This Week in Wakanda: Questions and concerns after “Avengers: Infinity War”

SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR BELOW!!!

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When I came out of Avengers: Infinity War, I was livid. How DARE they kill T’Challa in front of my eyes! Not to mention my precious angel Spider-Man! I was ready to Hulk Smash the entire Marvel Studios.

But then I came to my senses. Of course the ending to Infinity War is a ruse. The ending, as you probably know, involves half of the Avengers, nearly all of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and other superheroes like Doctor Strange, Nick Fury, and Agent Maria Hill literally turning into dust. This isn’t counting the amount of death that happens before the dusting; Loki, Heimdall and Gamora all get killed by Thanos.

The questions and concerns I have are legitimate ones, I feel, especially since screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely want us to believe that these are permanent deaths when the already planned sequels for several of these now-dead characters suggest otherwise. My concerns also come because of the bombastic nature of the story itself, which is more about delivering punch and surface-level emotion over real, meaningful pathos.

1. How can Infinity War come after such a great film like Black Panther?

Okoye, Black Panther, Captain America, Black Widow, and Bucky stand in front of an army of Wakandan soldiers.
Photo credit: Marvel/Disney

To me, Black Panther is the perfect Marvel movie, but please know I recognize that it’s not legitimately “perfect.” It’s got its issues like any other movie, but on the whole, it delivered something other films in the Marvel canon haven’t, and that’s a real story with real stakes attached.

Black Panther is the first film to be rooted less in the fantastic and more in the everyday. As I state in my Mediaversity Review of Black Panther, it is rife with tacit knowledge of black America, while opening the door to other audience members to widen their perspectives. It gets into the nitty gritty of the specific African-American condition in a way that I haven’t seen in a while. (It might be hyperbolic to say, “since Roots” because Roots is a classic that is incomparable, but the film does deliver a similar Roots-like punch that is groundbreaking in comic book movies.)

It’s because the film is rooted in reality that Black Panther truly stands head and shoulders above other films, including my former top Marvel film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole crafted a story that goes beyond superhero daring-do and tells a timeless story of loss, trauma, and reclamation. It speaks universally, but it also speaks specifically to its black audience, who have wanted to see something like this ever since Marvel announced it would create an interconnected film universe. It’s an intelligent, philosophical movie, and poses big questions for its audiences to wrestle with. What if colonialism didn’t exist and Africa was allowed to thrive? What if slavery was talked about and dealt with honestly? Where is home once it’s taken away? How do we give honor to the ancestors we were ripped away from?

Am I saying that Infinity War has to be rooted in racial politics for it to be good? Absolutely not. But it is telling that both Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok, directed by Taika Waititi and features themes of colonialism, both tell better stories than Infinity War. It’s because these stories are rooted in something concrete. In the case of these two films, the root is racial and cultural. But in The Winter Soldier, the root is honest emotion. Much of the core of the film is Steve’s friendship with Sam, who be comes his anchor as he gets to grip with life in the 21st century the fate of his friend Bucky. Over the course of the film, we see these two grow in their friendship, and at the end of the film, you’re ready to see all of the adventures Sam and Steve will undergo. Sam is Steve’s salve for his chafing loneliness, and it makes you feel good to see Steve finally find someone who understands him (regardless of how much Marvel was trying to make Sharon Carter happen).

What root does Infinity War have? From my point of view, it seems more like Marvel wanting to prove they can have tons of characters from different universes in the same film. Does that really make a movie good? Sure, it can make a film, entertaining, and Infinity War is definitely entertaining. But does it make it a good movie? I don’t think so. All it is is a neat exercise, an experiment that doesn’t work on all cylinders in every scene. We see how many white dudebros Marvel has when they all talk to each other and sound exactly alike. We see Marvel’s issues with portrayals of women, many of whom are used in the film as props, base-level love interests, or both. Aside from Hulk, Spider-Man, and Thor, the only people who are fleshed out are the Wakandans. Which brings me back to my initial point. Wakanda itself and its people seem like they’re entirely removed from this world of interstellar war. They are characters who don’t have the same baseline as the rest of the MCU; they are much more complex, more thought-provoking, and the most human.

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As Film Crit Hulk wrote in his article for the Observer:

After I watched Black Panther, I start writing passionately for a good 12 straight hours because my brain couldn’t stop finding things to talk about. Not just because of the remarkable social moment the film’s very existence seemed to create. Not just because of the way it seamlessly put character arcs into coherent drama. Not just because it had the brazen audacity for its hero to be wrong. But because the film, at almost every moment, had something on its mind. There’s direct social and psychological commentary woven into every little story and design detail, whether it’s the usurping of black culture, class within racial intersections, or the effect of violence upon society. And in the end, it forms them all into a deeply powerful, coherent, singular statement. People were floored. And it’s the reason why the biggest cheer in my audience came when the word “Wakanda” popped on screen. It is a testament to everything these movies can possibly be. But Marvel’s run lately has featured some of this same thematic strength. Ragnorok showed actual late-period growth for Thor and sneaks in a resonant message about the ghosts of colonialism. Just as Guardians 2 has the dignity to create a coherent extended metaphor about fathersfound, abusive, or otherwise. All three of these films prove that Marvel movies can be more than the visceral feeling they evoke.

