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Thanos Shrugged… or A No-Spoilers Review of Spoilers: the Motion Picture (a No Spoilers Avengers: Infinity War review)

So I’ve seen Infinity War twice now. That’s rare for me to do before I write a review. I saw it originally Thursday night and then again on Friday. I wanted to really think it through so I could find a way to review it without spoilers. I did write up a “call for comments” for my podcast blog (cheap plug, go subscribe to my podcast!!!) as our next episode is going to be about film franchises as a new media type, but I went out of my way there to address the movie as little as possible to avoid spoilers for people who haven’t seen the movie yet. And then I realized that the reason this is so hard is that this isn’t really a “movie” per se… not in the traditional sense. It’s not even just a Hollywood blockbuster… and it’s not just an entry in the MCU Franchise TV show that we only get to watch in movie theaters. This is may be the greatest ever entering in a different type of motion picture altogether. This is a spoilerogram!

Sometimes people complain about my star scoring on some movies. Especially the superhero or otherwise genre based blockbuster ones because I never put them that high. As I’ve explained before, I try to rate movies on the same scale just so that the rating have some sense of meaning, even though in reality I know it’s impossible to really compare say a Ladybird to a Logan. They’re different types of movies, trying to do different kinds of things. This also allows me to analytically take my personal enjoyment out of the review. My key example is always Suckerpunch. A movie that I personally LOVE!!! Even though I am completely aware that it isn’t very good.

When I do this I try to think of how the movie stands up to classic rules of cinematic story telling. How well does this tell a complete story with a beginning, middle and end? How well can a person who has no experience with this world become invested in it and enjoy it? Are the characters fully developed and realized and engaging? How does this piece of art stand as a complete and cohesive work in and of itself? And if I had to judge this movie on THOSE merits alone, it might very well get a zero. A one at best.

I’m not sure this is a movie.

It does not stand alone. Even more so that other films that are part of long running series. I don’t expect Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers to stand alone. It is a part of a greater narrative. Similarly, I especially don’t expect Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 to stand on its own. In both of those cases we are looking at a film that is intended to be part of a much greater whole. And yet, there is enough there that they feel like complete movies. There is a beginning to the narrative. There are character introductions. There is a building action and a decisive end point that makes it feel like the end of one story and makes you excited for the next one. They are complete.

Infinity War is more like picking up a 24 chapter novel and skipping to chapter 19, reading it, and then setting it down.

It’s a good thing that those two chapters just happened to be really good.  But they’re not a story.

At least not by themselves.

Crossovers have been a staple of super hero comic books for over seventy years. And the comic book mega-event crossover for over thirty. Up until this point, attempts to bring this to the movies have worked by movie rules. There can be related to other things but each one stands in and of itself. Essentially, both the first and second Avengers movies were Secret Wars. There was an assumption that the reader had some passing familiarity with the characters at least. There is an awareness that there are other movies in the franchises, and that the moviegoer is looking to see all of these characters in the same sandbox. But if you aren’t aware of what was happening in some of the individual franchises, it just didn’t matter. Thor even tells you this in the first film Avengers film. There’s a question as to why he is even there, since according to the continuity between his first and second film, he should have been trapped in Asgard. He basically says “magic, don’t worry about it” and the film moves on never thinking about it again. Because, despite it’s protagonist being one of the stars of the film, the concerns of the Thor franchise are outside of the scope of that film. This is similar to other blockbuster franchises. If I am a fan of Star Wars movies, I am able to watch the films and ignore all the side novels, comic books, cartoons and other supplemental media. Everything that is important to the main narrative, happens in the main films.

This one is different. This is more like a more modern comic book crossover event. The narrative is split over a billion separate parts in different series and the main series assumes you are following all of them. From the very first scene of Infinity War, it is readily apparent that the concerns of the Thor franchise are very much relevant to this film. As are the concerns of every other MCU franchise. But since this is chapter 19, of the novel, the film isn’t going to bother to recap chapters 1-18. They matter, and you should have read them asshole! It feels like that’s what this film is saying to you. So much so that the inconsistencies in the film with other chapters seem to REALLY STAND OUT from that very first scene (mostly due to the absence of certain characters, presumedly for budgetary reasons).

That’s not to say that this is bad. It has emotional stakes. It has pathos. The actors make you care about the events that happen to their characters. It’s just that the film relies on you being “all in” to the greater narrative that is the MCU. Whatever this is, it’s bad… it’s just not…  a movie.

