Of all the film’s many faults, I’ve had some difficulty deciding what to focus on to illustrate most effectively just where Marvel went wrong with the Avengers: Infinity Wars. I’d like to use this opportunity to explain just how they managed to turn their most well received franchise into a dull rehash of ignoble tropes. To do this, Thanos is going to be my focus, as most heroic tales are only as resonant as their antagonists.
The story of the Avengers is in no way unfamiliar to anyone coming to grips with their own talents and a want for heroism. The fact that we can impact the world with our choices is in fact the core subject and theme of the Avengers franchise, and by abandoning that, Infinity Wars is not much more than special effects pornography. By that I mean a gratuitous, self gratifying and demeaning display of wanton imagery.
Thanos was clearly intended to be the reason for Marvel’s universe of heroes to band together, and they’ve had many opportunities to explore how the throwdown might happen. It is especially ironic, and absurd, that this film should fail so spectacularly. None so far have had as little impact as this particular string of events, and there’s just one reason why: Motivation. The linchpin of every origin story is the expression of why each hero chooses to fight for good.
Just a moment ago I used the word ‘demeaning’, and I’m certain it seemed out of place to you. Here’s why it’s not: Infinity Wars creative team (directors, writers, executives, etc.) failed to treat any of our venerable heroes with a modicum of respect. That is, they were reduced to storyline vehicles, far removed from the individuals we could personally identify with in those I’ve-been-there-too moments.
How else could “I am Groot” make the leap into zeitgeist? Vin Diesel’s not that talented. I haven’t seen that kind of fan rapport since “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” Does a single word from Infinity Wars spark that kind of attention? The closest thing I can bring to mind is “I have also been cursed with knowledge”, and boy howdy is that wrong. The subtext of that line is that knowledge is perilous; there is no hope and the only chance for survival there can be is the destruction of half the universe. According to Thanos, that is.
Good gravy could Marvel have softened his pitch any more than that? Thanos has “ultimate” power, he can reshape reality and the best he could come up with is death on a galactic scale? The dude needed a competitor in the form of Galactus, but since he’s not available, they had to make do – and so do we. What was needed here is the mantra of all tyrants: “We the pure suffer because of the impure who must be destroyed.”
That’s Hitler in a nutshell, but Marvel was too timid to say it out loud. Thanos, regrettably, would literally hit too close to home if he drew too much from our history, so it was decided not to examine him too closely. We understand absolutely nothing of his upbringing or culture – a landscape in ruins means what, exactly? What caused him to decide he could trim down our universe and be satisfied with a pretty sunset. Would someone call in Magneto or Doctor Doom to school this twit?
Thanos had to be selfish, remorseless, and according to the needs of the Soul Stone, sympathetic. What if Gamora was in fact his genetic offspring? What if he had abandoned her in his search, only to return when she was threatened by the forces he commanded to commit genocide on her home world? That could have won her sympathy. What if he had truly loved Gamora’s mother – possibly his wife? A well balanced dagger does not a sufficient distraction make for the child of a stranger, not for a heart as soft as hers.
The only curse here is the marketing scheme putting cramping our heroes top form. Seriously, why would Gamora fight with him if she didn’t look up to him, admire him and idolize him as children do? She could easily have turned her back and gone rogue when he made his plans for the universe known. Her perspective was clear in Guardians of the Galaxy, so why didn’t we see it in Infinity Wars? Why was her death as empty as Thanos’ tears?
The difference between Infinity Wars and Lord of the Rings is a healthy dose of Hellboy. By that I mean it doesn’t take much effort to ground an otherwise ridiculous, campy premise. Hellboy did it in a sentence: “You have the choice, your father gave it to you.” The question of good isn’t even raised in Infinity Wars, because we’re supposed to relate to this dimension crushing menace. Since when did the message become “there is no good or evil?”
All right, let’s say we should – or rather that’s what the directors want. Logically we’ve got to ask what was done to connect us with his plight. Nothing beyond the exchange of a few glances and a dagger. Why, when we have recent examples done right? By contrast, Hel was a properly realized spurned daughter, returned to claim her birthright over the bodies of all who opposed her, including her brothers. We didn’t even see Odin and Hel together, but she was more sympathetic because her confidence and rage were whole, and relatable. Anyone who’s sibling has claimed your favorite toy can comprehend the root emotion fueling Hel’s genocidal actions.
Thanos and Gamora, meanwhile, demonstrate no awareness of their circumstances, led as lemmings to their plot points. What should have been a gripping, emotionally raw scene played out with all of the dramatics of a text-to-speech recital, complete with a flaccid lingering demonstration of otherwise impressive fluid simulations and animation talent. I’ve had rocket sled graphics demos give me a better sense of satisfaction than that did.
Let’s warp reality for a moment and suppose that the intent for this one film to actually span two separate features is to blame for the poor realization of Thanos’ emotional resonance. That, of course, is wrong – Joss was once the master of bringing emotionally effective villains to the screen, and has been known to require just one scene to establish that connection. Spike, anyone? Okay, out of digression and back to reality.
As an unknown, Thanos had the potential to be a world shaker, even a universe usurper. His devil may care grin, hinted upon in the first Avengers film promised terror and destruction for our beloved heroes. I am not adverse to the death of characters: Colson’s sacrifice ranks up there as one of the most powerful moments in the entire franchise. Marvel has also demonstrated an awe inspiring penchant for large scale destruction and otherwise meaningful visual effects, but every single instance of violence in Infinity Wars was grisly and meaningless to watch.
Ultron was stymied by similar personality flaws: Cut loose from his strings, he knew not why he did, but he did and no answer was found, much to our dismay. Thanos knew why he did, but we didn’t find it very convincing, did we? Without motivation, the death of our heroes is meaningless, and without a villain to even dislike, why bother coming back to avenge them all?
Thanks for reading. I realize I’ve been pretty hard on this film, but that’s with good reason. Marvel has managed to create a rare amount of anticipation for a multi-film event such as this. I’ve enjoyed many, but not all, of Marvel’s tenuous steps toward this achievement, and I wanted it to be sublime. It wasn’t, and I would like to explore exactly why.
If you enjoyed reading this and would like to see more, consider subscribing to my blog. I intend to explore more Infinity Wars failings, and could easily get started on more of Marvel’s movies. We’ve had a chance to enjoy some of the industry’s talents in top form, and I’d love a chance to ramble on about that. Ta!