What to watch/rewatch before Infinity War

Marvel’s Avenger’s Infinity War is a big film with a lot of characters and lots of assumptions about continuity. So what previous films do you need to see for the film to work? There are some very obvious films in the Marvel sequence you don’t need to see (the 2008 Hulk movie, probably Ant-Man, the second Thor film) but what’s the minimum?

Here’s what I’d suggest at various levels of how much spare time you have to spend watching people thump each other and make quips.

  1. Thor: Ragnarok – Thor is a key player and Infinity War starts up directly after the end of Ragnarok. The tones of the films are quite different but the emotional impact and one major storyline follow directly from the last Thor film.
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1 – The first Guardian’s film introduces the team but also has the most screen time for Thanos and a plot about infinity stones.
  3. Captain America: Civil War – This is a tricky one as it gives the key background for where the Earth-based heroes are up to but it also requires some understanding of previous events from other films.

If you’ve seen those three, plus assorted others, then you are probably sufficiently caught up.

Expanding that roster a little:

  1. Black Panther – Mainly because it is a fun film but also because it introduces the supporting characters for Wakanda.
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 – mainly for continuity as well as the added character development for Gamora and Nebula as well as adding Mantis to the team. Also, it is another fun film.
  3. Avengers: Age of Ultron – The first problem. There are worse films in Marvel’s universe but this one is long and rambles. Unfortunately, if you are looking for something like a complete story arc, this one is important. The film adds Scarlet Witch and The Vision as characters. It also foreshadows Thanos and the infinity stones – motivating Tony Stark. Thor’s vision sends him off on a quest that is picked up in Ragnarok and also The Hulk also flies off into space, which is also resolved in Ragnarok. The film also sets up the conflict for Civil War.

But…if you watch Avengers: Age of Ultron then you’ll need even MORE backstory! Where will it all end? Here’s a possible longer set of films that watched in order make a story sequence without including ALL the MCU films.

  1. Captain America: The First Avenger – not the first MCU film but it’s WW2 setting make it a good starting point. Corny but it works by evoking the golden age of comic books and radio serials.
  2. Iron Man 1 – effectively the first MCU film.
  3. Thor 1 – of the Marvel films this is the most conventionally a superhero film. Adds the cosmic element to the overall franchise.
  4. *Iron Man 2 – a weaker film but it adds more of SHIELD, Nick Fury and Black Widow.
  5. The Avengers – Joss Whedon’s fun ensemble film brings the core characters together and adds Thanos as the secret big bad.
  6. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1 – Who was that purple guy in the last film? Guardians will tell you who and introduce the Infinity Stones.
  7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – The franchise was originally centred on Iron Man mainly because of Robert Downey Jr’s charismatic acting. The second Captain America film is both a taut thriller but also puts the Captain as the central character of the ongoing storyline.
  8. *Doctor Strange – He’s briefly name-checked in Winter Soldier and it is not obvious where this film fits in with the timing of the others. However, he’s a key character in Infinity War and he doesn’t cameo anywhere else except briefly in Ragnarok.
  9. The Avengers: Age of Ultron – not the first misstep from Marvel or the worst film but perhaps the most disappointing but maybe I need to rewatch it.
  10. *Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 – not entirely essential but a nice break from Ultron.
  11. Captain America: Civil War – everybody is unhappy except Spiderman who manages to escape the clutches of a different film contract.
  12. *Black Panther – having been introduced in Civil War, this is a good point to meet his friends, family and morally-ambiguous cousin Killmonger.
  13. Thor: Ragnarok – catch up with Thor, Loki and enjoy a disco-themed deconstruction of the issues of colonisation in popular culture.
  14. Avengers: Infinity War.

Not included: Iron Man 3, Ant-Man, Spiderman: Homecoming, Thor: The Darkworld, Hulk (2008). Films with an asterisk are more easily skipped without missing plot elements of the overall story arc.

If Rabbits Fought Lobsters Who Would Win?

