There are a number of things I don’t like about Avengers: Infinity War. Here’s one of them.
The villain, Thanos, gets many opportunities to explain what he wants and why he’s doing what he’s doing. Thanos believes that there aren’t enough resources to go around in the universe, and so he is out to end suffering by killing half of the universe at random. At first, he pursued this goal with military invasions. Now he’s decided to finish the job more quickly by collecting all of the infinity stones and thereby gaining the power to murder half the universe with just a snap of his fingers. Thanos honestly believes that the surviving half of the universe will thank him for this.
Now I’m all for stories with villains who think they’re doing the right thing. I’m all for thought-provoking alternative solutions to the world’s problems, and for moral grey areas.
But there is nothing thought-provoking about Infinity War, because at no point does anyone put any thought into countering Thanos’s argument. The film shows scene after scene of Thanos politely and calmly explaining himself, and at times even crying about how much he’s suffered on his mission to murder billions of people.
In a movie, especially one with so many characters, every scene counts. With under three hours at your disposal, what you choose to devote minutes to matters.
The result of Infinity War spending so much time on Thanos, and allowing Thanos’s arguments to go unquestioned, is the feeling that we should agree with Thanos that genocide is the answer to lack of resources.
There is one scene – one scene – in which a character tells Thanos he is wrong. Gamora says that she and her people were happy on their world before Thanos killed half of them. But this argument is given zero credibility. Gamora says it in the middle of a rant about how much she hated living with Thanos (a scene that is framed like an immature child throwing a tantrum at her father, instead of a victim standing up to her abuser – but that’s a rant for another day). And Thanos immediately tells Gamora that she’s wrong, and the scene leaves it at that. The “genocide is the answer” argument is allowed to stand, presented as the “mature” response to the universe’s problems.
And that is what makes me mad: Infinity War presents the thesis that the most rational response to hunger and poverty is mass genocide.
Maybe I wouldn’t be as mad if this film was just talking about Earth. This is an argument that people in reality make – that overpopulation is to blame for suffering, that there aren’t enough resources on Earth to go around. We are draining our planet, and it’s easy to blame numbers.
But this isn’t about just Earth. It’s about the entire universe.
Infinity War would have me believe that no one in the entire universe – and this is the Marvel universe, where there are thousands of planets and sentient species, where brilliant people create new technology and elements to make the world a better place, where there is literally magic that can completely alter reality – no one in this universe has figured out sustainable living.
Infinity War’s screenwriters have called this film “mature,” quoted here. They have said that this movie is the “culmination,” what every Marvel Studios movie before this one has been building up to over the past almost-twenty films, quoted here.
But none of the people that Marvel Studios has spent twenty movies showing are brilliant, caring problem-solvers ever once says, “Wait – one seventh of the world uses half of the world’s resources! There IS enough to go around!” or “The answer to overpopulation isn’t murder, you jerk, it’s making sure people survive infancy!”
Instead, these “brilliant” heroes are made to look absolutely pathetic and thoughtless in the face of the Thanos, whose point of view is presented as both sympathetic and rational, when there is nothing close to morally grey about it and there are multiple more rational responses.
Before the movie began, the theatre played a preview for Deadpool 2. At one point, Deadpool quips, “So dark. You sure you’re not from the DC universe?”
Until now, Marvel Studios’ defining factor from other superhero franchises has been its optimism, its repeated statements that smart people working together will overcome obstacles. Infinity War throws that optimism and faith in intelligence and camaraderie away, in the name of “maturity.” It’s hard for me to see this movie as the story that every other movie has been building up to when its message is the antithesis of the message of every other Marvel movie. And I flat-out can’t see genocide as morally grey.