And that’s what makes its hard to talk about without spoiling anything. There’s no building action to this. It starts out in medias res and doesn’t let up. It’s hard to talk about any specifics of the film because it really is two and a half hours of continuous pertinent plot points. The film is nothing but spoilers.

What I an say is that it does pose interesting thematic questions. What has made the Marvel films so successful is that at heart they have attempted to be movies first and superhero movies second. A large part of this has been, rather than focusing on big beefy guys punching the shit out of each other, many of the previous films have been built around the same complex thematic questions that one would construct any other speculative fiction film around… and then having big beefy guys punching the shit out of each other. What I found most interesting about the film is that the narrative, such that it is, is built around a very fascinating moral question that places moral objectivism in conflict with relativism and asks you to consider, not only whether or not philosophical objectivism can even exist, but which side is even subscribing to it. If deconstructed to its bare bones, the central conflict amounts to a trolley problem… one where I’m not sure which side of the conflict is trying to throw the switch and which one is trying to hold it.

And that is fascinating… it is a question that I think in a different film, could be debated for hours, with no one ever coming to a conclusive decision. In this film, even though it is central to the narrative and a constant question throughout almost every scene, there is so much more going on with regards to the greater MCU narrative, the worry of who will live and who will die, the ramifications of those events, the incredible amount of pathos that Marvel has frankly completely earned through the previous films even if it doesn’t come from this one in specific and the constant visual spectacle from the very impressive beefy guys punching the shit out of each other, that the thematic philosophical question kind of seems to fade into the background.

And that’s a shame. But maybe that’s just what we do. After all, how many people really understand the deeper philosophical ramifications of Atlas Shrugged anyway… it’s easier to just say “oh, this means I can be selfish and lower taxes for the rich!” than it is to question which side of the ideology you are actually embodying. And Galt or Taggart had been a giant purple alien with a magical bejeweled oven mitt would it have made any difference? Wait, which one are we supposed to be be admiring anyway? *shrug*

((∞✊??????)/√-1)☆☆☆☆(STACK OVERFLOW – RUNTIME ERROR out of 5 stars)

25 comments for “Thanos Shrugged… or A No-Spoilers Review of Spoilers: the Motion Picture (a No Spoilers Avengers: Infinity War review)

  1. avatar
    April 28, 2018 at 1:04 pm

    We just finished it. I’m not ready to speak yet.

  2. avatar
    April 28, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    You loved Suckerpunch?! I feel like I need to fight you.

  3. avatar
    April 29, 2018 at 7:53 am

    There are people reacting to this movie as if it has the emotionally devastating punch of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM or something. It’s really silly.

    • avatar
      April 29, 2018 at 7:59 am

      I don’t think that’s fair. But I don’t think you’re being fair either.

      The movie does have emotional weight. Definitely.

      Given the relative few number of movies most people see compared to say… me… and most of them being blockbusters. it has a LOT.

      My criticism is that that weight was earned over the course of 18 films and not in this one specifically. That’s not necessarily bad. It’s just very different from what you usually see in a pathos driven film.

      But since the franchise did take the time to earn those emotional connections over 10 years the pathos is meaningful in a way that it wouldn’t be in a singular film where a character is not introduced and killed.

    • avatar
      April 29, 2018 at 8:00 am

      But, like, it’s a super-hero movie, man.

    • avatar
      April 29, 2018 at 8:05 am

      Yeah. It is a superhero movie. And that’s fine. That doesn’t mean it can’t have emotional weight.

      Logan is a superhero movie and it has one of the best written emotional arcs of any movie in years. Hence its nomination for best adapted screenplay. This isn’t quite there… and a big reason is because the entire arc isn’t in the screenplay.

      But it still does pack a punch. Which is why it rings stronger with people than say the Superman death in BvS or the Quicksilver death in A:AoU.

    • avatar
      April 29, 2018 at 8:10 am

      I guess it doesn’t have emotional weight for me because nothing in a Marvel movie has any actual lasting impact and it will all be fixed in the next movie.

      That doesn’t mean the “how are they going to fix this?” (time travel) thing isn’t fun.

    • avatar
      April 29, 2018 at 8:17 am

      i don’t know that nothing will. I don’t know that it won’t either. And that’s part of the fun.

