The day has come! Let's go Plus Ultra and start discussing My Hero Academia!

May 10, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War: So That Happened

I was going to give this Avengers: Infinity War post a subtitle that made a none-too-subtle reference to Bleach, but then I realized that that in itself would have constituted a spoiler from moment one.  And as lax as I can be with spoilers, I know that that’s a dirtbag move.  

I guess my only option is to meet others halfway and embed one of its most infamous songs.  A fair tribute, yes?  Anyway, let’s get in there.


…Okay, maybe there is a font size large enough, but I don’t want to use it.  That’s a last resort.

Okay.  So if you’re reading this post, you know what happened in Avengers: Infinity War.  If you don’t know, then I assume you don’t care and just want to know what all the noise is about, and/or you want to know why children all over the world have soaked their myriad pillows and blankets with the tears of lost innocence.  In which case?  I’ll provide a quick summary.

For years now, the MCU has pushed the Infinity Stones as the go-to MacGuffin throughout its canon.  In a nutshell, they’re the coalesced essence of the universe, created via the Big Bang and catering to specific elements.  Time, Space, Reality, Power, Mind, and Soul.  Just having one is enough to bend a planet over your knee.  If you get all six -- which is what Thanos is after -- then you’re more than just unbeatable.  You can effectively rewrite the universe on a whim.

Astoundingly, that’s what happens.  Thanos wins harder than almost any other villain in history.  Except maybe comic book Thanos, but let’s leave him out of the discussion before I’m forced to reference Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.

The Mad Titan’s goal isn’t to rule the universe, or to outright destroy it.  Having witnessed the effects of (and fallout from) overpopulation on his home planet, Thanos gets it in his big purple head that the only way to save every other planet -- however thankless a job it may be -- is to cut the universal population in half.  He works toward that on a smaller scale before he can collect ‘em all and fill up his Infinity Gauntlet, like a scene where he has his men line up prisoners from Gamora’s home planet and then summarily have half of them murdered.  Once he’s got all of the ethereal Easter eggs?  Snap.

Not everyone dies, thankfully.  But enough do.  More than enough.  Audiences around the world are treated to the sight of various living beings -- sentient peoples chief among them -- turn to dust and waft away on the air.  Notably, that includes a big chunk of the Marvel superheroes.  Black Panther?  Dusted.  Scarlet Witch?  Dusted.  Winter Soldier?  Dusted.  Doctor Strange?  Dusted.  Nick Fury and Maria Hill?  Double-dusted.  The Guardians of the Galaxy?  All dusted, except for Rocket.  Even Spider-Man gets dusted, but only after he’s begging to be spared.  Even the logo in the end credits gets dusted.

…Oh, yeah, DC.  Marvel movies are all about the colors and jokes.  Nothing of substance here.  You're the real deal.

I’m going to guess that my knee-jerk reaction was about the same as everyone else (who went into the movie raw, at least): utter shock that left me in a chilled stupor.  Like I said in the last Infinity War post, outside of a few stray noises, my theater was dead silent.  My brother and I traded jokes, because that’s what we do -- mine was “I guess they need to go find the Dragon Balls” -- but I should clarify.  We traded one joke each.  Only one.  For a total of two.  The rest of the time, we sat there and stared at the screen, hoping for some sort of closure.  Some relief.  Something to tell us that things would be all right, and we wouldn’t have to wait a year for salvation.  Guess what?  Didn’t happen.

Once we made it out of the theater -- not even back into the lobby, at that -- then we started talking.  And that’s when it started.

Here’s the thing.  Doing those Black Panther posts made me realize that from here on, I’ll get more out of any in-depth rants on Marvel movies by using them as a jumping off point for other, specialized topics.  You could say that it’s my new aesthetic.  After all, the MCU formula (for good or ill) is one that breeds consistency.  Quality, but in a stable, expected manner -- typically not something that surprises anymore, even if there are thrills to be had each time.  The long and short of it is that I don’t want to use this space to go on about why the movie is good, or what problems it has, or who screwed up everything by being a big dumb idiot.  No, I want to focus on something in particular that’s been eating away at me for the past week.

Yep.  This post is about death in storytelling, because Infinity War is full of it.

And I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Killing off so many people, named and unnamed, implied or explicit, is a bold move for sure.  I’d hope that anyone going into the movie -- especially those with a strong interest in the MCU -- knew that somebody was going to bite it hard.  I knew going in, because I caught traces of the “I don’t feel so good” meme beforehand, and told my brother on the ride to the theater that “disintegration is involved, near as I can tell” and “somebody’s going to have it rough”.  But that many?  I mean, I got a poster for the movie, and I’d say less than half of those on it make it through to the end.

