In Which Scriv Gets Mad About A Film

Assuming you haven’t already, don’t go see Infinity War.

In order to preserve suspense and enjoyment for a first watching, we sometimes provide spoiler alerts. There is no suspense in this film, nor, outside of some one-liners, is there anything to be enjoyed. I trust you to make the right choice for you about whether or not to continue reading.

I’m not deeply invested in superheroes, but I enjoy them well enough. I thought Black Panther was brilliant; out of the nine Marvel Cinematic Universe films that I’ve seen, Black Panther was the one that really stuck with me as something other than a high-budget action movie with special effects (actually, I enjoyed the first Guardians of the Galaxy too, but it didn’t hold a candle to Black Panther). After Black Panther, I thought there was a chance I was going to get into more Marvel movies. But tonight, I watched the MCU devour its own, and it hurt. I cared about the twerp they’ve gotten to play Spider Man most recently, I even cared about Banderhob Coelacanth, I cared about them all as I watched them break over the knee of Thanos, which leads me to an overwhelming question: where do I even start with Thanos, the reason this atrocity of a movie exists?

A villain is only as strong as how relatable their principles are. Darth Vader wants a unified galaxy ruled by his mentor, but moreso, he wants to pull his family close and share his vision with them. Nox from Wakfu, in my opinion the greatest animated villain ever, wants to turn back time not only to save his loved ones from a terrible flood, but also to reverse his descent into the myopic, obsessive mindset of the visionary inventor so that they won’t need saving at all (and so that none of the travesties he commits will ever have happened; go watch Wakfu). Macbeth believes he is fated, and that he is guided by a force beyond mortal comprehension, a force that renders meaningless all his former ambitions; his wife, grappling with her own disenfranchisement, sees an opportunity to usurp a corroded and doddering government with one she can finally have some say in. Ozymandias from Watchmen engineers a tragedy to prevent a much greater one. Arguably, of those listed villains, he has the most in common with Thanos; they both see the prospect of massive death on the horizon, and both see murder as a means to prevent said massive death. The differences begin in the facts that Ozymandias has crunched the numbers and knows that this is the only way, and that while he revels in a scheme well-executed, he has no love for the gore that results. Thanos is not a judge, nor an executioner, for that would imply that he serves a force greater than himself. Thanos is a butcher. Thanos is a eugenicist. I do not buy for one second that Thanos has enough foresight to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what he does is the only right thing to do. There is no attempt made to portray Thanos as remorseful. There is only Thanos’s lust for the infinity stones, a greed that mirrors the greed of every white man who has killed in order to take that which he knows does not belong to him.

I should have walked out at the moment the movie truly lost me, when Thanos travels with Gomorrah, the child he orphaned and then brainwashed into being an incredibly deadly assassin, to Vormir, where one of the infinity stones is held. There, he is told that in order to take the stone, he must sacrifice someone he loves. He throws Gomorrah off a cliff. The stone is awarded to him. I do not believe for one second that Thanos loves Gomorrah. I do not believe that Thanos sees Gomorrah as anything other than a project of his, a prized possession. His tears do not convince me. I do not believe that anyone capable of butchering half a planet’s worth of sapient life in pursuit of a theory is capable of love. I do not believe anyone capable of knowingly torturing their children for information is capable of love. Attachment and other possessive feelings? Sure. Paternal instincts? Okay. But not love. Love, and all the freedom from control that love implies. The fact that the film is willing to call what Thanos feels for Gomorrah love sickens me.

Guess what else sickens me? The fact that nothing that the heroes do during the course of the film matters. This was a problem that a lot of people had with The Last Jedi; I don’t really feel like checking to see if the Star Wars fans are complaining about this film, but I hope they are.

I know that sometimes, the villains win. Sometimes, the heroes win at terrible cost, such that it might have been better if the villain had won. Stories where the villains win or where the cost is too high are fine. Stories like that can be great–I love to see heroes grappling with the weight of what they’ve had to do (I would have LOVED to see any hero in Infinity War take the plunge on one of the film’s several hard consequentialist choices, to sacrifice one of their own to save the many they’ve sworn to protect), and I even like to see heroes cut their losses and start from square one after being decimated by the villain every once in a while. But in this day and age, when despots who refuse to acknowledge empirical truth or common decency reign supreme, when the advocacy of genocide and ethnic cleansing are regarded as valid political positions, when people are murdered daily by those who have forgotten the right of every human being to live with dignity, and, yes, when sometimes the only refuge from all this horror is a little escapism in the form of some high-budget action movies with special effects, what good is a narrative that grinds our heroes into the dirt, that reduces their best and most valiant efforts to the pitiful and futile flailing of a mouse in a glue trap?  Infinity War isn’t a pyrrhic victory.  Infinity War is a complete nullification of hope.  All art is political, and the political underpinning of this film is that those who have power but are greedy for more cannot be stopped, and if you try, you will be ground to dust beneath their boot heels.

Remember how I said there’s no suspense in this film?  Perhaps I’m misremembering, but last I checked, in order for a villain to be interesting, there needs to be a chance that the villain can be defeated. Thanos cannot be defeated. He’s the unkillable monster you invent when you’re six to beat all your friend’s monsters (I’ve also known six-year-olds to write more nuanced characters than Thanos, so maybe that’s unfair). Even one of the infinity stones gives him some kind of omnipotence and renders the heroes powerless against him. He’s first seen striding over the corpses of gods, and he just keeps on striding. Incidentally, the one time the gang gets close to disarming him, their plan to remove his gauntlet is scuttled by someone expressing grief for the previously murdered Gomorrah. Remember, kids, emotions are bad and will get you and everyone you love killed, especially if you’re a man.

Now, I know that there’s another upcoming Avengers film that was originally supposed to be Part 2 of Infinity War, in which all of the events of this movie are reversed and made meaningless (maybe I’m remembering incorrectly again, but making the first film in a series meaningless isn’t a good way to make a sequel). I don’t care; Marvel soiled their own linens here. I don’t know what sort of decisions led to Marvel dropping the Part 1 from the title of this film, but if there had been any indication that the story was supposed to continue from here, there would have at least been something to look forward to; there would be some indicator that this story does not end with the death of half of the universe (including all but two of the speaking non-white characters, in case all the ethnic cleansing overtones weren’t enough for you; this movie’s racism couldn’t be plainer). By removing any mention of an upcoming continuation, Marvel forced Infinity War to stand on its own, as its own piece of art. This is normally a good thing, but Infinity War is so worthless as a piece of art that there’s no way it’s not going to let you down if you take it as it is. Consider what watching this film would be like for someone who has no context for it, has never seen an MCU film or read a Marvel comic. Some might say that if you’ve read the comics, you know that of course there’s going to be a Part 2 where things get undone/resolved. I also don’t care about this. In the same way that you shouldn’t need to read a wiki to understand a given video game (it’s just bad design—looking at you, Warframe), the whole point of the MCU is that you don’t need to have read the comics to enjoy the films.

All this is to say, after writing this, deadlifting an anvil a few times to get my anger out, and crying, I’m done with Marvel for good. Don’t go see Infinity War. Take that money and invest it in something that makes you feel like any of us have a chance against the white supremacist patriarchy.