So, on average a rabbits weighs say 2 kg and I don’t know, maybe a lobster typically weighs 0.5 kg? Rabbits can be surprisingly aggressive but lobsters have a thick exoskeleton and claws. Obviously, rabbits can run away more easily but we haven’t determined where this conflict is occurring. Sure, a rabbit can adapt well to a wide range of terrestrial environments but they aren’t aquatic mammals and would simply drown if they tried to engage a lobster on the sea floor. You’d think that lobsters aren’t cut out for sustained warfare in burrows but if we extend our range of what we count as a ‘lobster’ then we’d need to consider the Engaeus aka the Tasmanian Burrowing Crayfish. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engaeus Burrowing crayfish also live on mainland Australia in southern Victoria – so it’s not impossible that there are recorded cases of rabbits fighting crayfish. Having said that, if we are extending out the definition of “lobster” to a completely different species we may as well extend “rabbit” to include wombats.

Now imagine the same argument but I said that a rabbit weighs 55 pounds based on a misunderstanding of this article https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/03/ralph-worlds-largest-bunny-rabbit_n_3006487.html It is worthwhile considering if the quality of argument has actually got much worse if it included that error. One way to think of this is in terms of local versus global issues in an argument. I’m borrowing freely from how Imre Lakatos talked about counter-examples in mathematical arguments and applying it badly to the exact opposite – nonsensical arguments.

  • The rabbit mass error is an error but it has little impact on the whole argument (which is a silly argument). The scope of the error is highly limited. The pro-lobster side of the argument may feel happy when they debunk the error but their position hasn’t improved.
  • The redefinition argument, so as to include crayfish under ‘lobster’ has a much wider scope. It changes the nature of the argument and has a much broader impact.
  • Neither of those two issues actually address the broadest level of the argument which is that the premise is silly. Lobsters and rabbits are not in direct conflict because of the kinds of animals that they are. For them to actually be in a direct conflict they would need to be different kinds of animals and hence none of the actual features of either rabbit of lobsters is relevant to the question.

‘Yes, thank you for clarifying that,’ I hear you say as tiny voices in my head, ‘but what has this got to do with anything and could you maybe just draw more beard pictures instead?’

It’s Vox Day feuding with Jordan Peterson – yes I’m sure Vox would prefer wolves rather than rabbits but obviously, lobsters would beat wolves*.

I was tempted to discuss the argument in more depth but it really is about as silly as lobsters versus rabbits but with added racism (specifical anti-semitism). The problem with looking at either of their arguments in any detail is that they globally make little sense and are full of local errors. To discuss the local errors in any detail requires assuming for the sake of argument the more absurd premises – which would be one thing if we were looking at, say, homoeopathy but in this case, the absurd premises are particularly venomous ones i.e. anti-Semitic or more generally racist ones.

Both Peterson and Vox Day are IQ essentialists. That is they think

  • that IQ *is* intelligence (which it almost certainly isn’t),
  • and that evidence of hereditary aspects of IQ demonstrates that intelligence is overwhelmingly genetic (which is doubly questionable),
  • and evidence of some correlations between IQ and social success in modern societies demonstrates that social success is genetic (which is now a stack of suppositions),
  • and that different degrees of social success among different ethnic groups/nations is CAUSED by differences in IQ of those groups (which we can probably assume now is just plain wrong),
  • and that those differences are genetic.

It is a house of cards but one with some numbers based on research of very variable quality. Also, it is definitively a racist theory, as in it is literally a theory that asserts that different groups of humans are more or less inferior on a very broad range of traits due to inherent differences. I’ve discussed IQ many times before, so I won’t rehash all those arguments, other than to say the first point is the core error: we can collect interesting and useful numbers using scientific and ‘objective’ methods but the INTERPRETATION of those numbers is not simply established by having reliable numbers. That the numbers used in IQ arguments such as these tend not to be that reliable ANYWAY is a more local issue.

