Avengers: Infinity War

Spoilers. I don't usually care about spoilers, but for some reason I wanted to go in clean for this one, and I'm glad I did. I didn't expect what was coming. Up until the very end I thought the film was playing by the rules and would pull off a defeat of the bad guy. To have Thanos win was a glorious send up of expectations.

Joel over at the London Graphic Novel Network has written a very good three part piece (even think-pieces now come in trilogies) on the film called 'the audacity of hopelessness', which is an excellent title, as this really is an audacious move by Marvel. In previous Avengers films Joss Whedon established the protocol of having a minor character die permanently in order to generate pathos and a certain amount of tension about who would make it. It never worked because you knew almost all of them will. The chat in the run-up to Infinity War would have been who would bite the bullet this time, a popular theory being that Iron Man would be retired. What a safe option that turned out to be! Instead the four founding Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk) are spared, but Thanos wins and it's the new characters who turn to ash.

Joel loves the chutzpah of the ending, and takes issue with another good piece by Film Crit Hulk, who complains that the audacity is only skin deep. Like the Marvel comics before them, the cinematic universe will retcon the superhero cull and we'll return to our regular scheduled programming of two to three films a year. The safe option is simply deferred, and there won't be meaningful consequences. It's a justified fear, which is why I'm hoping Avengers 4 is a working title and the next film is just called Thanos. Perhaps it can even go in the direction Film Crit Hulk suggests, and explore Thanos's abused childhood and unfulfilled romance with a goddess of death. The only way the audacity of Infinity War can be earned is if Marvel continue to be audacious.

Film Crit Hulk is rather adorable in his fretting about what the Marvel films are teaching people:

I think about how many people can’t handle the basic dramatic stress of Infinity War and seeing our heroes in danger. I worry about how all the old lessons of Walt Disney’s original ethos, and the emphasis on understanding loss and consequence, could help prepare us to face the pain that we experience. For so many stories are designed to teach us the incredible healing and human power of sadness.

At my screening in the Peckamplex a lot of the kids were running around the aisles during the talking bits, so forgive me if I downgrade the importance of the Marvel Universe's underlying message. Those inured to the workings of retcons may well be annoyed at the probable lack of consequence to Infinity War's finale. But the mood in the screening was palpable – even the kids were silent in the last 10 minutes. Hulk is criticising the film to come, maybe justifiably. But the impact of Infinity War is real.

It's always about perspective. I would guess that most people still experience these things as individual films, rather than as threads in a wider tapestry. And the films are never less than enjoyable. The wider tapestry on the other hand is pretty threadbare, little more than a ploy to get you interested in the minor films (like the acclaimed Black Panther or the quirky Ant-Man) which would otherwise not have the audience they do.

And for all Film Crit Hulk's fretting about the film's disinterest in loss and consequence, even he recognises with a bit of squinting that Infinity War is trying to say something about sacrifice. In order to get the soul stone, Thanos must destroy something he loves, and he has the will to do it. He is a believer in the greater good, despite the bodies that have to pile up in the meantime. Meanwhile Gamora and Scarlet Witch fail the test, refusing to sacrifice their loved ones to stop Thanos (this gets slightly ridiculous in the latter case, as it would appear quite a few Wakandans give their lives in order to save Vision). In the end it doesn't matter, but at least Gamora and Vision both consent to their destruction. Heroes sacrifice themselves, the villain sacrifices others.

And there is some pathos to the deaths – Spidey and Stark obviously, but Don Cheadle wandering around looking for Falcon hit me quite hard. Hulk having to cope with Black Widow being gone would have been even more poignant, especially given their brief reunion, but the film spares her for some reason. The indiscriminate deaths are bewildering, quite difficult to process. But that's exactly as it should be. "Thanos will return" is a gesture worthy of Jonathan Hickman, and future films will not be able to take away the finality of that experience. I'm cautiously optimistic that Marvel will find a way to mourn the dead before righting the ship.

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