infinity Gauntlet reached through the movie screen and Thanos altered simply changed the laws of MCU itself. The more infinity stones Thanos gains, the more rules of the MCU he can break, culminating, of course, in the complete meaninglessness of a tearful sacrifice scene (which always works in the MCU) and at the last, evil totally achieving its objectives.
- I'm looking forward to seeing what happens.