Friday, 27 April 2018

Avengers Infinity War (2018)


I know if you say anything against the MCU you are immediately dismissed. I get it. Don't go against blind mass appeal. But I can't stay quiet. And I was mostly enjoying the film up until the end.

The end.

Come on.

I call bullshit on Avengers Infinity War. Here's why.

Warning Spoilers. You've been warned. 

One of my biggest struggles with the MCU, as I have expressed before, is lack of depth. I have a hard time ever feeling anything at an MCU movie because the films, for the most part, go out of their way to be irreverent, to reduce emotional impact, to be safely at arms length emotionally. Make sure you throw in a  fart joke so that no ones feelings get too deep is the motto of this franchise. Fine. I get it. People like that shit. Okay. I know when I go to an Avengers movie, the film isn't going to make me feel much more than adrenaline and tickle my funny bone. It's not what I get excited about in a movie but it's not terrible. Knowing what I'm signing up for I go in and let myself enjoy it.

So through most of Infinity War, the irreverent jokes never being more than a few minutes a part max, I let myself role with it. I was impressed by the Russo brothers ability to pull off the comic book movie holy grail. Comic books have been bringing together all their characters into "cross over" books for decades and every comic fan knows this is a quintessential aspect of comic-fandom. To pull it off in a movie is impressive. I would argue that Days of Future Past already did this year ago but let's just ignore that and still be impressed by the magnitude of what Infinity War is. The Russos have managed to tell a good, entertaining story while balancing legions of characters and making it all seem to fit. I can forgive the joke on joke on joke script writing cause I knew I was getting that going in.

We also all knew people were going to die. Was it going to be Stark? Cap? Leading up to Infinity War there was a great deal of speculation. I was curious to see how that was going to be pulled off. I was hoping that MCU might actually give me some feels for the first time ever. I could imagine the ways that losing one or both of the big characters could have some real pathos. I also secretly hoped they kill Thor because, come on, he sucks. But first it was Loki. Okay cool. I think him being redeemed felt false and cheap but whatever. But then Gamora. Wow. A character I felt had been completely wasted up to this point in the MCU finally gets a satisfying arc but dies a hero. Better. Vision. Makes sense plot wise. Hard to get too worked up. He and Scarlet Witch have never been characters I've cared about but at least it serves the story well.

But then came the ending.

As Thanos "wins" and he snaps his all powerful fingers and people start dying left and right, the film pretends to be all sad. But fuck off cause we all know it's bullshit. Characters start falling like flies. Winter Soldier, Teen-Groot, Strange. I could have believed we saw the end of Bucky or even Groot but Strange? Probably not. As the death count rose the realization became clearer and clearer. None of this is real. All these characters will come back somehow. Black Panther dies? We know there is a Black Panther 2 in development. When Peter Parker dies in Stark's arms there was a moment I almost felt it. It was powerfully done and the implications are important, but all of that was completely undermined by the fact that we all know Spider-man isn't going to die. Marvel isn't announcing that the Homecoming sequel is cancelled. It's a cheap manipulation. I couldn't feel anything but resentment.

Remember that moment in Misery when Annie explains how unfair it was when the serial character is just magically back in the next chapter? "He didn't get out of the cock-a-doodie car!" she screams. This doesn't have the implicit story and character implications that the journey of Days of Future Past presents (a film which has be bawling at the end) or Superman's death and rebirth through BvS and Justice League. There is no heroic sacrifice just random characters being erased while we have a simple pause in the story until the next chapter when they all magically come back. So guess what, I don't need to be sad. I don't need to feel. Phew. Safe MCU emotional shallowness. 

While other blockbusters have dealt with the real world implications of our heroes dying, even if the point is to focus on how those heroes might struggle to come back to us, Infinity War just uses it as a set up for what we all know is coming. That's a cop out in my mind. This is the MCU's modus operandi, make it accessibly digestible.

And how does it end finally? On a "mother-fucker" joke. Stay classy MCU.

So as I left I felt pissed off. I'm sure they still have a plan for the next chapter where maybe we'll get the real pathos I've been craving. Perhaps Stark and/or Cap will finally bite the bullet in the next one after all is made right with the world again. This was originally going to be a two part film. Perhaps if they had stuck to that idea and ended with "to be continued..." I wouldn't have been so pissed. But they didn't.

I guess I can hold out hope that perhaps the next Avengers film will be the one I finally want to see. Or I could just accept this franchise is not for me.

Further Reflections
After sitting with the film longer, I have come to understand more about what bothers me about Infinity War. While I have found the Marvel movies to be rather on the less-insightful side and more "popcorn" there is also another trend I have pointed out, the way they follow more traditional values. Marvel movies tend to centre the white male heroes over the rest. This was one of the reasons Black Panther was such a step forward for them. Not only was it about uncolonized people of colour but women were front and centre. For a franchise that left Black Widow/Gamora/Scarlet Witch with very little to do, this was a huge leap. Sure queer people still don't get to exist in Marvel's cinematic world but at least this was somewhat of a step forward. But I feel like Infinity War has taken a big step back.

Think about who dies at the end. And think about who is left to save the day as we know will happen in the next Avengers film. Infinity War is the ultimate "fridging." At the end female characters, characters of colour, and others (ie. Spider-man) all die for one explicit reason: the character development of idealized white men. The rich billionaire, the great white soldier, the godly specimen, the cocky cool-boy (the ideals of white man-hood) are pretty much all that are left. After building up T'Challa's uncolonized identity IW sets up the need for the white colonizing solider to save him. Spider-man's death is all there just for Iron Man's development. Gamora is the ultimate example of a character's sole function being to die for the advancement of other characters. Since we know they are both being resurrected, since we know the next movie will likely be a chance for white heroes to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, we know these deaths are simply plot devices for the white male heroes and their character arcs.

No wonder the film is so popular.

When films attempt to upend this narrative the reaction is strong and swift. In Batman v Superman the white idealized man (Batman) is turned into villain learning that he has to embrace and submit himself to the immigrant (Superman) and the female (Wonder Woman) to be able to save his own soul. It is only through recognizing the equal humanity of the other (and perhaps even letting himself be changed/influenced by the other) that the white man can redeem himself. Before that he "saves" people who are terrified of him. The idea of being a hero in his own mind but not considering those he is "saving." Lex Luther is another example of the idealized white man presented as villain for taking whatever he wants without regard to how others are affected. Audiences are far too uncomfortable with these realities presented to them.

In The Last Jedi, the idea of the heroes' journey not leading to saving the galaxy was met with derision and dismissal by audiences who needed to be more reassured that the traditional action hero can save the day. The great white hero passing the torch to a different sort of resistance was a story that needed to be told but a story that was too difficult for many to embrace.

So instead the most popular film franchise of the day returns to the idea of letting the white men's story be front and centre. The next film will let our great white heroes save the universe, save the people of colour, the damsels in distress.

Perhaps this is why this series is just not as interesting to me as the series which are telling different stories.

Avengers Infinity War
Starring: pretty much everyone, ever
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

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