As far as I’m concerned, Infinity War is a step backwards for Marvel, and it’s actually a weird note to go out on during the franchise’s 10 year anniversary. Is death the best way to celebrate a milestone?

2. Was the emotionally manipulative ending even necessary?

Captain America attempting to hold back Thanos' gauntlet.
Photo credit: Marvel/Disney (Screencap)

Does it just seem like the ending of Infinity War is just too disingenuous? I mean, we can probably count Heimdall and Loki as actually dead. But when there are so many Get Out of Jail Free Cards for the rest of the characters between the Soul Stone, Adam Warlock possibilities, time travel, the quantum realm, Tony Stark’s B.A.R.F. technology, etc., it’s hilarious to me that the screenwriters have the nerve to tell us to get onto the next stage of grief. Like, there’s millions of dollars on the line; do we really believe Marvel would let the entire roster of Guardians, T’Challa, Peter Parker, and half of the Avengers just go, especially since T’Challa and Peter just headlined in their origin films?

As SlashFilm’s Ben Pearson writes, Marvel has backed themselves into a corner by placing the story of Spider-Man: Homecoming 2 as taking place mere minutes after the events of Avengers 4 and that Peter will be a junior in high school at that time. Even though Marvel has the creative rights to Spider-Man back under their control, Sony still controls the marketing, which means that there are still two different studios taking custody over the same character. As much as the two studios are probably trying to stay on the same page, Infinity War  and Avengers 4 put a wrench in everything.

The Avengers 4 trailers have to include Peter Parker waking up in an alternate dimension or being brought back to life somehow. Those are things Marvel Studios would almost certainly rather have audiences learn about for the first time in the theater, but if Marvel doesn’t do something along those lines, Sony will have an impossible challenge on their hands.

Technically speaking, Sony may not care if they spoil Avengers 4 because the deal they signed with Marvel Studios means that Sony and Marvel don’t share profits for movies involving Spider-Man. (In other words, Sony keeps the money from the Spidey-related films they produce, and Marvel Studios keeps the money from the team-up movies involving Spider-Man.) But I can’t imagine Sony would want to tank that relationship, so they’re probably crossing their fingers that Avengers 4‘s trailers reveal that Spidey survives.

Marvel would be better off if they just spoil everything right now: quit the charade and just say that everyone comes back. Not only would it help a lot of grieving fans (including myself, to be honest), but it would also alleviate other studios’ concerns about spoiling plotpoints.

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3. When everyone comes back, will they be changed?

T'Challa in his Black Panther uniform stands with his army in Wakanda.
Photo credit: Marvel/Disney

The thing I’m reading now, since it’s nigh impossible for anyone to stick to the conceit that these characters are actually dead and gone, is that they’ll come back, but they’ll be changed. I think that should be a given; if you come back from the dead after being turned into dust, you probably should be a little shaken, at the very least. But, Marvel’s not exactly known for their ability to handle complex emotion; again, to go back to Black Panther, its selling point was its complexity, a rarity in the MCU.

When the gang comes back, how will they be changed? And will Marvel ensure that their changes are permanent? For instance, will Peter Parker come back a wizened youth, after having faced every mortal’s existential crisis of death head on? Or will he be more nervous, his trauma sparking a wave of existential questioning about the profundity and fragility of life? Will such thoughts enter the mind of T’Challa, who has now died twice in the span of mere months? He seems to be a person who already treated life as precious, but will he gain even more knowledge from his time beyond the veil? Will he need to seek the counsel of his priestesses more often? Will he think about Wakandans’ closeness with the afterlife and how it might have prepared him for his own death?

In other words, will death finally teach the MCU, especially the Avengers, about the preciousness of life? Throughout the franchise, especially in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Avengers don’t realize that they are probably killing more people by “protecting” them. They have treated life callously, failing to see how their big-scale battles wind up hurting those on the ground. Will this extinction-level event finally get through their thick noggins that they can’t save the world if there’s no one to save?

I hope the events of this film finally introduce some emotional maturity into the franchise. It sorely needs it. But again, Black Panther acts as Infinity War‘s foil. It’s a film that gave viewers that depth of feeling they’ve been craving. It gave them the emotional maturity they actually want. It gave them an adult’s comic book movie. A lot of Marvel brass want to act like Infinity War will finally be the moment the MCU grows up, but in actuality, the MCU has already shown it can grow up through Black Panther. It’s just a matter of it the rest of the MCU will catch up with T’Challa and Wakanda.

For more of my Infinity War ranting, read my Infinity War review at Mediaversity Reviews!

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