If you hate spoilers for movies, especially the new Avengers picture, don’t read farther.
My kid doesn’t like action movies.
He won’t overlook the artificial aspects of them to lose himself in the moment. In Mad Max: Fury Road, for example, when Tom Hardy jumped from a flaming truck just as it exploded and caught hold of another vehicle, my son blurted out “He’s dead.”
Now, did I need a teenager to point out that the death-defying stunts of an action movie are inherently artificial and overblown? I assure you that I did not. When I suggested that films are obviously full of fakey bullshit, from the way people speak to the way they look, he just shrugs. He hasn’t bought in to the sort of cinematic hyperbole you find in action films because he just doesn’t enjoy them. The stakes feel false to him because he hasn’t bought in.
Which brings me to Avengers: Infinity War. It’s an action movie where the heroes do *not* narrowly avoid death, even the ones with sequels that have already been greenlit. I’ve seen reactions online from folks who disengaged from the story the same way my son does when a hero comes through a massive gunfight without a scratch, and I’ve been thinking about why.
I suspect it’s because it’s new. Comic books have been killing off their IP… er, I mean, their characters and then bringing them back for years. The last time I looked at comics, Tony Stark had been physically killed, and currently survives as an AI. Bucky put on the Cap suit at one time, and so did Sam Wilson. But it’s always temporary. As a longtime comics reader, I went into the film wondering if they would kill off beloved characters in this style and I wasn’t surprised when they did.
In fact, I experienced the deaths of Black Panther, Dr. Strange, and Spider-man as a kind of relief. No way were those deaths going to be permanent, and the incredibly somber finale of A:IW was softened in a way that I welcomed. It pulled me out of the story a little, but I was okay with that. There are lots of movies that make a virtue out of artificiality.
I’ve also grown up with action movies that have grown more bombastic over the last four decades. We’ve gone from westerns and cop movies where the hero and villain shoot at each other once, then one clutches at their shirt and falls over, to ludicrous better mousetraps of explosions and falling buildings. For me, that has been a slow evolution in pushing the boundaries of the disbelief we’re willing to suspend, but my son has seen all these old movies in a jumble. He’s been thrown into the deep end of pirates of the caribbean and John Woo, and its too much too fast.
Anyway, it’s a good movie for the sort of movie it is. I’m a fan of stories about superpowers, so it hits a sweet spot for me. At some point, I’ll have to watch it back-to-back with the recent Justice League film, to figure out why one made a “Villain collects plot coupons” plot work so well, while the other did it so poorly.
Also, in this movie, the heroes lose because they’re unwilling to sacrifice individuals for the greater good (although I wanted to tear my hair out when Dr. Strange bargained for Stark’s life) while the villains won because they’re willing to kill their own (not just with Thanos murdering his own daughter, but “We have blood to give). I hope that, when The Return of the Avengers comes out next year, the heroes succeed and the villains fail for those same qualities.
But I’m still interested, as a storyteller, in limits of our suspension of disbelief and in how we move those limits around.