Is it coincidence that the destruction of our planet desired by Thanos, villain of “Avengers: Infinity War,” isn’t that far off from the extreme religious vision of the shameless EPA chieftain Scott Pruitt? “The biblical worldview with respect to these issues is that we have a responsibility to manage and cultivate, harvest the natural resources that we’ve been blessed with to truly bless our fellow mankind,” Pruitt said while rejecting the idea of human influence on climate warming. His Oklahoma pastor told Mother Jones in an epic and dispiriting profile, “Either we’re going to steward the Earth and use it for God’s glory and man’s good, or we serve the Earth.” Unencumbered by the rhetorical responsibilities of a politician or theologian, Thanos makes the more direct (and equally credible) case that relieving the universe’s many planets of half their population would bring all into permanent balance. [SPOILERS follow, including the ending of “Avengers: Infinity War.”]
Ten years and eighteen movies and only a few billion dollars spent, the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” ends as a self-contained monster-sized mosaic, with a final chapter of intermittent distraction and satisfaction to non-devotees. (Wait… a sequel… in less than a year? Ohhhkay.) For the logistical accomplishment of this vastly expensive patchwork that has returned its investment many times over to Disney-Marvel, applause. (Thirteen billion dollars in worldwide box office alone!) Once more, no chances have been taken: on Twitter on opening night, box-office analyst Gitesh Pandya ran up the New York City tariffs. In Lincoln Square, IMAX 3D tickets ran to $26.29; the Empire on Forty Second Street had fifty showtimes on Thursday opening night and fifty more on Friday opening day, with the latest show of the 150-plus-minute picture at 3:05am.
Pressing parallels with history that artists unwittingly make manifest are more interesting than the pile-on of characters and storylines and callbacks and easter eggs: I’m just not part of the Marvel elect, only a rank-and-file viewer. How does art land in the world? If Marvel and Marvel majordomo Kevin Feige and the Russo brothers are unaware of parallels to Trump government players’ unabashed goals—while adapting earlier comics storylines—the filmmakers have done a serene job of implication. This stuff vibrates in our political culture and through the honey-voiced baritone of Josh Brolin behind a weight of character animation. (Genre filmmaking at its best provides topical spark, often beyond the will of its creators.)
Okay. Thanos. To the chase. The big guy. The dark crowd-pleaser. The thinking mutant’s friendly neighborhood nihilist. Thanos is human-ish, human-esque, down to huge but fussily manicured nails, a tree trunk hewn of dark gray cement, one determined to attain dominance by acquiring a fistful of “infinity stones” that date from the dawn of creation. (“Mumble-mumble” is a more satisfying explanation, “Mumble.”) Thanos is both a madman with Malthus-like enthusiasms, and, well, those Scott Pruitt-like issues. Thanos believes that relieving the many planets of this fictive universe of half their population would bring all into balance.
The ending of “Avengers: Infinity War” makes literal the concept of a Rapture, as if before a second coming, which caused several middle-aged men at the Chicago press screening earlier this week to shriek in unison like kicked Pekinese. Amid the fracas and froufrou, this appropriation of its conclusion of half of civilization by a “random” selection is also on-point about this buffeting instant of human history. (It also comes from previously published comics.) Out in the real world, there are people who want a lot of other people dead; the genocides seen partially in frame in “Infinity War,” echo even more resoundingly than a shorthand 9/11 allusion, comprised of a New York City street gusted with white powder, many sheets of paper, one New York Post newspaper box, one NYPD cruiser and one Postal Service truck.
Plus, this beatifically berserk confidence cements the finite product line: much as comics publishers reinvent their storylines at will, further Marvel products planned for the coming decade (and to infinity) aren’t tethered to this spent “canon.”
Growing up evangelical made the vision of the Rapture of half of humankind all the more shocking, as well as the randomness of who is Left Behind. No enigma or implication: this ending rolls out a plush carpet of Don’t-Give-A-Fuck. “Infinity War” aligns with Paramount studio chief’s Brad Grey’s dying greenlights. While the Russo brothers should be credited with again, as in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” bringing the spirit of the galvanizing audacity of 1970s American movies, the zeitgeist places “Infinity War” alongside Grey’s final pictures—“mother!”; “Annihilation”; “A Quiet Place.”
On a scale of one to ten? The opening 145 minutes are worth a four to a non-committed moviegoer; the last fifteen minutes are a Hellzapoppin’ nine-out-of-ten.
Post-credits, Samuel L. Jackson gets what could well be the best final two-syllable half-a-word throughout the Marvel caravanserai. 156m. Reviewed at AMC Dolby Cinema. (Ray Pride)
“The Avengers: Infinity War” is now playing near you in a variety of formats at escalating charges.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.