      But taken as a whole for what has happened up to that point it’s sort of like Empire Strikes Back. It is a film that builds to a… what at least appears to be status quo changing event. And that’s how emotional stakes work.

      Sure it’s possible that the next film undermines it. We don’t know. We haven’t seen it yet.

      It’s also worth noting that only like 5% of MCU fans are comic fans. We’ve known the infinity gauntlet saga for 20 years. The majority of viewers don’t.

    • avatar
      April 29, 2018 at 8:45 am

      To touch on something you mentioned: the only AVENGERS movie that isn’t entirely reliant on prior movies is ULTRON.

    • avatar
      April 29, 2018 at 8:56 am

      Hmmm… I disagree. I think A:AoU is reliant on the other movies far more than Avengers 1 is… Avengers 1 essentially hand waves away origin stories “look, there are superheroes. We are coming together to fight this super villain who has a magic stick.” Nothing else matters. Where did they get their powers? Somewhere. Where did Loki get the magic stick? Who cares? Everything you need to know is right there.

      A:AoU however is entirely reliant on the previous film and Tony’s journey through his 3 film franchise (and especially IM3). The driving plot to the movie is “Tony has had enough of being reactive, and so due to his paranoia from the previous films, he is harnessing the alien tech of Avengers 1, he’s going to build his own robot cop force. But since he didn’t understand alien tech… the robot goes bad and still the magic rock that was inside of Loki’s magic stick from the first movie to make a super robot, who turns on him because of the humanity of the programming that was installed in it from IM1-IM3.

      I don’t think it works on its own at all.

    • avatar
      April 30, 2018 at 8:23 pm

      I mean, Mikey’s beef is my beef, but also I think he’s maybe disregarding that for a lot of not comic book people are experiencing their first “comic book event”, they don’t pay attention to io9 and newsarama and cbr to know that Spider-Man 2 is coming or that Black Panther will return in Black Panther 2, etc. All they know is they saw on that screen, and something like “time travel retcon to set everything back to status quo” is an entirely foreign concept to their brain that they haven’t even considered was an option because they’re not expecting a film to play “fast and loose” with their emotional gut punches.

      But, yes… for me, a Comic Nerd who has seen those articles and knows what movies have sequels and what actors are signed on, etc. kind of felt underwhelmed by those emotional gut punches because although a lot of it was very sad once they started killing major players who were starring in their own solo films, I knew that this wasn’t a “nothing will ever be the same” kind of event.

      Then again… maybe by doing this it perfectly reflects the modern “comic book event” by getting its legs cut out from underneath by marketing announcements of what we can expect 6 months down the road when “dead character who just died returns in a 6 issue mini-series/crossover extravaganza!”

  4. avatar
    April 29, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    Well, as a psychologist, it was pretty clear to me that Thanos was the “bad guy.” Or at least the psychopath who is able to cold-bloodedly use (what he perceived to be) reason over emotion when making moral decisions.

    • avatar
      April 29, 2018 at 3:14 pm

      I’d say psychologically he’s certainly positioned as the villain. His actions are consistent with what we consider evil with our current common social context.

      But I meant philosophically. He certainly has a moral code that can be justified if you approach it as a being of pure logic rather than emotion. Like i said… it’s a trolley problem.

      Though I do have issues with it from a logical POV that I commented on elsewhere. It’s spoiler heavy though. I’d be curious to your opinion. I guess I can create a spoiler thread and copy it here.

    • avatar
      April 29, 2018 at 3:17 pm

      Chris Maverick yeah, the trolley (or subway or train) problem is diagnostic of psychopathy.

      And yes, I think we actually need to get into the spoilers to have a good discussion on this movie.

    • avatar
      April 29, 2018 at 3:20 pm

      See the spoilers thread below.

  5. avatar
    April 29, 2018 at 3:17 pm

    SPOILERS THREAD!!! BEYOND HERE BE DRAGONS!!!

    Do not read comments under here if you haven’t seen the film yet.

    You have been warned.

    • avatar
      April 29, 2018 at 3:20 pm

      Ok, so this was originally posted as a comment to Danny Anderson’s review of the film.

      SPOILERS
      SPOILERS
      SPOILERS
      SPOILERS
      SPOILERS

      Ok… So Danny’s sort of focused on Thanos’s godlike power making him very much “God” with a capital G… as opposed to just “a god” with a lower case G.

