Sunday, May 6, 2018

"You Expect Too Much of Him": Blaming the Victims in Infinity War (major spoilers, obviously)

Reading all the articles about Avengers: Infinity War, including one about "the secret villain," Peter Quill, "the guy whose idiocy and selfish behavior ineluctably leads to the extermination of half of all life in the universe." While Thanos is temporarily subdued, two other characters try to wrestle off the gauntlet that will give him universe-destroying powers. Unfortunately, Quill finds out that Thanos just murdered the woman he loves, and attacks him, freeing Thanos from the trance.

Quill has been well-established as an immature person with severe abandonment issues, in this situation completely over his head. He's explicitly not a superhero; he's just a "dude" who wound up in a weird situation and made the best of it. In a scene not long before his one, he had held back his teammate Drax, who's been on a years-long quest for similar vengeance against Thanos, from attacking the Titan. He got him to stand down, so they'd have a better chance of defeating him. Faced with his own fresh grief and anger, though, he viscerally reacts just like Drax, and ruins the plan.

Sure. But would Tony have been so cool if Thanos had just literally just murdered his own fiancee? Would any of us writing about the movie be so cool if someone murdered the person we love most, minutes ago? Would we be able to think past the immediate fact of that loss?

In fact, variations of this behavior is a running theme in the movie. If Quill is a villain for letting his emotions get the better of him, isn't Gamora a villain too? Thanos has no clue where one stone is, and he gets it from Gamora by torturing her sister -- despite the sister, right there, clearly giving Gamora the expression "don't you dare, bitch!"

(As a fan, though, I'll say that since Nebula was introduced trying to kill Gamora, the fact that this movie includes Gamora risking the universe to save her, and Nebula risking her life to rescue Gamora in turn, is awesome!)

And isn't Wanda similarly a villain, since she could prevent Thanos from getting his power by killing her boyfriend? Okay, that's rough, but again: choosing one's own loved one, and one's feelings about it, over a strategy that will save the entire universe. Steve and the others support the choice that could end the world, and, at best, will probably destroy Wakanda.

Oh, and Loki also handed over a stone to save one life: Thor's. (Although that did give the other heroes a tactical advantage down the line).

Quill's actions aren't exactly the same as theirs. He's reacting to the death after the fact, rather than preventing the death. The AV Club writer says that the other characters "were in impossible situations; their decisions directly saved lives," while Quill acted out of "personal retribution." However, in Quill's case, we don't know that the plan would have worked anyway. They kept saying the gauntlet was budging, but they hadn't gotten it off him yet, and they knew they couldn't hold him much longer. Quill blew their chances, but Loki's and Gamora's and Wanda's choices, to save one person over the lives of the entire universe, directly put the doomsday stones into Thanos' hands.

The foolhardiness of those choices are made clear by the example of the dwarf Eitri, who created the gauntlet that gives Thanos control of the stones. He cooperated to save the lives of his people, but Thanos killed them all anyway. That's the fate that was likely always in store for the loved ones Loki and Wanda and Gamora chose, if Thanos got the stones.

Of all these characters, until Wanda agreed to take the stone from Vision's head it at the last moment, Quill was the only one who had been willing to do make the devastating choice, and kill Gamora to prevent Thanos from getting a stone. He pulled the trigger, but Thanos's other powers turned the shot to bubbles. So not only did he face the "impossible situation" and do the impossible right thing, but she died anyway, and died in vain

So are Loki and Gamora and Wanda the villains?

NO! The villain is THANOS, people. The guy who's trying to kill everyone is the villain, not the people who make mistakes when devastated by the choices he's forced  upon them. Human beings aren't machines. Some will act out of grief and pain, and others out of the desire to keep their loved ones safe at the expense of strangers. Is that particularly noble? Of course not, but it's understandable. The bad guy is the one who's putting them in this position! Who's torturing and murdering people! Always!

Dr. Strange saw a million possible outcomes, and in only one of them did all the actions of all the people involved lead to a positive outcome. So no one can know in the moment how all the chains of cause and effect will play out. Should you try to do the right thing, the kind thing, the helpful thing, or, in Quill's case, the smart thing? Of course! But when you're attacked, it's not your fault for not reacting perfectly. The blame is 100% on the attacker. If we can't even agree that the destruction of the universe is the fault of the person who wants to destroy it, and does in fact destroy it, I worry about our ability to prevent it.

(The title quote might not be exactly precise. I'll fix it after I see the movie next time).