Peterson and others that we might call ‘moderate racists’ if that wasn’t an oxymoron, like these IQ essentialist style arguments because they see them as being a bulwark against demands for equality. For them, it demonstrates that modern societies are a meritocracy and that inequality of outcome is due to fundamental biological differences between people.

Vox Day’s ideology is far more overtly racist but the rationalisation is much the same. So shouldn’t Vox Day and Peterson be pals? Ah, you might think that but remember both Vox and Peterson also both believe strongly in dominance hierarchies as a biological imperative and as a kind of the social norm for masculine behaviour. Which is a kind of weird self-fulfilling psychological theory i.e. Peterson’s psychology is largely bunk but it does actually sort of work for people who believe Peterson’s psychology. Put another way: Vox and Peterson are warring lobsters. They’ll react to others encroaching on their territory as either:

  • Obviously superior lobsters – who they’ll acknowledge as such.
  • Lobsters of equivalent rank but who are both willing to stay a safe difference away in the neatly defined territory.
  • Rival lobsters that require a showy dominance display so they stick to their own territory.
  • Lower ranked lobsters who can be easily chased away.

Note, when I say ‘lobsters’ these are Petersonian-lobsters, not the actual crustaceans who actually have nothing to do with this at all. Also humans don’t really behave this way – this is a kind of self-imposed behaviour.

Peterson isn’t smart enough to impress Vox (here Vox is correct) but Peterson is getting a lot of fuss and attention as a thinker on the right. Hence, following the psychological theory of both of them, they have to fight. Specifically, they are fighting over anti-Semitism and when I say ‘fighting’, I think is mainly Vox moaning about Peterson rather than vice-versa.

Peterson decided to counter anti-Semitic arguments by arguing that the success of some Jewish people in Western society was due to on an average higher IQ of Ashkenazi Jews. That offends Vox as he likes to push anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Of course, the factual basis Peterson’s claims is based on weak and dodgy research and requires assuming complex social phenomenon can be explained by one numerical parameter. Vox’s could then mount a counter-argument that picks holes in Peterson’s position by pointing out errors and weaknesses. Now it doesn’t matter to Vox that many of the weaknesses he points out are actually the same weaknesses in Vox’s own arguments about IQ (e.g. over generalising from a weak study with few participants who aren’t a random sample) nor does it matter that neither of them address relevant questions about who exactly they are talking about.

Peterson set up his argument as a false dichotomy (success of some Jewish people in America being either genetics or conspiracy) and then arguing for ‘genetics’. By doing so, the very way he framed the argument helps more overt anti-Semites because somebody like Vox Day can point to weaknesses and errors in his argument (mainly local ones) and declare that they’ve proved the other part of the false dichotomy. Put another way: bad arguments generate worse arguments.

Peterson thinks he’s scoring a point against anti-Semitism when he uses what is racial theory in a positive light towards a group that has been persecuted and marginalised. However, there is never any positive way to use racism – all he manages is to create a strawman for more overt racists to knock over. The effect is like a ratchet of prejudice – Peterson pulls readers into accepting a set of dodgy ideas that once accepted make it difficult to avoid believing a whole set of even worse ideas.

 

*[wolves are basically just dogs and any dog I know, if it saw a lobster would just freak out and run away. So, in this specific case, the question has an answer: lobster beat wolves by being weird looking.]

Tim’s Facial Hair Guide to Infinity War

So, I’ve explained before that Timothy doesn’t distinguish human faces well. He is also confused by facial hair. OK strictly speaking he is confused by human skin, which he assumes is fur and hence is doubly confused by facial hair which he thinks is fur that is growing out of fur. Look, the main thing is he finds beards confusing and panics if I shave.

So, Marvel’s Infinity War has many characters and about 40%+ of them have facial hair (90%+ if we count eyebrows – do eyebrows count as facial hair? I assume so.) Some of them i.e. Captain America have gained beards for this film.

So to assist Tim to keep track, here is a field guide to various beard styles in the film. They divide into two groups:

  • Team Neat Beard. Mainly characters who use scholarship, magic or technology.
  • Team Let it Grow Where it Will: Mainly fighters.

