Spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War follow.
Ten years. That should be long enough, right? Ten years should be long enough for everybody working in the world of film criticism (and those hopefuls filling Film Twitter with their hottest of takes) to get used to what Marvel Studios is doing with their Cinematic Universe, right? I mean, there are critics out there whose careers began well after Marvel started laying the groundwork for its universe, so it isn’t like they’re having to adjust to this stuff.
Fan Twitter got upset with Richard Brody’s dismissive New Yorker review of Infinity War (weirdly the review reads like he really liked the movie but doesn’t know how to cop to that fact). As always on Twitter people overreacted, but I think Brody’s review offers a good look at just how hollow the “these movies are ads for other movies” attitude is.
This contains complete spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War, and begins spoiling right from the first sentence.
There will likely be more from me about this movie in the days ahead, but I think that the structure and the form of the film make it hard to write about properly before the sequel is released.
This is your last chance to turn around.
Have you ever walked into a book store and thought, “Man, they’re printing too many books. How can all of these books compete for the attention of readers? Why, some publishers are putting out DOZENS UPON DOZENS of books a year!”
Of course you haven’t. And yet an article on The Ringer – “Netflix and Shill” – bemoans the fact that Netflix has already released 25 original movies this year, and that most of them sink without a trace. Deservedly, it seems. The argument is that Netflix, by inundating the market with these films on their service, is ruining movies and the moviegoing experience, etc etc. You should read the piece, it’s well written.
Now you’ll say, “Look, movies and books are different. You can’t compare the two.” And you’re right, more or less – they have different price points, different production methods, different economic models, different distribution methods, and they’re each consumed in different ways. (Maybe I should just end this essay right there) But it seems like the dismay about Netflix’s model is actually an echo of a continuing cycle of technophobia that goes all the way back to the transition from the oral tradition to the written word.
We’re 18 movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with another two to come this year. We’re 123 superhero films deep, according to BoxOfficeMojo (but they don’t have Abar, The First Black Superman on their list, so who knows how many other holes there are. But 123 sounds fine for the purposes of this rereview). And not one of those 18 MCU movies, and not one of those 123 superhero movies have a moment of pure, beautiful, inspiring, chest-tightening, hope-raising heroism as good as the one featured in Captain America: The First Avenger.
And get this: the moment happens before Steve Rogers even turns into Captain America.
The problem of evil! It consumes Western Abrahamic philosophy – how can a God who is both all-powerful and all-good allow evil into His universe? People tie themselves up in knots trying to answer this one (without taking a step back and wondering if their base assumptions about God are, in fact, not correct). And it’s not just the West that struggles with the nature of evil; even supposedly non-dualistic Eastern philosophies spend time trying to figure out why evil exists.
But what if it doesn’t? I’m not a Zen Buddhist, but I’ve been reading a book about the philosophy of Zen Buddhist icon Dogen, and his thoughts on evil are really intriguing to me. The basic idea: there’s no such thing as evil. Evil isn’t a thing. It’s an action.
This is the thought that kept going through my head while revisiting Thor on this runup to Infinity War. Back in 2011 I hated this movie, thought it was just simply the worst of the worst and a huge, boring misstep for Marvel Studios. Today I look at it and see that it’s a movie developed in a world where comic book movies hadn’t yet entered their modern age, and the film has echoes of a landscape where David Hasselhoff played Nick Fury and where superheroes and their enemies usually had their final battle in a warehouse, or on docks, or on a bridge. Marvel knew how to make more grounded characters like Iron Man or more familiar characters like the Hulk work, but Asgardian gods? Space cities? Magic and high weirdness? They weren’t quite ready to commit just yet. Looking back from the post-Thor: Ragnarok vantage point how can we say anything but “How quaint”?
A wise man once noted that it’s a fine line between clever and stupid. There is also a fine line between fun and irritating, between banter and bickering. Iron Man 2 crosses all of those lines, in the process creating the most egregious misstep in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. Yes, more so than Thor: The Dark World, which for all its problems still has really good chemistry between Thor and Loki. Iron Man 2 loses not only plot coherence and villain quality, it completely throws away the good chemistry between its leads in favor of sniping, unpleasantness and a manic quality that makes it feel like a cocaine movie from the 70s.
Note: this is not a cry for help (I am actively getting help). It’s a statement of solidarity with other people who are suffering right now.
This is going to start pretty dark. It will get more hopeful as we go. Content warning: this is all about suicidal ideation.
I spent a lot of time this weekend reading up on famous suicides. I ended up on a site called Lost All Hope dot com, which bills itself as one of the most comprehensive suicide resources online. I was there looking at painless ways to commit suicide. (Spoiler alert: it turns out that a lot of the ways you think might be painless in fact are not, and that the ones that are more painless are messier, and that the best way to kill yourself actually requires the help of another person, which makes it more of a murder.) I was not in what we usually consider a good place.
Right now I’m dealing with a lot of depression and anxiety. Some of it is situational – I’m unemployed, running out of money and don’t see a clear path towards being a position where I can get a real job that will allow me to move out of my current living situation, where I’m accepting the charity of friends. But there’s something I’ve learned in my 18 months of sobriety and spirituality – it isn’t my situation that’s making me want to die, it’s how I’m relating to it.
How to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Martin Luther King Jr? There are many options, plenty of them ways of making white people feel better about themselves. Ways that allow white people like myself to look at the most egregious examples of racism – Bull Connor, the KKK, our sitting president – and compare ourselves to those perfidies and feel better. By defining racism only as extreme examples of acting out on racial bias, we get to let ourselves off the hook, and tell ourselves that we are part of the solution just by our very existence as woke, enlightened people.
I won’t be commemorating this day by patting myself on the back for thinking the descendants of slaves deserve reparations, or that cops should stop shooting unarmed black men in the streets. I’m going to be using my mindfulness practice to interrogate my own conditioning and biases, and I’m going to spend it grappling with my own racist tendencies. Because like all white people in the United States of America in the year 2018, I’m at least a little bit racist.
Continue reading “Grappling With My Own Racism”