Tag Archives: Infinity War

Cheating Audiences with Fake Sacrifices

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In Stephen King’s novel Misery, Paul Sheldon, a famous author, is held hostage by his number one fan after a horrible accident. She demands that he write her favorite character back to life. His first attempt brings the main character back but without a plausible story. Annie, his captor, launches into a tirade about watching movies as a kid:

Anyway, my favourite was Rocketman, and once it was a no breaks chapter. The bad guy stuck him in a car on a mountain road and knocked him out and welded the door shut and tore out the brakes and started him to his death, and he woke up and tried to steer and tried to get out but the car went off a cliff before he could escape! And it crashed and burned and I was so upset and excited, and the next week, you better believe I was first in line. And they always start with the end of the last week. And there was Rocketman, trying to get out, and here comes the cliff, and just before the car went off the cliff, he jumped free! And all the kids cheered! But I didn’t cheer. I stood right up and started shouting. This isn’t what happened last week! Have you all got amnesia? They just cheated us! This isn’t fair! HE DIDN’T GET OUT OF THE COCK – A – DOODIE CAR!

She then makes him rewrite it without cheating his audience. He is able to do this and realizes as he is writing that this is the best writing he has ever done. Just like Annie, moviegoers, particularly those of the sci-fi genre, also do not want to be cheated by pretend sacrifices.

We’ve Been Cheated Before

In 2014, the X-Men franchise released X-Men: Days of Future Past which made the preceding X-Men movies pointless with its time-traveling antics. Deaths, catastrophic events, and important plot developments were reversed. This left the viewer with a vague sense that they had wasted money on movies that no longer “happened” and emotions on events and characters that no longer existed in the way they previously understood them. Even more frustrating was the unexplained resurrection of Xavier, leaving the viewers to speculate online how he miraculously shows up without a single reference.

Even in the very popular Black Panther, we see this reversal of fates. When T’Challa fights Killmonger and loses, he is thrown off the waterfall to certain death. The audience is left to believe he is dead, while Killmonger asserts his kingship with calculated and horrific steps. However, the audience cannot really believe he is dead. They just wait to see how it will be undone. In the case of this movie, unlike X-Men, there is a sense of cost. He is not immediately restored, and they must depend on the generosity of a rival tribe. Though it is expected, his resurrection is at least not easy.

Will It Be Believable?

This precedent or resurrections, however, makes Marvel Universe fans wary of the next plot development in the Avengers series. Since the Infinity War ends with the death of a large number of iconic superheroes (many with upcoming movies to be released), the viewer is once again wondering what kind of trick the Marvel Universe franchise has up their sleeves that will bring their heroes back but with little cost.

There are many speculations about how these events may be undone. These fan theories touch on revelations from the comic books series, as well as hints in the films. Some believe that Dr. Strange’s vision of the one possible scenario in which they win is still in effect. Others argue that the soul stone may exact a different price from Thanos from what he expected. While a dramatic ending like the one in Infinity War sparks much online discussion, it does challenge the viewers’ needed suspension of disbelief. If the characters cannot truly suffer harm, can we really care about them? Don’t most of the conversations just focus on the various possible plot twists and less on what this means to each character?

Read the rest here.

True Superheroes Should be Replaceable

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The final cuts from Marvel’s Infinity War reveal devastating losses. Thanos has gained control of all six Infinity stones and enacts his horrific plan to randomly disintegrate half of the world’s population. This random number includes superheroes such as Black Panther, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, all of the Guardians of the Galaxy and more. Despite the anticipation of most of the fans that Marvel will surely reverse some, if not all, of these deaths (due to previously released movie titles), the audience is left wondering what is next. With most of the superhero family gone, there aren’t many heroes left to whom the world can turn to for help. This leads us to ask–why did the Avengers leave the world so dependent on them?

Obviously, most superheroes are super in every way, like Thor or Captain America who seem downright indestructible. But others, like Iron Man, Black Widow, and Hulk, are just human beings with exceptional talents. We assume that like every other mortal they could die of natural causes leaving not much behind except a world that has become used to their abilities to save the day. Wouldn’t true heroes be thinking ahead, planning on how to both replicate themselves or find others with giftings to train?

Preparing for the Future

The idea of preparing for the future can be seen to some extent in the Marvel universe. Both Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters and Shield take an intentional approach to finding new recruits and training them. However, in the case of the X-Men their focus is more on the protection of their gifted students, rather than training them to be protectors of the world. The school is eventually destroyed, and the students go into hiding. Shield fares no better. Their issues revolve around political bureaucracy and corruption which eventually leads to its downfall and the conflict between Captain America and Ironman (Captain America: Civil War). People are left not knowing whom they can trust and without clear leadership. The fact that both of these organizations ultimately fail at their goals leads the viewers to wonder how important it was to the overall Marvel theme in the first place. In both of these situations, people became dependent on something bigger than themselves, making them weaker as a result.