Best Beard? I like Wong’s minimalist beard but you can’t beat Idris Elba’s sheer masculinity of a beard – even though it is only a cameo of a beard in the film.

Worst beard? Chris Pratt’s beard is part styled and part scruffy and sits in an uncanny valley of beardedness. Sebastian Stan’s Bucky has more of a just-hasn’t-had-a-shave beard which looks fine but was a pain to try and draw.

Did I miss anybody? (Rocket Racoon doesn’t count.)

infinitybeard

Review: Marvel Infinity War Part 1 (limited spoilers)

Ten years on from Iron Man and six years on from the first Avengers film, the big crowded finale of the Avengers has arrived. With a huge cast and an enormous roster of characters, the film picks a villain whose primary motivation is a pathological worry that the universe is too crowded. It’s almost too easy to see Josh Brolin’s purple Thanos as Disney – collecting franchises together (Marvel, Star Wars) to achieve an unparalleled commercial dominance – or perhaps as Marvel executives looking at the MCU and thinking “we need to rationalise this product line”.

As I said in the title “limited spoilers” but I will be talking about the original comic plotline and about Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet as established things within Marvel and also about the earlier films. So if you aren’t familiar with those and would like the film to be a complete surprise then READ NO FURTHER! I think the film might be better that way but all that stuff has been out there for years and has been discussed since Thanos made his first brief cameo in The Avengers movie.

That first appearance established Thanos and the infinity stones as a common thread through the Marvel films. In the comic books, Marvel has had various iterations of cosmically all-powerful objects but the relevant version of these is in Jim Starlin’s 1991 crossover event series The Infinity Gauntlet. In that story, the whole of the Marvel comic book universe is imperilled when the “Mad Titan” Thanos is discovered to have captured all six of the infinity gems and made himself a god-like being by virtue of a gauntlet in which the gems are embedded. Thanos (a mangling of the Greek ‘Thanatos’ i.e. death) is enamoured of the personification of Death and to win her affection obliterates half the living things in the universe.

The Infinity Gauntlet is something of a classic of Marvel’s big event crossover stories but it isn’t terribly complex. Where it works is by repeating a theme of the inevitability of defeat, as the heroes try various schemes to defeat a being who is genuinely undefeatable.

Avengers: Infinity War was never going to be a re-hash of the comic book. While there are many characters in common, key characters such as the Silver Surfer are not part of the MCU (as he is tied up with the Fantastic Four) and other characters have not been included (in particular Adam Warlock – although he keeps being hinted at). This is for the best and the MCU has often borrowed lightly from comic book source material to create something better (Civil War being the most notable example).

Still, if you are expecting lots of things based on:

  • the existing comic books
  • the trailers
  • the fact that Marvel needs to change its roster of actors & characters to keep the MCU perpetual franchise going
  • basic plot inevitability
  • all the past films, particular Guardians of Galaxy

then you won’t be too surprised by events in the film. Even so, the story maintains its tension all the way through and many events seem shocking.

The film connects directly in terms of events with Thor: Ragnarok and in terms of its cosmic storyline and character connections is more closely tied to The Guardian’s of the Galaxy films. In terms of a shift in tone, this is a much, much darker film than either of those two. While there’s no shortage of quips and snark, it is a film about mass murder and brutal genocide. It’s not that gory but I’d worry about taking younger kids to see the film – particularly as this is a two-parter and the story won’t be resolved for another year. People die and happy endings are not had – indeed happier endings from previous films are undone.

More broadly, it has the structure of a big, mad fantasy epic. Multiple plot lines, essentially two sets of characters off on quests to stop the big bad and another set fighting something closer to a literal war. There are multiple fight scenes, generally well put together in that you can follow who is thumping who. The battle scenes are frankly incredible – I won’t describe them because of far too many spoilers.

