How The Philosophy of Avengers: Infinity War Predicts Avengers 4 – Wisecrack Quick Take
Welcome to this Wisecrack Quick Take on Avengers: Infinity War!
Written by: Matthew Theriault
Directed by: Robert Tiemstra
Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Mark Potts
Produced by: Emily Dunbar
How The Philosophy of Avengers: Infinity War Predicts Avengers 4 – Wisecrack Quick Take
What’s up, guys? Jared, here, on the set of one of our other projects. So, Infinity War is finally out, we saw it, and wanted to try something new. Whereas we usually dive in to the themes, ideologies, and subtext of these films to gain a better appreciation for them, today we’re going to use these elements to propose some educated predictions of what will happen in Avengers 4. So, welcome to this Wisecrack Quick Take on Infinity War Part 1. Spoilers ahead for part 1, and if we’re flattering ourselves, part 2. Also, a huge thanks to Digital Sputnik for supplying us with their gear to make these Quick Takes, and all of our other shoots, look pretty awesome. They make it so easy to just throw up some lights and shoot! So, thanks again to Digital Sputnik for making lighting fun for us. Now, on with the Quick Take! The central question of Infinity War is whether the value of an individual life can be weighed against a greater good. Throughout the film, characters are posed with a conundrum: Should they sacrifice a loved one for the greater good? At the film’s climax, Scarlet Witch attempts to kill Vision, her lover, in order to destroy the Mind stone. Similarly, Quill reluctantly tries to shoot Gamora, his lover, only for his blast to turn into bubbles, and later, Thanos throws her off the altar on Vormir as his sacrifice to earn the Soul Stone.
This is one of moral philosophy’s all-time classic debates, one that we’ve talked about before: utilitarian consequentialism versus deontology. To briefly summarize, utilitarian consequentialism defines actions as ethical if they achieve a positive outcome for the most people, no matter what one must do to achieve those ends. Deontology, on the other hand, is a duty-based ethic that suggests NO outcomes can justify heinous things like murder. “We’re gonna neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen.” “I thought the punishment usually came after the crime.” Scarlet Witch, Star-Lord, and Thanos all ultimately make their moral decisions based on consequences instead of duties. For everyone that’s not a rip-off of Darkseid, this greater good is fairly straightforward: Do anything to stop Thanos from gathering all of the Infinity MacGuffins. It’s basically “Trolley Problem: The Movie.” “You are driving a trolley, when the breaks fail. And, on the track ahead of you, are five workmen, that you will run over. Now, you can steer to another track, but on that track is one person you would kill, instead of the five.” The Mad Titan’s understanding of Good is a universe in perfect balance, firstly between life and death, and secondly, balance between humans and resources. This second one echoes the economic philosophies of Thomas Robert Malthus, who suggested that when you have finite resources, you therefore have an ideal population size. And when you exceed that population size, poverty and starvation increase.
But ultimately the film is critical of anyone who tries to use math to measure the worth of some lives against others. These sacrifices never actually succeed in bringing about their greater good. Their actions are at best futile, and at worst maximally evil. Star-Lord and Scarlet Witch’s attempts to sacrifice their loved ones are thwarted by Thanos and fall apart in a matter of moments. We see this critique again when, at the beginning, Doctor Strange says he won’t hesitate to let Tony or Peter die to protect The Time Stone. This changes when at the end, he reneges and trades the time stone for Tony’s life in recognition of a higher moral duty. This is best articulated in Captain America’s constant refrain, “We don’t trade lives.” Basically, if you ever what to know what the films regard as “right,” look no further than the MCU’s moral exemplar Steve Rogers. So what does the film’s moral perspective tell us about what will happen in Avengers 4? To answer that, let’s take a look at the comic run that inspired Infinity War even more than Jim Starlin’s Infinity Gauntlet miniseries.