It had an interesting yet unfortunate side effect while watching the movie.  Yes, I enjoyed it, and I absorbed what happened like a hungry orphan getting a warm supper -- but throughout IW, there was a thought in the back of my mind.  And then the middle.  And then the front.  My ability to enjoy the movie was endangered by a sense of pervasive dread, both from said movie’s tone and the context surrounding it.  It wasn’t just a matter of the heroes fighting Thanos.  It was a matter of me thinking, over and over again, who was going to die.  And “Tell me who dies already.”  

To be clear, people do die in this movie.  It’s not as if death is a distant, abstract concept to the MCU; we’ve had guys and gals alike bite it before (Yondu, Frigga, Peggy Carter, and Coulson say hi…okay, maybe not Coulson…okay, half of Coulson).  Sure enough, the Dust Bowl isn’t the only way people get wiped out.  Before the movie’s title even pops up, Loki and Heimdall both get killed.  The Collector?  Killed off-screen, while Thanos uses the Reality Stone to trick the Guardians into thinking he’s still alive.  Speaking of Guardians?  Gamora gets thrown off a cliff as a sacrifice for the Soul Stone.  Vision had no chance surviving, given that he’s got a Stone in his head.  Also, Thor’s pretty much the only Asgardian left.  That’s gotta sting.

But what’s it in service of, I wonder?  Well, figuratively speaking; I can suss out the answer from here.  Still, I always thought that the MCU was able to -- or at least tried to -- avoid using death as a strict plot device, and it was stronger for it.  I know there are people who think there aren’t any consequences to these movies because no one dies (and can’t die because of contracts and sequels in the works), and that’s a valid complaint.  It’s just not one I agreed with because successive movies lay out successive groundwork, and you can do things with a character/story without resorting to death.

Killing off characters, I think, has to be done very carefully.  It’s a definite action, one that signals a finite end.  Under normal circumstances (I.e. there’s some built-in mechanism in the story’s universe that makes revival possible, like the Dragon Balls), there’s no going back.  It’s a cap to an arc.  An end, how ever sweet or bitter, to a person’s role in the story.  Done poorly, killing off a character means exposing the machinery behind the veil -- revealing that, at the end of the day, Mr. X was nothing more than a tool.  A means to extract emotions from an audience.

So the question is simple, then.  Does IW go to far?

My brother and I discussed the next Avengers and the future of the MCU on the way out.  His theory: because of the damage done to the Infinity Gauntlet, they won’t be able to use the Stones to resurrect the dusted victims.  Because of that, the canon will treat IW as the definitive end to the MCU.  No movie made after it will progress any further past that chronological point; instead, it’ll be treated like Devil May Cry 2, and all future movies will take place between whatever era they want and the arrival of Grand Funkmaster Thanos.

An optimistic theory -- ambitious, even.  My theory is much more cynical, but simpler to realize (and let’s be honest, it’s probably the more likely of the two).  The remaining Avengers will find a way to beat Thanos, reclaim the Stones, and use its power to reverse the Dust Bowl.That’s the easiest, most direct route to a world still primed for a Black Panther sequel, another Spider-Man movie, and the third movie featuring a big dumb tree monster.  Maybe there will be some consequences along the way.  Maybe the non-dusted deaths are permanent.  Maybe the OG Avengers will have to trade their lives to bring back the new recruits -- which could set up the young and fresh Spidey to start up a new team, given that RDJ is getting long in the tooth.

I don’t know how the MCU heads are going to handle it.  But I’ll say this much: even if I anticipate my theory coming to pass, I’m not exactly giddy over it.  Killing off half the universe only to run it back in the next movie -- doesn’t that seem like the set-up for the biggest cop-out in cinematic history?  Doesn’t it seem virtually inevitable because of the sheer, ludicrous scale of the silver screen genocide?

Like, okay, sure.  This is the MCU we’re talking about, and it’s long since been proven that the men and women involved know what they’re doing.  IW2 is going to blow us all away, and break down the walls of every theater until we’re sitting on a wasteland of rubble and cold popcorn.  Still, what sort of message is it going to send if one of the biggest talking points in movie history -- something that’s drawn comparisons to the death of Optimus Prime -- just ends up being a cheap way to motivate people into buying tickets to the next one for sure?  Even though, as we’ve established, the MCU is a money-printing Divine Instrument that needs an extra marketing push like God needs an extra pinky toe?

I don’t know.  This seems way easier to screw up than it is to get right.  And yes, I admit this feeling is coming from a personal place; as someone who personally tries to make every single death count in his fiction -- complete with any runback countermeasures getting shot down in flames before the hero’s eyes -- it makes me wary.  Further, I’m a guy who hates the heroic sacrifice more than any other trope or cliche out there.  The Dust Bowl wasn’t exactly a noble endeavor, sure, but if Kamen Rider has taught me anything, it’s that the crews in charge have NO PROBLEMS devaluing the weight and meaning of a character death because of what’s on the production schedule.

