Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Warning. Contains spoilers for Avengers Infinity War. But at this point it seems as if everyone on the planet has already seen it so erm yeah whatever. Do not read it if you have not yet seen Avengers Infinity War please I’m going to write some stuff that’s going to spoil the hell of it for you. This Warn You. Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here. Etc. Only the penitent man will pass. You will not be saved by the holy ghost. You will not be saved by the god Plutonium. In fact, YOU WILL NOT BE SAVED!
Still reading? Ok. Good.
Infinity War gave me a religious experience (there. I said it).
Like: the first 99% of it had me muttering dark nothings into my bag of sweets (“…stupid Marvel…” “…waste of time…” “…our culture is such a wasteland…”) but then those last 5 minutes happened and it was like I’d never seen something so beautiful in my entire life. It was I’d just finishing running a marathon through an inhospitable and barren desert and lying there on my back and gasping for water – Jesus Christ appears and hands me an ice-cold can of Coke to drink. I mean yeah of course I would have preferred some water and Coke is a hellish corporate product responsible for heinous acts of evil that tastes like melted battery acid – but I have to admit… That first cold sweet sugar-filled hit on my lips feels so good I just want to die right there and then: because I know there’s never going to be anything else that’ll ever come close / ever beat it.
Ahhh. Much better.
And either you’re reading this and nodding your head like a Novelty Dippy Drinking Bird in agreement because you know exactly what I’m talking about or your shaking your empty skull like a monkey after a lobotomy (no offense). If you’re the former then I guess there’s no point in you reading this but if you’re the latter then what follows is a sincere and honest and completely open-hearted attempt to explain just why I how and why Avengers Infinity War gave me that Jesus / Coke-flavoured magic feeling.
Aka why you’re wrong.
(In fact: it’s maybe even possible that we’ll get the point that we’ll be able to explain some of the reasons why Infinity War left you feeling cold / pissed off. Namely because ah it didn’t give you the things you want on purpose. And you know: why that sort of thing should be celebrated. But hmmm we’re probably getting a little ahead of ourselves here).
Thursday’s I’m at work until seven thirty in the evening so by the time they finally let me go my brain has been pulverized into thin grey tasteless mush. So normally I’m not really good for much more than saying my name and how many beans make five (“erm…. let me think a second… is it… is it…. five?”).
Typically I grab a DVD from the library and then slink off home. The things I like best are stuff with explosions and things hitting other things with things. You might call this mindless escapism – but I like watching the pretty colours move in crazy ways. And at least it keeps me off the street? Only last Thursday Avengers Infinity War had just hit all the cinemas like a big thing hitting another thing with a thing. And I thought fuck it – seeing how it was going to plastered all over the internet for the next week or so – maybe it could be my Thursday night treat? And at least the screen would be bigger.
(Plus: any fule kno the secret magic ingredient of film-watching at the cinema is: the audience. To the point where the difference between watching a film with on your lonesome and watching it in a a packed house / full audience is almost like watching 2 different movies. Like just in terms of how it feels when a whole crowd laughs, when a whole crowd cheers or when (and we’ll get to this again in a bit) when a whole crowd goes…. silent).
