To Infinity and Beyond

The hubs and I bought our tickets today to go see Captain Marvel this coming weekend. That got me thinking: I never got around to posting my thoughts and responses to my (incredibly belated) viewing of Avengers: Infinity War.

Certainly, there’s no objective need for me to add to the discourse here. The money has been made, the ink has been spilled, the spoilers have been spoiled. Let’s face it: once you see Thanos and his gauntlet as an Ash Wednesday meme on Facebook, you get the sense that there really isn’t anything new that can be said about this particular piece of cultural juggernaut.

Said by you, though, George. (10 years later and I still wrestle with this crap. Sigh.)

So this won’t be any attempt at a comprehensive “film review.” Instead there’s just one thematic thread that I want to riff on.

(Obviously, if you are one of the maybe two people left on the internet who haven’t seen or read about the film and its shock ending, know that there be spoilers below the jump.)


Here’s the money phrase:

Captain America: We don’t trade lives.

We all knew this was crucial as soon as it was said. The call-back during the closing battle sequence only cemented it.

So much of this movie felt like a Marvel themed play-out of the “capstone lines” of Star Trek 2 & 3:

Spock: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.

Kirk: The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.

For the most part, the film comes down firmly on Kirk and Kant’s side of this philosophical divide. Most obviously, Cap’s affirmation is contrasted by Thanos’s willingness to sacrifice his daughter in his dedication to Malthusian economics and Benthamist utilitarianism. But there’s other, similar, emotional beats in the film’s* action: Gamora is unwilling to sacrifice her sister, Dr. Strange is unwilling to sacrifice Tony’s life**, and Vision turns Cap’s own assertion back on him when he saves Cap’s life during Cap’s attempt to sacrifice himself to buy Vision some escape time in the final, Wakandan battle sequence.

This isn’t surprising. Basically, the entire superhero genre pretty much lands on the side of moral certainties and individual exceptionalism. Counter-voices to that commitment to exceptionalism range from the (sympathetically) genocidal*** plans of Thanos, to the petty jealousy of Syndrome in The Incredibles.

When everyone’s super….no one will be.

I’m assuming that exceptionalism will point the way towards unwinding this dusty catastrophe in Avengers: Endgame. Between the suggestions that Captain Marvel will be a whole other order of hero and power than we’ve seen before in the MCU, and the fact that we have ourselves a number of still-living Avengers who are fans of using the Kantian loophole of self-sacrifice to save the world (see: Cap in Captain America: The First Avenger; Tony Stark in Avengers 1), odds are that this moral dilemma between the greater good and the value of an individual life will once again be uneasily resolved by super-heroic superheroics.

Not long to wait, now.

(Complete sidebar: even though waiting as long as I did meant I was way spoiled on a whole lot of the plot twists and details of Infinity War, there’s part of me that’s grateful I watched it when I did. After all, I only had to wait through a couple weeks of suspense between that final post-credits teaser and Carol Danvers’s big-screen debut. #winning, in my own small way.)


* Admittedly over-stuffed.

** Though we all think that’s a play in the long end game, right?

*** I know, I know: the randomness of who gets dusted in the snap doesn’t quite jibe with the conceptual definition of genocide. I still can’t find a better term for wiping out half the universe.


Image credit: Deviant Art contributor bykevinec, via a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.


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