Film * Anthony & Joe Russo * That Thanos Sure Is A Jerk, Huh? * 2018
I guess I just watch these now. It’s fine, Marvel movies are essentially the Taylor Swift of cinema. That’s not a knock against America’s Sweetheart, either. She’s unlocked the pop music formula perfectly. Everything is where you expect it to be, but everything is done to such a high degree of quality it takes a special kind of contrarian to deny that it’s good. Even now, “Shake it Off” can come on in the DMV and the line would look like the “Hot Stuff” scene in The Full Monty. You bob your head without really thinking about it, and that’s no accident. There’s universal appeal there. Likewise, the MCU. With a few exceptions, all these movies kind of look the same, they all hit the same beats. But they hit them well, and therefore the threshold of quality is high enough that most people can watch these and enjoy them. Myself included.
The other thing about consistent quality, formula or not, is that it’s hard. People started to turn on Tay’s last album a bit, but it still sold a bajillion copies and “… Ready For It?” is still a goddamn bop (even though the video only has a paltry 230 million views, as opposed to two and a half billion). By now we know the MCU formula, but it also still works, which considering the scope of the project, it absolutely should not. I mean, you can look to other attempts at creating a unified universe of films to understand how this should have gone. Yet however they’ve done it, they’ve done it, and in the meantime have made us a nation of comic book dorks, to varying degrees. I watch these, I enjoy them, but I rarely rewatch them. I’ve not picked up a single superhero comic since these started being a thing. I missed that boat as a kid and there’s no going back. There’s still several MCU movies I haven’t seen, including the second Avengers film. Yet because the formula works so well, and because of cultural osmosis, I could watch Infinity War and feel like I wasn’t missing much.
Obviously, the people who never miss a film and actually do rewatch these things will get the most out of it. It took me a little while to really get into the groove, if only because the tone is so different from the last MCU movie I watched. The taut opening scene with Thor and Loki and Thanos was sullied a bit by my own imagination, sitting there waiting for “The Immigrant Song” to kick in. It did not. I didn’t see Spiderman: Homecoming, but I did see Civil War, so there was enough in that movie to ensure that Peter Parker’s relationship with Tony Stark made sense. Sometimes I remembered seeing particular characters, but wasn’t able to really pin down where. The whole Vision/Scarlet Witch relationship did nothing for me because I couldn’t remember where that came from. Probably that second Avengers movie I didn’t see! And yet, the key parts to these films are not necessarily the emotional beats. It’s the comic book action and the banter, which is as sharp as ever.
Also, Infinity War appeals to my apocalyptic sensibilities. This Thanos dude takes a hard line with depopulation, and intends to wipe out half the living organisms in the universe. His argument, which we’ll get into a little bit later, basically states that there are finite resources and that life consumes too much. The logical, humane thing to do, then, is to painlessly eliminate half of all life so that the remaining organisms can have a better life. As you might expect, some people take exception to this line of reasoning. Thanos don’t care, though, so the movie is basically about him trying to hunt down some glowing dipdoodles so he can put em in his glove thingy and enact his plan. It’s a straight up Final Fantasy crystal hunt, yo. However, just like any well-worn trope, a great McGuffin hunt can still be fun if done well. Infinity War does it well. And, as if the Internet hasn’t spawned a million memes (which I get now!), spoilers after the break.
Several times throughout the movie, Thanos tries to defend his constant genociding with ruthless logic. Too many people (or aliens, whatever) use too many resources which means that ecosystems inevitably fail and then everyone suffers. His proposal is to simply eliminate half of any given population, which would allow the remaining half to live better lives. There are, one might surmise, some flaws in his reasoning. First, and most importantly, is that the universe is not an ecosystem, at least not on a scale we can deal with. Even in a reality where there is a vast, intergalactic civilization, space is impossibly huge. There’s a point in the movie where Thanos straight up says that the universe is finite, with finite resources. And maybe technically that’s true, but even so its size is beyond our comprehension. Literally, our brains cannot comprehend the vastness of the universe. Now Thanos is apparently some kind of crazy god-alien and so it can be assumed that he has a better idea of the actual size of the universe. But that just begs more questions.
Considering that Thanos is concerned with over-consumption on a universal scale, that either means that there is too much life in the universe compared to resources or that there is a massively small amount of life on too few worlds which can sustain it. The presentation of the MCU seems to lean toward a small universe filled with lots of life, but the reality is likely the opposite. Either way, the power of the Infinity Gauntlet seems to be borderline omnipotent. Fully powered, Thanos can pretty much create reality on a whim. You’re telling me he can’t just terraform a few of these lifeless planets and move some people? Like the only option is massive genocide? I’m pretty sure Thanos could just make a fist and shoot some crystal lasers and make an atmosphere and some rivers and forests and shit on Mars, you know? Also, the whole Final Solution thing is just ham-fisted in and of itself. Not all planets are at the same stage of development. And for those like Earth, if you were to suddenly remove half the population (and also animals?), you run the very high risk that civilization crashes for lack of the people to properly run it. That kind of sudden apocalypse would cause way more death and destruction than just the missing half. For an all-powerful god-alien, Thanos lacks imagination and frankly doesn’t seem all that bright.
And yet, on Team Avengers, there are multiple heroes who have been advertised as super-geniuses that don’t bother trying to out-brain Thanos. Maybe in their wisdom they recognize that Thanos, despite his logical posturing, is megalomaniacal to the point of irrationality. That’s probably correct. Yet you’d think Banner and Stark would at least dunk on him a bit, like get a load of this dumb asshole who can’t even think right. But no. Instead there’s a lot of angsty moralizing between the various heroes. It’s well-worn territory, just on a larger scale. “We don’t trade lives” is a sentiment that comes up multiple times. But like, one life for a trillion-trillion lives? Maybe make that trade. Regardless, there is a lot of life-trading going on in Infinity War, and it’s probably the least interesting thing going on. Humans have no concrete attachment to abstract numbers, so what should be an easy decision isn’t. Two characters make this choice in the movie, not that it ends up mattering. Star Lord decides to kill his love to save the universe, she ends up dead anyway and Thanos still gets his. Likewise Scarlet Witch destroying her boy. She does it, it doesn’t matter. In the end, Thanos wins and nihilism reigns.
Obviously, this is a comic book movie, and if I know anything about comics it’s that death is rarely final. Not that I need to understand how comics work to be pretty confident that most of what happens in Infinity War is going to be undone in the next film. I don’t think I wrote about it, but I liked Black Panther quite a bit, and that movie made stupid money. When Black Panther dissolved at the end, I literally said “oh no, my cash cow!” Then Groot disappears and “oh no, my merchandise!” I would be shocked if Disney straight up bucked the formula and allowed its money-machine to die. That said, I would imagine some of these actors are getting to the point where they’re done. There have been a lot of these in the last decade, and I’m sure Robert Downey, Jr. would like some downtime to roll around in his impossible money. So, there will be heroic sacrifices by the old guard to save the new, I assure you, especially if Captain Marvel is good. And that’s all fine. Then, sometime down the line, they can reboot it and do it all again! Yay!