5 Most Profound Moments in the MCU: Infinity Saga

July 4, 2020 at 1:46 am (Uncategorized)

After years of watching our heroes go through incredible hardship, risk their lives repeatedly, and sometimes lose their lives, there are some moments that stick in the heart and are never forgotten. Here are my top five.

5. Fat Thor

Yeah, the fat jokes suck (I’m mollified only very slightly by the fact that Chris Hemsworth clearly found it all hilarious). But in a genre defined by physical perfection, having a character emotionally collapse to the point that they lose control over their physical form shows a surprisingly real understanding of the human condition.

Even gods can fall.

4. Iron Man’s Heart

Okay, we’re really talking about Stark’s arc reactor, but the audience easily picks up what the writers are laying down. If it was spelled out any more, or handled with less delicacy, it would make people groan. But it isn’t spelled out, and it is handled with delicacy, and as a result it provides an extra layer of tragedy for this character who is so emotionally cool and witty in order to hide his pain and fear.

We begin the film with Stark abruptly finding himself (and specifically his heart) in an incredibly dangerous, vulnerable position. We see the strength of his character as he rebuilds his heart even as his circumstances are as grim as could be.

Later, we see his utter trust (even as he utterly fails to ask permission before asking a considerable favour—because of course he’s far too damaged to frame the request in a healthy manner) as he has Pepper swap out one arc reactor for another. This, to me, is the most powerful scene in Iron Man.

 

The most powerful image of Iron Man 2 is the horrifyingly toxic, corroded rectangle(s) that are necessary to keep Stark’s heart running but are also poisoning him. It’s no accident that his dad (who Stark remembers as cold and unfeeling, but who laid plans for his son’s life for many years) gives him the information that fixes the issue and saves him. But I don’t think it’s truly Stark Sr that saves Tony; it is Tony’s new understanding that his Dad did the best he knew how to do. (I once did a course that was all about the concept that it’s not the bad stuff that happens to you that leaves you with permanent issues, but your own reaction to it. NOT that the actual bad stuff is your fault at all.)

At the end of Iron Man 3, a Stark who has been experiencing PTSD, mania, and panic attacks finally accepts that he can’t control everything and at the same time gets surgery to get his heart properly fixed. Yes, a lot of this progress is undone in other movies (most notably Age of Ultron) but that’s profound in its own way too: psychological healing doesn’t happen in a single moment, even if considerable progress is made. It’s a bumpy journey that hopefully trends upwards.

Stark does get more and more psychologically healthy, and even manages to live the dream of being married to Pepper, doing a reasonable job of raising a child, and living on a hobby farm. Even though we see only a glimpse of that life (because psychological health gets dull fast in fiction), it’s astonishing that this damaged, mentally ill character manages to actually calm down enough to live a normal life. His death doesn’t in any way diminish the fact that Stark grew into a reasonably healthy human being over the course of the films.

3. Killmonger’s Death

Killmonger, as a child, found his single father murdered in their crummy apartment. His own relatives had killed him, and knowingly left the child behind. And that’s not all he has to deal with.

His apartment is crummy because he’s black. Sure it’s technically possible for an African immigrant to get a great job and live in a wealthy neighbourhood. And sure, it’s technically possible for an African America to get a great job and live in a wealthy neighbourhood. . . but they’d need an extraordinary run of good luck to overcome their own inborn disadvantages.

As I write this, Black Lives Matter protests continue in the USA, focusing on police violence against black people. There are so many murders of men, women (especially trans women), and children because they have dark skin. According to a recent poll, over 60% of US people surveyed are sympathetic to the protests, including the destruction of statues.

Killmonger has grown up in the US, and he is deeply aware not only of the institutionalised and direct racism towards dark-skinned Americans, but the fact that Wakanda is wealthy and advanced, and yet doing nothing for suffering people around the world. He has overcome so much to be a brilliant soldier and fighter, because he is incredibly driven and self-controlled. And you can’t help understanding perfectly well why he believes that violence is the only path to racial justice.

After weeks of real-world protests, his viewpoint makes more sense than ever.

In the films, Wakanda decides to step up (non-violently) and help African people around the world, starting with Killmonger’s childhood neighbourhood. But here in reality, there is no Wakanda, and there is precious little justice.

Killmonger fights T’Challa and, eventually, loses. I wrote out his dying words on the main review page, but they are well worth repeating.

“Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships because they knew death was better than bondage.”

2. Cassie Worships her Failure of a Dad

Cassie Lang’s father has been in jail for quite a while, and then he shows up at her birthday party without consulting with her mother in any way. He can’t hold down a job, and rapidly gets back into crime. For some reason a brilliant scientist gives him an extremely expensive piece of technology so he can steal from the government instead of random people or banks. Soon he’s back on house arrest after very publicly causing millions of dollars’ worth of damage during a pointless fight that also paralyses an innocent man (in Civil War). He gets put on house arrest, and when he breaks house arrest little Cassie lies to the police in order to cover for him so he doesn’t go to jail and miss even more of her life.

Throughout all this, Cassie worships her dad.

Scott Lang screws up over and over and over again, and Cassie just doesn’t see it. That is the glory and the terror of parenthood.

Honorable mention:

When, after five years, Spider-Man returns from magic dust land and runs into Stark, he is unharmed and for him it is as if only a moment has passed.

For Stark, however, it has been five years of having failed utterly. His nightmare came true, and he failed that poor innocent kid that he knows perfectly well should never have been brought into the dangerous world of the Avengers.

So then Spider-Man appears, literally out of thin air, and Stark is desperately relived. You can see all those five awful years in his face as he embraces Parker.

Once again, the kid character is cheerful and fine while the adult is all kinds of broken.

1. Morgan Doesn’t Understand her Dad is Gone

Stark risked his life, not just because he couldn’t resist a fight, but because he felt responsible for Peter Parker.

He hesitated to risk his life because of Morgan.

Leaving that sweet, brilliant child fatherless was the cruellest thing Marvel has done to us.

After a-l-l the terrible fathers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and yes, there’s a “Worst 5 Dads” list coming), losing Stark just as he’s become the best version of himself is awful.

And the grief piles up and up: War Machine, Spider-Man, Pepper, Captain America… the funeral. The video of Stark saying goodbye just in case, and “I love you 3000″… it just gets sadder and sadder. But the worst is yet to come.

Morgan is sitting on the porch fidgeting with her black dress next to Happy. He asks how she is, and she’s not old enough to be sad, or angry, or even to imagine what a difference the loss of her father will make to the rest of her childhood, to her teenage years, to her wedding if she has one, to her experience of motherhood if she has kids. She says she’s hungry, and wants a cheeseburger.

Happy immediately remembers that Stark asked for a cheeseburger as soon as he got off the plane from his ordeal in Afghanistan, and says, “Your daddy loved cheeseburgers too.”

He knows what Morgan doesn’t: he knows there will be waves of pain hitting her and her mother at surprising times for the rest of their lives: When they sit down to dinner, and only set two places. When Mum now needs to do all the chores that used to belong to Stark. When they hear a noise in the night and Daddy’s not there to be big and manly about it.

“I’m going to give you all the cheeseburgers you want,” says Happy.

And our hearts break all over again.

1 Comment

  1. Summary of a Saga | crazy talk said,

    […] 5 Most Profound Moments in the MCU: Infinity Saga […]

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