The villains are the stars
takes a look at the much-awaited Avengers: Infinity War blockbuster--and what it says about comic villains, on screen and on the page.
AVENGERS: INFINITY War is one of the most anticipated movies of the year, as people lined up on April 27 to see to the climax of 10 years of storytelling unfold on the silver screen.
Marvel has been able to do something that has never been done before--create a cinematic universe with 19 films that can each stand alone, but also tie into a larger plot and storyline. It has been able to take comics and truly extend them past the comic book art form.
Infinity War is the film that is most like a comic--maybe because it recreates scenes that are actual panels from the comic or maybe because of how many different storylines play out through this film.
The film is based on the comic Infinity Gauntlet, which debuted in 1991. It tells the story of Thanos, who is on a mission to get the six infinity gems and become the most powerful being in the galaxy.
Thanos is the big bad of the Marvel universe. He first appeared in Iron Man issue 55 in 1973, but his origin story didn't get written until about 20 years later. Thanos is a titan and grew up consumed with the concept of power. On this journey, he met Death, an abstract entity that can take the form of any being, in order to talk to them and influence what they do.
Death embodies the concept of mortality and extinction. When Thanos meets Death, Death has taken the form of a skeletal female. Thanos falls in love with Death and will do anything to please her and make himself appear worthy of her. Thus, Death leads him to want to create balance in the universe.
Although the characters may be different from the comics because of copyrights and licensing, the filmmakers were able to make it work and introduce some storylines that will hopefully get picked up in the next installment.
One of these surrounds Steve Rogers, who used to identify as Captain America, but who is now known as Nomad. In the comics, Steve Rogers turned into Nomad after he became disillusioned by the corruption of the U.S. government. In the film, he's seen as a criminal by U.S. government officials who want to take him into custody.
Thanos is the main character of Infinity War. His motives in the comics are to impress Death and win her heart by attempting to get all the infinity gems and snapping his fingers. When he snaps his fingers, he can erase half of existence in the galaxy.
In the film, Thanos still wants to erase half of the existence in the galaxy, but for different reasons. So far, we haven't seen the character Death in the cinematic universe (though I am hoping we will soon see her). Instead, Thanos believes that if he does this, he'll eliminate suffering and restore the environment on planets throughout the galaxy.
Thanos is right to see that there is oppression. He's right to see that something needs to be done. However, everything else he argues in the film is way off. He believes that overpopulation is the source of all suffering and that killing half a planet's population through random selection will open up resources and create balance.
THE OVERPOPULATION argument is still one we hear today--that poverty and hunger are the result of not having enough resources for everyone on the planet.
It has been proven wrong time and time again. We have enough food for everyone on the planet to get the nutrients they need in a day. As socialist Frederick Engels argued back in 1872 in The Housing Question:
It is precisely this industrial revolution, which has raised the productive power of human labor to such a high level that--for the first time in the history of humanity--the possibility exists, given a rational division of labor among all, to produce not only enough for the plentiful consumption of all members of society and for an abundant reserve fund, but also to leave each individual sufficient leisure so that what is really worth preserving in historically inherited culture--science, art, human relations--is not only preserved, but converted from a monopoly of the ruling class into the common property of the whole of society, and further developed.
The reason why poverty and hunger continue to exist is that under capitalism, companies would rather pollute and destroy resources in their search for profit than protect resources in the interest of feeding the world. As ecologist Barry Commoner said, "Pollution begins not in the family bedroom, but in the corporate boardroom."
Arguing against the main proponent of overpopulation theory of his day, Karl Marx wrote that Thomas Malthus:
regards overpopulation as being of the same kind in all the difference phases of economic development...and hence stupidly reduces these very complicated and varying relations to a single relation, two equations, in which the natural reproduction of humanity appears on the one side, and natural reproduction of edible plants (or means of subsistence) on the other, as two natural series, the former geometric and the latter arithmetic in progression.
In this way he transforms the historical distance relations into an abstract numerical relation, which he has fished purely out of thin air, and which rests neither on natural nor on historical laws...He would find in history that population proceeds in very different relations and that overpopulation is likewise a historically determined relation, in no way determined by abstract numbers or by the absolute limit of the productivity of the necessaries of life, but by limits posited rather by specific conditions of production.
ALTHOUGH THANOS is the villain, audience members can sympathize with him. In recent years, Marvel movies have been able to carry the idea over from the comics of creating compelling story arcs for the villains and having the audience see themselves in the villains.
Killmonger from Black Panther and Thanos both see that there is oppression, and they believe that what they're fighting for is right. As the Infinity Wars directors, the Russo brothers, have said many times, "Every villain is a hero in their own story."
I heard the most compelling argument for this during a panel on disability at this year's Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) convention. The reason why villains are so easy to sympathize with and for people to see themselves in is that these characters have dealt with systematic oppression.
These villains believe that they are fighting for those who are being oppressed. They also deal with different forms of mental health because of the systematic oppression they have had to go through. All of those complex reasons make them more sympathetic to the audience.
Infinity War was just the first installment of this story arc. In both of the showings I attended, there were many tears flowing and anger once the credits started to roll. People are impatiently waiting for May 2019 when the next installment hits theaters.
I'm patiently waiting for comic cons where this will be the main topic of discussion and hearing what other people pulled from this film.