Marvel(lous) literary criticism amid the broken limbs

Hi, everyone. I made the mistake of offering to write some columns for Nick. Now he has made the mistake of accepting the offer. So, I thought I’d start with something I actually know a little about  — constructing a plot to tell a story.

So, I might as well cause a kerfluffle right off the bat to tell you that the Marvel universe of movies is beginning to irritate me, and most especially the latest installment, “Infinity War.”


What about “Infinity War” sets me off so badly? First, the plot structure is reversed. Thanos is actually the hero and is on a hero’s quest. His mission is to save the universe. It is noble, if drastic, and for the general good.

The Avengers are the antagonists, the bad guys trying to stop him. Outside of the usual violent pyrotechnics as they battle each other, what do our Avenger heroes have to say in response to Thanos?

They call him names — madman, murderer, inhuman.  The last one is kind of a ‘duh’ moment.  He is inhuman because he’s not human!  No one actually presents a counter argument as to why we actually do need all the ordinary inhabitants of the Universe. They just call him insane.

It makes us wonder what would have happened if other works of literature had followed this path? Sauron would still be torturing poor Sam and Frodo after having gained the Ring of Power. Voldemort would be in charge of the wizarding world.  And, horror or horrors, Wiley E. Coyote, would be surrounded by Roadrunner feathers as he licked the last bone clean.

Now, I know the next movie is supposed to set all to rights, but it was really disconcerting to see Thanos sitting in the sunset, peacefully contemplating the beauty around him.  It felt wrong that all the Avenger’s efforts had been in vain.  And that brings us to. . .

Second, the movie brings me to a moment of “Big Bang Theory” history.  One of my favorite episodes of the TV show is when the guys realize Indiana Jones played no real part in the actual line of events leading to the demise of the Nazis in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”  It bothers and bewilders them. Well, when you look at “Infinity War,” the Avengers are in the same position.  Their actions have no overall impact on the final outcome.  Thanos does what he said he was going to do.  Oh, wait.  The Avengers do manage to get a lot more people killed than would have otherwise died.

Finally, number three goes back to what is missing in the Avengers responses to Thanos.  I first began to sense real unease with these Marvel movies about the second or third time New York was virtually destroyed by invading monsters, re-programmed robots or irritating demigods. 

How many people were dying in these scenes? I figured the body count would be horrific. And yet audiences felt no compassion for these ordinary citizens. Unfortunately, these ‘extras’ were much less than ordinary.  Their only reaction was to run screaming until they were crushed by falling buildings or rolling buses. 

I realized this was a recent and troubling development. Where were the brash New Yorkers who tried to fight the Kryptonic villains in the second “Superman" movie.  Or the people who turned and fought back in "I Robot?”   What happened to Sarah and John Connor and the heroes who fought Skynet?

Those sci-fi fantasy worlds have been replaced by another more dismal and dangerous one. Not dangerous in terms of what happens in the plots, but dangerous for those of us who watch these movies. Over and over we are treated to scenes of helpless screaming people whose only hope is to be rescued by some outside force, or person, who they will then praise and fawn over.  The lesson — and yes, I believe audiences learn lessons from the entertainment they experience — we are not capable of solving our problems and must be saved by someone more powerful than ourselves. I think this point of view may be good propaganda for a monarchy or dictatorship, but has no place in a republic that supposedly celebrates the abilities of its citizens.

My wife and I experienced the perfect example of people stepping forward to rescue others in the morning of the recent storm that ripped our two beautiful backyard trees into shreds. Our yard was a shambles of giant limbs (one of which was 14 inches in diameter), smashed fences and lucky misses on our roof and chimney.  I think we were suffering from a bit of shock at the level of damage around our house. And then I heard the chainsaws.

Our neighbors, those wonderful ordinary people who live around us, were coming over to defeat the enemy. It may not have been Thanos coming with destruction, but it was still an elemental foe who had destroyed our peaceful lives. And these people (some of whom we hardly know) were not cowering in fear or running from trouble. They were heading toward it and pitching in to help.

Those are the examples we need to see in our mass media. Americans, and other nationalities as well, who feel empowered to solve problems. People who recognize the solution lies not in some superhero, but in their own will and stamina.

I guess, I’ll still go see the Marvel movies. After all, I still have my collection of comic books from the 1960s and Marvel was my go to brand. But I will not buy into the helpless population idea that is pushed upon us in these stories. I know better. I’ve seen the opposite in action.

Oh, yeah, one more thing about “Infinity War.” When half the people in the Universe do their imitation of a dust storm and die, why do their clothes vanish, too? 

Is Thanos also a fashion critic who has to make bad clothing choices disappear? Maybe he is just jealous of people better dressed than him.  Or is the assumption that because the clothes are touching the bodies of the disappeared they also disintegrate?  If that is the case, why didn’t Nick Fury’s phone disappear instead of falling to the ground with the visual clue to the next installment? Maybe Marvel productions just didn’t want to have to deal with everyone eventually re-materializing buck naked at the end of the next movie. You tell me.

Ben Martin is a Lee's Summit resident, playwright, theater director and former teacher in the Lee's Summit R-7 School District. His periodically recurring columns offer uncertain observations and sometimes unpopular opinions from his life, travels and activities in the Lee's Summit Community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, it's employees or any other guest contributors.