      My response was this:

      I had marked this to respond to when I saw you post it the other day. Obviously (since I know you read my review already) you know that I’ve seen the film twice. And I have difficulty rating it as a movie given the uniqueness of what it is… I focused on it’s franchiseness because that’s what the next podcast is going to be. And I also touched briefly on it’s philosophical question of of utilitarian moral objectivism vs. relativism.

      But you offer an interesting theological philosophical question that I can’t address in my review because I was avoiding spoilers where you allowed them. Or at least your take leads me to a question that I wanted to pose but can’t.

      Namely, Thanos’s plan is ultimately kind of short sighted and pointless. If we grant him that he has the superior moral stance in the objectivism argument that I posed and that he really is the hero in his quest to maintain balance in the universe, but take the diegesis of the film as given that he does have infinite Godlike power (after all, they’re called infinity gems) then his plan is dumb. Yes, he has temporarily staved off the problem of resource allocation by halving consumption. But that solution is fleeting in that he’s done nothing to stop the problem from recurring. If the universe is 6 billion years old, and we assume that earth’s population growth patterns are relatively average for the universe, then we can assume that we’d be exactly back at the same place as we are now in about 60 years or so… which is infinitesimal in the 6billion year history.

      Possessing infinite power, he could have just as easily doubled the size and resource allocation of the universe and achieved the exact same solution with zero opposition. Of course the 60 year problem would persist. But it does now, so who cares… or raise allocation to the infinite power. I mean, why not…

      Of course this calls to question why a just God doesn’t do this anyway. This could be argued that Judeo-Christian God simply doesn’t want to… free will and all that… but Thanos apparently doesn’t have the same moral code as JCG. So why not? Perhaps the power of Infinity isn’t really infinite at all. And he couldn’t do that. But that still leaves a problem. For a being who is effectively infinite in power by human reckoning, the idea that he has staved off the problem that is so important to him that he was worth it “costing him everything” just to extend the viability of the universe by 0.000001% seems ridiculous.

      Why not half the population, then sterilize it and grant immortality? Something… there just needs to be more involvement than the solution provided of “one time fix and then I’m gonna go hang out and watch sunrises.” This sort of calls into question some of the utopian god questions we were discussing offline after we recorded my podcast.

  6. avatar
    April 29, 2018 at 5:25 pm

    Here’s what Warren Ellis said in his weekly newsletter:

    So. INFINITY WAR, then. No spoilers.
    It is perhaps best understood as an unprecedented brand power move. It is not “a film” as that term is commonly understood. It is a sequence of connections. It’s a statement from a bizarre place of popular-culture ownership. It’s a statement that they have done ten years of film storytelling, often with very conventional story templates, so that everyone in the world will show up for what is often an extraordinarily unconventional story-like event with one extremely unexpected tonal shift.
    It, by design, makes no sense unless you’ve watched most if not all of the other Marvel films. There cannot be a casual viewer of this emanation. Only a committed one. It is likely to be the largest worldwide opening of all time, as I write this, even though it’s not opening in China or Russia this weekend.
    The production values are near-perfect. The days of the slightly janky AVENGERS special effects are long gone, and every pixel is painted with jewelled, exquisite skill. As a visual experience, it is peak Marvel. The mocap on Josh Brolin makes Thanos a far more effective “CGI villain” than the waste of Ciaran Hinds on JUSTICE LEAGUE, which had all the performance nuance of a level boss in DOOM II.
    Per the trailer, I think it was a brave choice to have the evil spaceship apparently designed by James Dyson.
    The writers and the directors worked very, very hard to make something that did not feel beholden to rules. They’ll stop the thing dead for sixty seconds to do a gag. There are a lot of gags. I mean, no possible joke goes unjoked. Nothing I say here should be taken to denigrate the work of those people. They have achieved a remarkable thing.
    (Special nod to whoever designed the sonics for the next-to-final scene.)
    It is not a movie. It is a brand manifestation that wants to have prolonged, eager and reasonably skilled cultural sex with you. It wants your experience with its content™ to be satisfying and it hopes you are pleased enough to return for further interaction with the Brand. This is a very 21C thing. I like it for that alone, to be honest.
    AVENGERS 4 happens next year, of course, and I will be interested to see how they stick the landing. But, in terms of cultural power plays, this one is the pinnacle.

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