Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Response to Film Crit Hulk's Infinity War Piece

Drama is about change and consequence. We need stories to create this drama. There is nothing truer than that.

But there are many vectors of change. We are used to seeing stories where there is a hero, with a flaw, whose experiences and mistakes cause her to suffer clear consequences and change herself – her behaviour, her personality – as a result. An individual who learns an individual lesson.

There is another kind of change – the change of creation. Not a unit that moves from state A to state B, but a unit that is created where there was nothing at all before. A unit that is created from the combination of other units, perhaps.

Film Crit Hulk demands to know: what is Avengers Infinity War about?

It's about teamwork.

How could it not be? How can you not see it? Avengers and Avengers Age of Ultron were about teamwork too. So was the first Guardians of the Galaxy. When it comes to telling stories in shared universes with lots of alpha heroes, it's the only thing that really matters. We're primed for this. We know this. And Infinity War does it better than anyone else has ever done it.

Film Crit Hulk is wrong to idolise the story of Prometheus. This is a fable for an ancient time. Prometheus suffered for his actions – he experienced real consequence, real change – but his actions were not ones he should have suffered for. All he wanted was to help others. To give people a warmth that could comfort them on a winter's night. To alleviate suffering for the powerless masses by taking a tiny portion of what was hoarded by the few. Whether the gods symbolise the powerful or just “fate”, it's still a story told to keep people in line.

We no longer need to tell stories about people suffering for dreaming big, and trying to go beyond their “destiny” (especially when they're doing so to help others). Pretty soon, in the real world, we will see technologies that produce effects as big if not bigger than those in our sci fi movies. When this happens, we don't need to punish the perpetrators but figure out how to deal with the new world we create – together. What the world needs more than anything in the coming future is teamwork. That's why Marvel is telling the most important stories it could be telling right now.

The drama of the MCU is clear and exceptionally effective. A team is born that can do extraordinary things – if it works together. Internal conflict destroys that foundation in Civil War, breaking it into separate parts. Atomised, these parts face a threat that is simply the emotionless personification of destruction, one that intentionally has no relatable psychology that can be reasoned with. Thanos is the extinction of humanity that we will face if we don't work together. And for two hours and forty minutes, that is exactly what the team fails to do. They face the threat as separate parts, one after another, and, as separate parts, it defeats them one by one.

It's a brutally clear lesson. The ending could not be more of a gut punch. It's devastating not just because death befalls beloved characters, but precisely because these deaths are so futile and meaningless. They never got the opportunity to achieve their potential. The film shows all of these mighty heroes, all the things they can do, but while they are together in the same story, they are not together as a real team. Most crucially, of course, Cap and Tony are on separate planets. But everywhere there is in-fighting. The Guardians split up, and are useless without each other. Tony and Dr Strange can't overcome their egos. Thor is in crisis because he is left alone – but there's a reason the greatest and most triumphant moment of the film is when he finally shows up to work alongside his real family in Wakanda – it's the closest the heroes come to achieving unity. But vital pieces are still missing, and so destruction prevails. And they pay the price.

It's a real fucking price. It's extremely disingenuous to game the ending with your meta knowledge. I've seen the film three times with three different friend groups, only one of which were uber-fans, and all of them were left in stunned and stony silence. Don't fucking tell me that it's not a real price they're paying, just because you know when Spider-man 2 is scheduled.

Of course there will be resurrections. But this is a stand-alone movie. There could be an asteroid impact tomorrow, and the last Marvel film we ever see ends with total, unequivocal victory for the bad guy. No blockbuster has done this before. It's historic. This is the pure Prometheus ending where the heroes are left to suffer. Prometheus that eschews the third act. But unlike Prometheus, their suffering teaches us a worthwhile lesson: we must come together or perish.

In the next movie, if we see it, we can be sure that we will learn that same lesson again with a more positive outcome. The heroes will finally form a unit and defeat death. Here's the crunch: there will be real change and consequence. Whether or not characters die – which is only one among many, many ways to demonstrate consequence – the MCU will be left in an entirely new state to how it was before Thanos came along: it will be united. Just because the horrifying deaths are undone doesn't mean their impact is gone, or that no price was paid. The heroes will still have suffered super-duper intense trauma. They will give everything to pull through and atone for their mistakes, and in the end the trauma will never leave them. And they will have learned, again, the lesson of teamwork. The lesson that can never be learned too often, that must always be repeated.

The fact that Film Crit Hulk doesn't mention teamwork in his piece – the thought doesn't seem to have occurred to him – blows my tiny fucking mind.

Prometheus' story ends with him being tortured for eternity for his selflessness and courageous ambition. In the Disney version, you bet your ass there's a sequel. In the sequel, Prometheus' team of friends, who initially refused to help with the fire-stealing, would have an act three where they decide to risk their own lives to save Prometheus, and having done so, they would have a climactic battle with the gods in order to protect humanity from their tyranny and stop them taking back the fire. Prometheus would be nothing without his team, just as he is nothing without humanity. That's the lesson we need to teach to children. We should be telling them that they can steal fire from the powerful – and yes, they can cheat fate, and that's not something to be afraid of. But only if they believe in themselves, and believe in the team.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this article! It's a really great counterpoint to the Film Crit Hulk one.

    I would also add another theme to the movie: You can't win unless you are willing to sacrifice something you love. The Avengers are unwilling to sacrifice Vision until it is too late, and it costs them. Peter is unwilling to let go of Gamora, and it costs them. Thor is unwilling to give up on his need for revenge, and it costs them. Meanwhile, Thanos is willing to sacrifice the person he loves--and half the universe!--to achieve his goal. And he wins.

    Now, I'm sure that's the wrong lesson, and maybe it will be disproven in the next movie...but as of right now, it's a dark lesson for a dark movie with a dark ending. And you can't take that away from me.