Avengers: Infinity War
By Grace Gay
Look, I’m not going to pretend to be unbiased here; Marvel has owned my heart and soul since I was dragged to see The Avengers by my friends when I was thirteen. As soon as Captain America was introduced onscreen via Chris Evans’ very, very fine figure, I was converted. Devoted. I own a handmade Captain America plushie that I bought at my first comic con.
Recently I’ve become disillusioned with superheroes, you know, as an adult who lives in 2018. Disillusioned with Marvel Studios, mainly. It’s hard to become overly aware that the things you love are part of a carefully planned money-making scheme that knows exactly how to keep people hooked without having any real consequences in its storytelling. Marvel has largely been a safe gambler, knowing when to push and what not to do, and has changed the movie industry in the process.
Marvel is still that money-making, carefully crafted enterprise after this movie. But I do admire their gonads about 5000 times more. Especially if they don’t just go and retract it all.
To entertain, break hearts, shock—that is hard to do, especially for a critical audience. But Avengers: Infinity War blew me away. I can’t even remember what my expectations were, they were so utterly destroyed. This film is another game-changer for Marvel. The moves they made were brave and ambitious and resulted in a movie that was incredibly fun to watch.
That being said, there are many very important plot scenes that I can barely recall, but which I assume happened. Some of them I would blame on the fact that Doctor Strange is just not interesting. Actually, quite a few of the scenes in general, the important ones, the plot-heavy crucial ones filled with witty banter and all, were just not interesting and I couldn't figure out why. Then, of course, I realized: ahh, a bunch of egocentric white guys quipping at each other discussing a problem. I don’t care. Look, I do love the white quippy guy every Marvel movie seems to have. But I don’t want scene after scene with them. I don’t care that much. In 2018 we’ve reached a point in storytelling where the audience (or at least me) finds a scene infinitely more engaging if there’s a woman! Multiple women! Standing there! Talking! Doing things! Being crucial to the plot!
If you have not yet seen this movie, I recommend you stop reading here. Spoilers follow.
The lack of female characters in the MCU is part of why Gamora’s death disappoints me. Additionally, her abuse at the hands of Thanos is at the core of what this movie is about, and one of the most emotionally evocative backstories of any of the heroes. That nuance is what I want to see. The reason Thanos succeeds as a villain is because of that absolutely horrid backstory and the complex relationship that stems from it. I didn’t think for a second that he didn’t love Gamora—abuse isn’t the opposite of love—and I was frankly shocked, and pleasantly so, that Marvel managed to zoom in on that very complex idea in a movie so jam-packed with battle. In many movies, especially mainstream action films, abuse is simplified so that the abuser is purely evil and doesn’t see their victim as anything beyond the subject of their rage. But even with Infinity War's bold effort to explore the nuances of abusive relationships, Gamora’s story is still the exception in a film where women are still mostly relegated to small, token parts of little importance in the grand scheme of the movie.
Gamora’s death is being speculated as a permanent one (although Anthony Russo has implied this is not the case). I do think that a permanent death would be best for the storyline and the weight this movie carries. Marvel has a big problem with permanence, often just erasing the entire plot of their films by the end, and sparking little character growth in their core heroes. Audiences have caught on, and now go to the newest Marvel instalment thinking: will anything change, or will I just be pleasantly diverted for two or three hours?
The ending, or what I’ve been calling “The Rapture”, does suggest an evolution of Marvel’s game: the focus shifting from the forward motion and permanence of the plot decisions to slowing the pace and evoking intense emotion in the audience. Peter Parker’s death is the best microcosm for this debate. He’s a fan favorite, and I don’t like that he gets more screen time than a lot of other characters (hmm, like basically all the Wakandans). Audiences are guaranteed to see him again in the next Spiderman movie. But god—I have a brother exactly his age who bares a faint resemblance to him, so his death broke me. Part of me doesn’t want that moment invalidated by some bullshit hand-waving in Avengers 4. But part of me appreciates that moment, even if it’s ultimately not fatal, because it made me feel something.
I like to think I understand Marvel: they know how to make money and they are extremely good at it. They are not sacrificing all this intellectual property, all the storylines and audience investment they’ve put into these characters. T’Challa, Bucky, Peter, every other fan favorite—they’ll come back. I don’t feel a moment of doubt about that. But part of me wants to believe in the ruthlessness of a studio that will uphold it’s plot, decimate it’s characters, violate your expectations, and destroy your feelings. Not in a DC way—I want my feelings to be destroyed in cosmic technicolor, not drab grayscale. But I want Marvel to have its films really, truly carry weight and consequences.
Maybe that’s too much to ask for. Maybe the consequences have to show up elsewhere, in the smaller movements that separate Marvel from other franchises: the abuse plotline, the good and honorable heroes, and beyond the screen, the kids who are 13 and sitting in movie theaters and discovering what falling in love with a story feels like. I guess that’s the meaning I can hope for.