We Need To Talk About Thanos.



Film It's been a while since the last "We Need To Talk About [insert MARVEL related character who has nothing to do with the Lynne Ramsey film] but with the MCU equivalent of The Three Doctors having had the biggest opening weekend of all time and actually visited a cinema myself to see the thing and had some thoughts, here we are: some commentary on Avengers: Infinity War to add to the digital fatberg already clogging up the atlantic's transcommunication cable.

None of the following is original.  But after knocking out that bland review of a Ken Burns documentary yesterday, I'm in the mood to write again which hasn't been the case for the past few weeks.  A whole visit to London and other business have passed and all I've really wanted to do was double bill some films and catch up on a mountain of television.  But if nothing else, the first half of the MCU's two part series finale has made me want to sit in front of a keyboard, so thanks Kevin Feige et al.

The following will of course include many spoilers, so do not under any circumstances read any further if you haven't seen the film - which is essentially unreviewable so this isn't going to be that.  I've already tried watching a couple of the kinds of YouTube reviewers who utilise their dvd collection as the backdrop pointlessly offering a spoiler-free review as though their core audience isn't going to be going to see the film anyway.  Just warn up front then say what you like.  It's OK.

(1)  The film is unreviewable

Reviews of the film for general audiences have been amazingly bobbins in places.  I'm not going to single out any in particular, you've seen them, but the gist is that A:IW doesn't work as a stand alone film because none of the main characters are properly introduced and nothing is explained which means that the emotional beats have no resonance and there aren't any stakes.  Oh and that's half a story which makes it insubstantial.

Let's all say this in unison (!).  It's an installment in probably the biggest film franchise of all time, in which anyone going to the cinema to see it will have enjoyed its antecedents a couple if not a dozen times.  Seeing A:IW as your first MARVEL film is like sitting down for the finale of a television season and hoping that everything which has happened that season will be explained to you.  If this kind of film isn't your sort of thing, this isn't going to change your mind.  It's not supposed to.

It's refreshing to have a film like this which doesn't pander.  Pandering is why we've had to watch Batman's parents killed or the destruction of Krypton over and over again.  If you can't appreciate that the film is ignoring character exposition on purpose rather than through omission, I don't know what you're expecting.  But I also honestly don't understand why someone couldn't enjoy this on some level, unless they're determined not to even before they enter the cinema.

(2)  Structure

The big question beforehand was how the Russo brothers would be able to balance the various elements, all of those characters and contain them within this running time.  Captain America: Civil War demonstrated their nimbleness in achieving that balance whilst simultaneously delivering something which is a valid finale to Cap's trilogy and sewing up some hanging questions from the Iron Man series so I wasn't that concerned.  But how would they achieve the balance between the mix of tones?

The clever solution is to make Thanos an antagonistic protagonist.  Without the necessary close reading (remind me with the blu-ray is released) my guess is that all of the key turning points in the story happen at various stages in Thanos's quest, probably in finding each of the different stones and that in those terms, since Thanos achieves his goal, the film's plot technically resolves itself.  Half the population of the universe disappears, a notion he views as heroic, and he's able to retire just as he wished having made some necessary sacrifices.

The mix of tones works surprisingly well.  I saw one review which suggested that some of heroes act "out of character" because they've been brought in from the work of other creatives but I didn't detect that at all.  James Gunn is particularly listed as an executive producer and apparently he did write all of the Guardian's dialogue.  Due to the familial connection this does function as part of the wider Guardians story more than any of the other characters.

But my understanding is all of the other key creatives were consulted too, probably because they'd have to deal with the fallout in their own films.  The Wakanda scenes are very much within Ryan Cooglar's vision and however much of a downer the climax of Ragnarok is now, this Thor has his DNA in Taika Waititi's effort rather than anything which happened in the earlier films.  The rest of the heroes have already had multiple creatives but the Russos still acknowledge their debt to how Joss Whedon conceived some of the characters, especially Banner.

(3)  Unfortunate Events

Due to his non-appearance in the publicity my assumption was that Hawkeye would buy it in the opening scene.  Little did I expect they'd actually murder one of the franchise's most popular assets despite it being the classic move when you want to show how high the stakes are.  That said, god bless Hiddleston for showing up for all of the publicity as though Loki was going to have a major role in the film rather than a cameo.

My feelings about Gamora are a bit more complex.  Despite the blood splatter, like everyone who's dusted at the climax, I don't believe she'll stay dead.  Damseling and fridging her as a way of utilising some of Quill's toxic masculinity to kibosh the otherwise excellent plan to beat Thanos feels discordant within everything else the franchise has been doing over the years.  Such things have mostly been avoided.  If it happens here, it has to be for a reason.

Plus I can't imagine what Guardians 3 looks like without her - again it isn't typical for anything that happens in an Avengers film, like killing a major character, to have much of an effect on one of the satellite trilogies.  She will be resurrected.  Either because Quill steals the Gauntlet for himself or because reality and time become much more fluid in the sequel.  Like The Key To Time, the Infinity Gauntlet isn't just going to sit on Thanos's mantlepiece.

(4)  Effects on the wider MCU

Although some other franchises have demonstrated that global events would not necessarily have the consequences you might expect within a shared universe (Torchwood's Miracle Day) (eyeroll.gif) it's inconceivable, unless they whole thing is erased from history in the sequel, to envisage half the population of the Earth disappearing not to be reflected in the various other corners of the 'verse in some way, albeit through wry asides.

Agents of SHIELD has already said that they will be referencing Infinity War, but their time travel storyline was no doubt conceived to explain why they wouldn't be involved in the events of the film up front even if the film franchise itself doesn't seem to care either way.  E4's broadcasts are a bit behind but given that the Earth is supposed to be a rocky husk in the future anyway, it'll be interesting to see how the tv show itself manages to justify The Avengers not being involved in that.

The film doesn't turn events global until the end. Before then, barring the skirming in New York, most of the key action happens off world or behind the cloaking device in Wakanda.  The Defenders, Runaways, Cloak and Dagger, Inhumans et al wouldn't necessarily even be aware of the war being fought.  They do now and you can bet that even though I know the film/TV divide makes it impossible, I wish they'd have cameos in the sequel.

(5)  What's going to be in the sequel then?

Hawkeye, Antman and the Wasp and Captain Marvel for starters.  They were all either seen on set (both films were shot together) or mentioned as having been there and it'll be important to have some flesh blood in the sequel.  All of the original core Avengers survive at the close of business: Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Cap and Black Widow.  They're getting the band back together, oh yes.

A percentage of the film no doubt be about the consequences of this, the MCU's contribution to the "rapture" genre.  Despite having the time stone, the characters aren't wiped from chronological existence.  Everyone remembers who they were and that loss.  Perhaps we'll see Tony turn up at Aunt May's door to commiserate.  There will be tears.

What's the goal?  To retrieve the Infinity Glove so they can put right what once went wrong.  In other words, it'll be the inverse of this film with Thanos properly as the antagonist again defending his achievement.  But I'm hoping for something weirder involving multiple realities, featuring cameos that look forward to whatever new characters the MCU's considering.

BUT this would also be an excellent, if unlikely, opportunity to merge the MCU and the X-verse in a similar way to how the recent Secret Wars absorbed the the Ultimates universe into 616.  Who wouldn't want the post-credits sequence to be Deadpool being chased into the Avengers campus by Wolverine or some such.  You have to imagine Jackman would return for that.

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