So I trundled along to my local megaloplex with all the other humans in the vicinity. Reasoning my way into things as I paid for my ticket, grabbed a few pix n mix (One pound forty?!) and dutifully took my seat which was round about when my brain appeared like a pop up and started asking me what the hell did I think I was doing? I mean yeah as a westernly cultured human adult male interested in comic books and pop culture of course I’d managed to see pretty much every single Marvel movie up until the point (with the only other exception so far being Blank Panther – but that’s a whole other story) and I’m pretty sure none of them ever set my world on fire. Like: I liked the bits in the first Iron Man when it was just Robert Downey Jr talking shit with a robot (wait – whatever happened to the robot?). Guardians of the Galaxy was kinda ok (particularly that part when they all did the standing)? And I liked it when Goodbye Lenin showed up in the Civil War one… And yeah that twist halfway through the Spider-Man one did indeed make me gasp. But you know – mostly I’m the type of person that starts to get quite annoyed when people start saying Captain America: The Winter Soldier was just like a “1970s political thriller” (please don’t even get me started) and anyone who says Thor: Ragnarok is a good “visually exciting” film is either a moron or a liar or both… So yeah: that’s where I stand. Not really much of a fanboy. But hell: just like everyone else I guess I was excited to see what happened when this Thanos guy finally showed up and what he was going to do and how he was going to do it. Plus well – every single Marvel movie character is what I would define as “likable enough.” I mean yeah – no one ever really does anything all that much (if anyone changed too much then there would be no need for the next one right?) and the status quo must always be restored because that’s the deal right? But they all sure do quip good (with the one exception being Doctor Strange – but I guess someone has to be the straight man right?).
So yeah – low expectations and misanthropic tendencies.
Which I guess is why the ending kinda gave me that religious experience kinda feeling / tingle / Jesus and the coke and etc / and basically I’m writing this because I kinda wanted to get down some of the reasons why exactly.
For those of you who haven’t seen it (but erm then: why are you reading this? And didn’t you see the spoiler warning above? Ok whatever: it’s on you – it’s not on me): the whole thing with Infinity War that everyone knew going in is: it’s the nineteenth (That is… a lot) frigging Marvel film in the past ten years and it’s the one that they’ve all supposingly been building up towards… Infinity stones and Thanos and blah. It’s supposed to be an escalation and a climax and a big frigging deal. I mean “most ambitious crossover event in history” aside – it’s basically end of season final time: and the point where you find out what everything has been building up towards. Which of course means death. Death being the ultimate finality. The end of the story. Which equals – no more sequels. No more in fact of anything. It’s the storytelling trump card and denotes ultimate and complete total seriousness.
Talking it over with my flatmate (hi John!) before Infinity War came out the best and most obvious guess on how it was going to play out was – Tony Stark biting the big one. After all: according to the internet Robert Downey Jr’s contract is almost up or whatever. Plus: he’s the one who started it all so you know it would be a nice culmination plus everyone knows he’d act the hell out of it. Second best guess = Steve “Cap” Rogers. Plus you know – maybe then they could turn it into a Trump thing or something? The Death of America or something similar or whatever? You know: he gets killed by a sentient blonde toupee or something? (I don’t know – I’m not a writer. Leave me alone).
Only of course that’s not what happened. Instead what happened is in the last 5 minutes Marvel went and totally and indiscriminately massacred 50% of their characters. To which I think the only sensible reaction is: (shocked emoji)
(Yeah yeah ok ok – maybe “massacre” is the wrong word seeing how all the afflicted characters kinda slowly turned into dust like they’re all Buffy vampires. And it was a shame that they all did it so peacefully with none of them screaming for their lives. But hey yeah: it’s a mainstream blockbuster family friendly kinda movie so I guess I’ll just have to take what I can get?).
I mean first things first and just to get the totally obvious out of the way: as it says in pretty much every single thing I’ve read about Infinity War since it came out (in a kinda droning nasal voice that starts every single possible sentence with “Actually….“) yes I know that seeing how it already has sequels lined up for pretty much all of the characters that got (to use the technical term) “Leftover-ed” when you stop to think about for one second it seems pretty likely the next Avengers movie will find some way to reserve the deaths of Star-Lord, Black Panther and Spider-Man et al. And despite what you may think it’s not just going to be Iron Man and Captain America sitting in a group therapy session trying to make sense of it while the world and the rest of the universe turns into a utopia (with the camera cutting back to Thanos now and again while he struggles with a particularly hard game of sudoku or just takes a leisurely stroll in his local park – using his Infinity Glove to vaporize that annoying person with the dog).
Yeah. Good riddance.