I’m nervous.  I’m wary.  Maybe more than anything, I’m skeptical.  I don’t know about you guys, but I feel like -- outside of the Dust Bowl -- a lot of stuff in IW felt more predictable than usual, at least writing-wise.  Whether it was down to individual lines or death flags being raised (boy did Gamora steer into that skid), it was as if I had a copy of the script in my hands multiple times throughout the movie.  Maybe that’s just an indictment for me, given how many of these movies I’ve watched over the years.

The reason I bring that up is because even if I have trust in the MCU’s quality and ability, it’s way too easy for them to take the easy way out.  And how could they not?  Half of the universe is dead.  Even if Iron Man, Cap, and the rest are facing their darkest hour, do you really think they’ll let that stand?  No.  They’ll get their second wind, track down Thanos, and feed him every last cleft of his grape-flavored chin.  They’ll overcome the odds, win, and save the universe.  Because that’s what they do.  Because that’s what we expect.  Because these are functions.  Tools.  Machinery to generate a narrative for the common man.  That’s all.

And yet…

Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder.  After all that, and after all my concerns, I think again and again:

“What if they don’t?”

I have my theory, sure, yet in the end it’s only that: a theory.  A guess based on years of anecdotal evidence, reasoning, and common sense.  The MCU crew is going to find a way to undo the deaths of half the universal populace and restore the status quo, even if we won’t see the proof of it until 2019.  That’s what they have to do.  Right?  I mean, what else can they do?  Leaving those heroes dead isn’t an option, because it means leaving money on the table.  Disney still has a lot more properties, companies, and souls to buy.

But what if?  What if they don’t?  

What if there’s some greater lesson here -- some force at play, here to remind the heroes and villains alike about the weight of a single life?  Is it possible that the stage has been set for something more than a basic runback?  Has the MCU’s penchant for franchise management and groundwork-laying all led up to a movie bound to shatter one’s expectations, in the same way that IW1 has?  Are we rocketing toward the end of an era, one in which Marvel Studios’ crown jewel takes its final bow and begins sunsetting its Divine Instrument, all so that they can go out while on the top instead of grinding down into obsolescence?

I don’t know.  And as of this moment, the number of people that do is drastically disproportionate to the number of people that don’t.  Maybe that will change by this time next year, or whatever date the crew has reserved for IW2.  I’ll be upfront and say that it’s irritating, knowing that we’ll have to wait a year for the conclusion -- infinitely more painful than waiting for a season premiere, for sure.  It’s almost enough to make me grind my teeth into powder, given that Ant-Man and the Wasp is primed to wedge itself between the two Avengers movies like an overweight cousin who smells like he bathed in moldy onions.

With that in mind, it says a lot about the state of the MCU -- and IW, on a smaller scale -- when I’m committed to the ending purely because of a beginning and its cliffhanger.  The long game is being played here, so it’s entirely possible that the lives lost will be treated with the weight and respect they deserve.  They should be; considering that superheroes are pretty much the basis of our new-yet-current mythology, they occupy a special place in our hearts.  I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a religion built around them at this very moment.

But that’s really what it’s all about: this very moment.  And that moment.  How we felt in those moments.  How I felt in that moment.  How I feel in this moment, a sense and emotion reflected by everyone else around me.  It’s extremely easy for me to zero in on the most cynical, most obvious, most mechanical, worst-case scenario.  That might be the future we’re barreling towards.  Yet the emotions I felt in that theater were real.  Everything I felt during the mass erasure, and after it, was real.  I’m thankful that I stayed in my seat; otherwise I would have toppled over.

I didn’t shed any tears this time (though I wouldn’t blame anyone for doing so, given that Spider-Man, a teen who’s barely out of middle school, gets one of the movie’s biggest wipeouts).  In hindsight, I don’t think I could have.  Not because I’m a callous husk of a man-child.  It’s because I was so stunned that I could hardly process anything besides utter shock and instinctive pleas of “oh no”.  So many deaths came so rapidly, I had to read up on who got dusted -- and only processed hours later that Doctor Strange, one of my favorite heroes, was also a victim.

I guess that’s the real power of the MCU.  It’s not just the astronomical budgets, or the marketing ploys.  It’s not just the factory-produced thrills, or the carefully-curated aesthetics.  It’s the ability for each movie to make you, if only just a moment, forget everything.  Forget the schedule, forget the metacontext, forget the reason and cynicism.  The thoughts you have now; the feelings you have now; the experiences you have now; the moment is what makes it all worthwhile.  And while you may never recapture it -- no matter how many times, or how few times you rewatch an entry -- nothing can take away the power of that moment.  Of the now.  Infinity War is both the proof of that, and a hyper-condensed proof as to why the MCU is still going strong, ten years later.

Now then.  Let’s just sit, wait, and see how this story ends.

…Okay, you know what?  One more Bleach song for the road.

Ah, that takes me back.

No comments:

Post a Comment