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Warning: This doesn’t feature any spoilers for Infinity War. I haven’t seen the movie.
Though obsessed with The X-Files, video games, and other manners of socially ostracizing geekdom, I wasn't into comics as a kid. I knew (and liked) Batman, Superman, and other cultural crossovers, but beyond that? I’m one of Those People, the person who suddenly got interested in comics when the Marvel Cinematic Universe came along. But Iron Man changed everything for me, the movies serving as perfect stepping stones into a rich and complete universe of characters, mythos, and stories. After a movie, I love to ask for suggestions from friends on what books to track down.
Infinity War arrives in theaters tonight, and I can’t remember the last time I was this curious. Blair Witch? The Blair Witch Project is my favorite horror flick, and revisiting the same woods that put me off camping for the better part of a decade was a lot. (The movie turned out to be just okay.) But I’ve invested 10 years of fandom into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and yet, have so little idea what to expect from Infinity War.
Yeah, yeah. I know. Lots of explosions, lots of superpowered people hitting each other, a series of movies with no emotional stakes other than smashing CGI toys into one another. If you’re not into these movies and think Infinity War is nonense, good for you.
In comics, a character is largely attached to the writers and artists behind a run. Killing off Iron Man in a comic may be dramatically extreme, but you can start another series and work in an alternate timeline fine. Though writers, artists, and countless others prop up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man. Chris Evans is Captain America. Outside of minor recastings—Mark Ruffalo replacing Edward Norton, Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard—it's been constant. This is new.
You can’t just recast Iron Man or Captain America. Maybe you pass the baton.
And so I can’t take my mind of this question that’s been swirling around the movie for years, given Thanos' penchant for destruction: “Who’s going to die?” It’s a functionally unique question because the notion of who lives and dies in a series of movies scripted like episodes in a neverending television show is radically different than the same storytelling quandaries facing the same characters in another format.
If Infinity War is to mean anything long term, it has little to do with Thanos and his shiny stones. It’s about establishing storytelling rules and consequences in a venue (and on a scale) we haven’t seen before. It’s about having the confidence to say stories have an end, and characters reach a conclusion. The closest equivalent is Star Wars deciding to kill off its original slate of characters, but you could have seen those moments coming from a mile away; the actors were old, the franchise was in desperate need of new blood, and Star Wars was always bigger than one character. The same is probably true for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but now it has to take the leap.
I’m sure people die in Infinity War—the stakes are too high. But a body count isn’t enough; it’s not only a matter of who dies, but how. This is a world of magic and McGuffins. Can you believe someone is truly dead? And can we be real in saying the death of Vision, a character filmgoers have barely spent any time with, wouldn't really count? There are countless such characters in the current roster.
What makes Infinity War’s situation weirder is fan access to information outside the movies. For example, we often know how many movies an actor has signed on for, and while contracts can be re-negotiated, the nature of money, egos, and exhaustion are knowable factors that play into expectations. It’s possible Chris Evans spent a portion of his flashy New York Times profile lying about the future of Captain America, how he plans to move on after the movie following Infinity War, but that’d be kinda weird?
Granted, it doesn’t telegraph death. He could hang up the shield, as deciding walk off into the sunset and proclaim love for Bucky. I’d be okay with that ending, too.
I'm rooting for death because I hope it’s a sign Marvel has the confidence to reinvent itself. We don’t expect major characters to die in our favorite universes because corporations are inherently cowardly, and secretly, fans don’t actually want to see their onscreen crushes die. What we want is the safer route, so that we can retreat to message boards and WhatsApp conversations and complain.
Marvel has built to this moment against unlikely odds. They didn’t have Spider-Man, they didn’t have the X-Men. They turned nobodies like the Guardians of the Galaxy into household names. Infinity War is about to become one of the biggest movies of all-time because Marvel was backed into a corner, embraced weird, and it worked. With Spider-Man now home and the prospect of the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and others not far off, I’m hoping Marvel will cut off their strongest assets precisely because it goes against the cold logic that defines movies like this. It’ll force them to stay weird, and as Marvel enters uncharted territory, they’d do so with a sense of dread and mystery.
That’d get me watching these movies for another 10 years.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/43be9b/heres-hoping-infinity-war-shows-the-boldness-that-got-marvel-this-far