AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR REVIEW
To be honest, I only watch superhero movies to see attractive people blow things up and make me laugh besides. But, the depth of the Avengers movies has been growing as the themes reach into the heart of the problems with the West today. In real life, Western countries are marked by ever more striking political divisions, as the 20th century taught us would happen if the Left gathered significant institutional power. Captain America: Civil War mirrored these battling ideas and touched at the core problem.
The film’s struggle was between the significantly more libertarian Captain America (‘Cap’), who fought for the individual rights of superheroes to act according to their beliefs, and a PTSD-stricken Iron Man, aka Tony Stark who, out of fear, encouraged global government-level legislation to heavily regulate the Avengers. Rather than surrender his ‘right to choose’, Cap goes off the radar and fights evil from the shadows with his band of merry men. And just as the inherent goodness of Robin Hood’s vigilantism resonates eternally with us, so do Cap’s. He is on the side of the natural law tradition of our Western Civilisation, fighting for personal free will and, thus, the negative right of liberty. Today, however, motivations similar to Stark’s fear cause most Westerners to seek an artificial order from the state – egalitarianism and other leftist tropes are ubiquitous. But, where is our civilisation going with this? Infinity War is a meditation on that very question.
The Civil War was but a minor affair compared to the galaxy-wide Infinity War. Whilst the former represented the conflict in our societies between the individual and the coercive state, the latter has found a way to express the source of this conflict – the God-shaped hole in our hearts, as it were. Thanos is the galactic supervillain of our piece, show-stealingly performed by the much undervalued Josh Brolin. Indeed, the character is so engaging, he is the protagonist of the story, amongst the torrent of familiar heroes; what makes this all the more surprising, however, is that his motivations are portrayed negatively by Hollywood at all, given how thoroughly left-wing they are.
Thanos’ home planet of Titan was destroyed by overcrowding and the consequent overuse of resources (sound familiar?), to which he responds with the founding of (basically) Green Peace and an environmentally extremist, egalitarian policy of culling populations to help them flourish. So, Tony Stark wanted a big, centralised, authoritarian government – he got it! Infinity War, like all good stories in human history, presents us with a moral lesson for the future in a way we can all relate to – even children – but which is still difficult to articulate for most. The Overton window has shifted further and further left so that all political parties are either socialist or really socialist. Yet, our nature and our intuition of right and wrong cannot be undone; Cap was right – the greater the Leviathan of the state grows, the further its abstract ideals move from the human person and their free will.
Thanos is so fascinating because he is a meditation on how far the average Westerner of today would go to establish their perfect artificial order, which they imagine would be to the good of all, in some utilitarian sense. In the middle of this billion dollar epic, Thanos’ quest to acquire all infinity stones (each providing a new god-like superpower) and reach a level of totalitarian control of the galaxy, is confronted with a soul-damning dilemma. He must sacrifice his daughter – the only one he loves – to obtain the soul stone. He does it. Would you sacrifice those you love to achieve your ideal society? Let me ask that again: Would you sacrifice those you love, against their will, to achieve you ideal society? The answer Thanos will undoubtedly contend with in Part II will be that such a society cannot be ideal if it requires such a sacrifice. So, what is the ideal?
We can all see where Thanos is coming from: in human societies, there is inevitably conflict, pain and death; if we could just control everyone, we might be able to bring an end to it – an albeit artificially ordered society. The problem is: that’s not a society. The reason free will is so central to Western civilisation’s success is that I do not know all things – all motivations, all the best strategies to meet the best goals for all people; therefore, I need everyone else to be exercising their free will in order for those things to be discovered, let alone my desire to continue exercising my own self-determination. And this is the problem the West faces today.
Sexbots! That’s where we are headed. How so? Because other people, especially wives, are too much hassle, responsibility etc. to bother with. It takes so much effort, practise, sheer virtue to convince others to follow my advice, to follow my lead, even to take responsibility themselves and do the same for me when I am laid low by difficult circumstances. But, a sexbot can never look me in the eyes and tell me with sincerity that they love me, knowing my faults full well, having the freedom and the capacity to turn away from me. Upon acquiring ultimate, universal power at the end of this part of the epic, Thanos is met with a vision of his daughter. How can his universe be so perfect without her and how can she be herself without free will? Cap was right not to surrender his freedom to choose and that of his peers; the question Infinity War so personally burdens us with is: how many freedoms will we surrender before we realise it? The answer presented reveals a longing in the heart of the Westerner – we need a hero!
Juxtaposed with Thanos’ willingness to sacrifice anything on the altar of his ‘I know what’s best’ ego is the willingness of the goodies to sacrifice themselves and those they love to stop him. If Thanos is Satan, seeking to bring an end to the natural order of the world and establish his own, enthroned as the god of the world, then Thor is Christ, willingly sacrificing himself to stop him. Thor holds open the iris of a dying star so that the powerful rays will light the dwarves’ forge, creating a new weapon to replace Thor’s since-destroyed hammer, Mjolnir – an axe which can defeat Thanos. He seems dead, but the power of the axe revives him. The film presents Thor’s return as a victorious god-man, ready to save the day, eyes glowing with lightning, vanquishing all foes before him and planting his axe into the heart of Thanos. The audience in the cinema was clearly fired up by this, oblivious to the inescapable similarity to Christ. Though most would deny it, there is an evident hunger for the sureties and glories Westerners once had with Christianity. Infinity War presents us with the greatest superhero epic, but it is simply a shadow of the greatest hero story in the Western canon.
Even the tragic romance between Vision and the Scarlet Witch is an echo of Christian sacrifice. Recently, Jordan Peterson found great success in presenting the deep human significance of the biblical stories, emphasising particularly Mary as the ideal woman – a mother, willing to let her son embody the ideal male by sacrificing himself for the good of the world. Vision insists that his beloved Scarlet Witch destroy the mind stone which sustains him, so keeping it from empowering Thanos. This feminine ideal not only makes the great statues of the Virgin Mary sites of pilgrimage for many millions around the world, but it also transformed the two blandest, unlikable characters of the Avengers franchise into the most touching and winsome.
In short, we need heroes, ideals to emulate and virtues to practise. Western civilisation has these in abundance, the best in the world even! The greatest and truest of these, however, and that which most embodies the necessity to respect others’ free will is that of Christ – the one who taught us to love our neighbours as well as ourselves, sacrificing himself to bring forgiveness where there was division. The reason the Avengers series has gone from strength-to-strength whilst previously worldwide favourite TV shows, such as The Walking Dead, have dwindled is that the latter has wandered off aimlessly into the wilderness, searching for answers, spouting ambiguous, boring platitudes. Infinity War points to the sort of spiritual grounding the West has lost but sorely needs; in other words, it gives us hope that the Augustinian, God-shaped hole in our hearts can be filled.