We’re talking, of course, about Jonathan Hickman’s epic Marvel run that weaves its way through Fantastic Four, Future Foundation, Avengers, New Avengers, Infinity, and Secret Wars. This is the run that introduced the Cull Obsidian, outriders, and the Battle of Wakanda from the film’s finale. But most importantly, Infinity War’s moral philosophy is ripped right from Hickman. If you thought the stakes were high in this movie, check this: an infinite number of parallel universes were colliding together at the point of Earth, threatening to annihilate their TRILLIONS of inhabitants. The only way to prevent this was to first destroy one of the Earths – along with, the billions of people living on it. Or to put it another way: “Killing millions!” “To save billions.”
It was the ultimate Trolley Problem, with all of existence tied to the tracks and heroes like Iron Man and Black Panther forced to grapple with whether or not to pull the lever. In a moment of truth for all involved, T’Challa walks right up to the moral line before refusing to cross it. “I know I should… I know I must… But… it’s wrong… We were damned the very day we thought it was for men to decide things such as this.” As always, it’s Captain America who most clearly champions duty-based morality that, like Rorschach, is utterly uncompromising, even in the face of Armageddon. “I don’t let people die because it’s the lesser of two evils, or expedient, or because it serves the greater good… I don’t compare the act against something else… I see someone who needs help—and I help… I don’t measure people’s lives. I save them.” But perhaps the ultimate exemplar of duty-based, doing what is right ethics in Hickman’s work is Mr. Fantastic himself, Reed Richards, and it’s his arc that will be most telling for how Avengers 4 will conclude. In Secret Wars, Dr. Doom – like Thanos with the Infinity gauntlet – has become, for all intents and purposes, “God.” But he is not defeated by force or a clever plan, but by recognition that Reed is a genuinely morally superior man who would have been better at being “God”. This is Hickman’s main thesis, and one we think will play out in Avengers 4. One ought not weigh lives and calculate how to achieve the greatest good, but instead merely act according to one’s duty. So, here are our predictions for Avengers 4: One: Thanos won’t be able to enjoy that sunset at the end of the movie quite as much as he had hoped. His regret over Gamora’s death will convince him that a single life can have irreducible worth, even when weighed against a world in which everyone enjoys peace and plenty (which, obviously, they won’t). “It was still a stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid plan.”
So, Thanos will be neither forced nor tricked into giving up the gauntlet. It’s hard to punch God. No, Thanos – like Doom in Hickman’s Secret Wars – will become convinced by our heroes that his convictions were wrong. That he doesn’t deserve to be “God.” And he will forfeit his power freely. Two: The one who will convince Thanos will be Tony Stark. Since the first Iron man movie, Stark has been the de facto protagonist of the franchise. More than any other character, he’s had the most dynamic character arcs. From narcissistic to self sacrificial in Avengers 1, to the antagonist mired in consequentialist ethics in Civil War, to realizing his ultimate failure in Infinity War, he will achieve the greatest redemption in the end, firstly by coming around to Cap’s duty-bound way of seeing the world and secondly, by being the one to “defeat” Thanos. More than any other character, Tony has made the most improvement and is in need of the most improvement still.
He’ll go from someone too selfish to handle a relationship to someone so noble as to wield the power of a God with integrity. We’re guessing Stark’s conversation with Pepper about his dream of her being pregnant will propel this final growth in his character, but we’re not quite sure as to how. Lastly: Stephen Strange’s decision not to sacrifice Tony’s life to save the Time Stone will prove the crux around which Stark’s success – and therefore the salvation of the universe – will resolve. But importantly, it won’t be because Strange saw that was the only way to achieve that 1-in-14-million future, but for no other reason than it was the right thing to do. As in Hickman’s work, it will be explicit that doing the right thing for no other reason than because it’s right will lead our heroes to salvation.
And if you wanna hear more of our predictions of what’s coming in Avengers 4, be sure to check out the Infinity War episode of our movie podcast “Show Me the Meaning.” We’re actually recording it today, so it might be up in a day or two, but to check in, click the link in the description or find our podcast on iTunes, stitcher, soundcloud, or our on our Youtube channel “Wisecasts.” Also, this is our first attempt to use philosophy for prediction rather than reflection. If you like it and wanna see more, let us know. And as always, thanks for watching, guys. Peace.