My best guess is that the next Avengers movie is going to be fighting and punching and explosions and maybe a noble sacrifice or two until the status quo is lovingly restored and then everyone goes home happy. But like I said: I’m not a writer so god knows if that’s right or not.
But that’s not the point.
The point is: even if the next Avenger’s film is an elegiac mediation on the nature of grief or lots and lots of oh-so cathartic punching and exploding (hell: who knows? Maybe even the Hulk will get over himself and do some smashing? I mean – anything is possible right?) that’s not where Infinity War ends. Nope. I mean – I when that stuff went down in the cinema on that big massive screen… (James Murphy voice): I was there. And what I saw and what I experienced was the biggest collective gasp and almighty wave of “WTF” and an audience losing it’s damn mind since I saw No Country for Old Men countless years ago and whatever the hell that closing Tommy Lee Jones monologue was all about (“And then I woke up…”? What the hell?). I mean yeah yeah yeah of course it’s all easy to be cynical and detached and all knowing after the event. But if you tell me that you walked into Infinity War knowing that Marvel were going to kill half their characters then (sorry) you’re either a moron or a liar…
Yeah. I said it.
Because here’s the thing: that’s totally not the way that is supposed to happen. Which is totally and exactly why I loved it so incredibly much.
Brief tangent /// for my work I run Book Clubs. Not only the Barbican Comic Forum (which is totally awesome and you should come and check out) but ones for kids as well. I was doing one at the end of last month and the book we were discussing was called All the Truth That’s In Me Novel by Julie Berry. It’s set in ye old fashioned puritan / Crucible times and it’s about a woman called Judith that gets kidnapped and has her tongue cut out and is then returned to her home village two years later (it’s alright I guess). Anyway – there’s this bit where this neighbouring town sends over a raiding party and there’s like this mini-war skirmish kinda thing. At first you think that Judith is going to sit the whole thing out (only men go to war – women and children should stay behind where it’s safe obviously) but then there’s stuff that happens and she ends up right in the middle of the battle. The reason I mention all this is because one of the kids in the reading group was just totally blown away by this whole bit. “But that’s not what’s supposed to happen. That’s not how the story is supposed to go.” Which I thought was a pretty deep insight for a kid to have – but then also: maybe that speaks to how deeply ingrained this stuff is – even from a young age we’ve already been conditioned way deep down in our bones the exact limits of how stories work and what they do and exactly how they’re supposed to behave. We’re aware of the conventions and the rhythms and the styles in the way that they move. This thing happens and so either this thing or this other thing will happen in reply. It’s like listening to a pop song – first there’s the verse. Then the chorus. Then repeat. Then a middle eight. And then the chorus again. Fade to black.
There’s a certain type of person that will nod their head in response to this and say something like “well of course this is why we need to escape from the limitations of genre fiction to a place where fiction can be truly free” and then point towards a book or film where nothing happens and everything is boring. But that’s almost the opposite of the point. Like: sentences have structures and movements and most of the time are pretty predictable but that doesn’t mean that we should abandon sentences and find our salvation in gobbledygook. Nah. Instead it’s about being smarter and using the preexisting contours and shapes of stories to push them into new and exciting directions where you use the conventions to surprise and innovate . Not abandoning the whole project altogether and going off to live in a wasteland on shrubs and berries (where nothing happens and everything is boring).
And yeah – as bizarre as I know as it is to say: Infinity War is actually a pretty good example of precisely that kinda innovation kinda thing. Kinda tho they most probably have completely cynical motives for doing it. Even if the whole thing was just an accident. Even if they’re just going to have someone press a big red button / Infinity Stone in the next movie that says “undo” or have Tony Stark wake up and find out it was all just a horrible dream. Whatever. The point is: Infinity War pushes completely outside of how Marvel movies are supposed to work. aka “But that’s not what’s supposed to happen. That’s not how the story is supposed to go.”
I call this idea: narrative wrongness. Keep it in mind it’ll be useful later.