Read the rest here on The Artifice.

Photo by TK Hammonds on Unsplash

Infinity War and the Value of Life

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The latest Marvel Universe movie breaks the traditional mold. Though, they keep it light with typical witty banter and comedic interludes, a heavier topic of sacrifice and failure is depicted. Yes, in this movie, the heroes fail. As sad as this is, the greatest tension in the film comes not from its dark ending but from the characters’  struggle with the decision of who is sacrificed for the greater good. *Spoiler alert*

Who Gets to Decide?

The antagonist, Thanos, is the ultimate pragmatist who sees overpopulation as the greatest evil. His plan is to collect the six infinity stones, not just for his own power, but to enact what he thinks is the best plan–to weed out half of the population of the universe and bring balance to the world. He poses himself as a god-like being with fatherly attributes, even calling his followers and conquered peoples, his children. He comforts himself in the midst of evil with the idea that he is doing what is best for the world. Loki’s dying words to Thanos though are “You will never be a god!” It is Thanos’s lack of valuing life that makes him a monster. This stands in opposition to the Marvel superheroes who indeed value life, but whose actions, however,  often imitate, rather than contrast, Thanos’s greatest faults.

This is because the superheroes like Thanos are still the ones who decide who lives and who dies, often based on their own preferences. This is seen clearly in Captain America: Civil War that focuses on the after-effects of two encounters that leave their enemies defeated but many innocent dead. In particular, Wanda and Stark feel the guilt of the lives taken, especially as they learn the names and histories of these victims. The world is tired of this vigilante justice and seeks to place the Avengers under the power of the United Nations by having them sign the Sokovia Accords.

This causes a rift in the team with Stark and others choosing to sign while Captain America refuses. He believes that signing the accords would limit their ability to do good, and he still trusts in his ability to make the right choice.

Aren’t They Doing the Same Thing?

In this mind frame, Captain America is very similar to Thanos. Both rely on their own understanding to determine the best course of action. The difference though is also clear. Thanos is willing to sacrifice others, including his beloved Gamorah, to accomplish his vision, while, if needed, Captain America is willing to sacrifice himself.

In fact, this trait of sacrificing for others is seen by all the Marvel superheroes. Spiderman decides to stay on the spaceship leaving earth in order to help save Dr. Strange. He comments that he couldn’t be the friendly neighborhood Spiderman if there’s no neighborhood. The snarky Dr. Strange also displays this willingness to sacrifice when, after stating adamantly that he will choose to the protect the stone over Spiderman or Stark, releases the stone to Thanos to save Stark’s life.  As Thor says many times throughout his movies, this is what a hero does. And this is why, despite the ambivalence the people often feel towards their superheroes, they ultimately trust them. They know they will sacrifice themselves if needed.

Despite these noble tendencies, though, we also see inconsistencies in their moral logic. When Vision offers to sacrifice himself by allowing them to destroy the infinity stone he has in his head, Steve Rogers (no longer Captain America) says he won’t trade lives.  Instead, however, an army of Wakanda men and women and other heroes fight the incoming forces in order to buy the time needed for Shuri, Black Panther’s sister and a scientist, to safely remove it. This ploy, however, requires the sacrifice of hundreds just to save Vision’s life, and it ultimately proves useless. Is this a fair valuing of life?

Sacrificing Family for the Good of Others

The Marvel universe is not the only universe to struggle with this balance of sacrifice and life. The great Christian heroes of our past made decisions that brought life and freedom to others but pain and hardship to themselves and their families. Great missionaries like Hudson Taylor, to whom many Chinese Christians can trace their spiritual lineage, often buried wives and children who succumbed to the difficult life. In addition, history reveals stories of great men and women who put their families in peril to rescue others during horrible events like the Holocaust.

These people made a decision of sacrifice that not only impacted themselves but those around them. Did they have the right to make that decision for others?

There is no easy answer to these questions for we know both things to be true: that life is immeasurably valuable and that sometimes we must sacrifice this for the greater good. What we don’t always know is when or how this is required. Any person who seeks to serve God with their lives will feel this tension between serving people and protecting the boundaries of family and self.

What Is the Right Way?

We are all not all called to be martyrs of life or liberty, but we are all called to be willing. In this mindset, we leave room for God to do His work and to orchestrate a plan that might seem nonsensical on this side of eternity, but that we know takes into account the inherent value of every person.  We know in Jesus we serve the one true hero with whom with “whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17 ESV). He is not cold and calculating like Thanos, and he is not inconstant like our loveable Marvel superheroes. Neither Thanos in his pragmatic and selfish vision or the Marvel heroes with their unselfish but inconsistent vision can accomplish Jesus’s redemptive and consistent plan of salvation. This is something no mortal or imagined immortal can ever accomplish, but is the very thing that makes Jesus our penultimate hero and, therefore, completely worthy of our trust.