Nearly everybody appears with few exceptions (Hawkeye from the Avengers, Valkerie from Thor) and most get a decent amount of screen time. However, this is not a film in which people get much time for character development. Other Marvel movies have done well in mixing superhero action with character-led stories in which we follow people having genuine feelings other than fight-or-flight responses – this film, not so much. Most characters are trying to stay alive and/or stop everybody else dying.

Thanos though, is different. We’ve had villain-centric scenes before in Marvel films and we’ve had villains with complex motives (Zemo in Civil War). Thanos here is presented as having simple motives but a more than one-dimensional character. The film Thanos is an ideological Malthusian, obsessed with the concept of over-population – who believe it is a mercy to cut the population of intelligent beings in half. He is allowed to argue his position without much pushback from the good guys other than the moral one that genocide is bad. On more than one occasion, the film puts Thanos’s emotions at the centre of a scene, following the plot from his perspective as a quasi-sympathetic character. That’s both novel and disturbing as he is more clearly monstorous than many other Marvel villains (e.g. Killmonger in Black Panther).

But this odd choice arises out of how central Gamora is to the film. Gamora is relevant to the original comic book even though she ends up playing less of a role (Nebula also features) and The Guardian’s films have established her as central to any storyline with Thanos as a villain. She doesn’t get to be the central character of the film but I strongly suspect her role will be substantial in part 2*.

The problems with the Nebula-Gamora-Thanos relationship as being essentially a story of a violent abusive father are legion. They were already present in the Guardian’s films and to some extent they fit better in this much darker film. Zoe Saladana carries a lot of the emotional weight of this film and is another reason why this is more of a Guardian of the Galaxy film with the Avengers crossing into it than vice-versa.

Death and self-sacrafice are recurring themes (and again, another reason why the film isn’t for everybody). There are repeated instances of people forced to choose between giving Thanos what he wants or killing a loved one – to the extent that at first it feel repititious but then feels like something more.

In the end, Marvel could have made a film in which all these popular characters ran arounf a CGI set colliding into things and punching each other while making snarky quips and I’d have watched it and enjoyed it. This film was better than that but not as good as the very best Marvel films. It’s a big silly film about mass murder with many, many distressing elements and a weird cameo by Peter Dinklage which would take a whole other essay to unpack.

*[Yes, there’s a problem with that theory if you’ve seen the film.]

It’s Krypto Fascists Versus Lyrics Again

Sometimes a song stays at the top of the charts so long it seems to become a permanent fixture. For such a long time Elsa’s signature song “Let it Go” from Frozen was the song that the alt-right loved to hate, whether it was this blog’s go-to rabid Vox Day or this blog’s go-to pseudo-intellectual Jordan “nope lobster” Peterson.

But finally, there appears to be a contender! From the hagiographic biopic musical of a historical racist and exploiter P.T.Barnum aka “The Greatest Showman”, the song “This is Me” has upset Vox Day with feelings.

The song can be seen here:

I should note that I don’t think much of the song or the film. The song is representative of the main approach to the music and the plot – start dejected/maudlin and then shift gradually to triumphalism. The body-positivity message is repeatedly overwhelmed with a  Horatio Alger myth of hard work and believing in yourself etc etc. to overcome adversity. I didn’t feel stirred or moved by it but I’m a soulless monster who lives in a cave in a dark forest.

However, this same song seems to have hot Vox Day directly in whatever feels he has left (direct link, archive link)

“My first response to hearing the song and seeing the video was to feel the profound and programmed emotional stirring. My second response was to put that emotional effect in intellectual context, and think, kill it with fire. And my third response was to reflect upon how good these evil rhetoricians are, and realize how far we have to go in order to effectively counteract their influence on the mass culture.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself feeling oddly defensive of the song. That defensiveness you are feeling is testimony to the power of the rhetoric. But review the lyrics and analyze the imagery. It is powerful cultural programming, but it loses its power and becomes transparent when viewed through coldly dialectic analytical eye. “Reaching for the sun” indeed…..”

Zoiks! His reaction appears to be genuine and I’m forced to reconsider whether a song that discombobulates the alt-right so effectively that it sends them into a struggle with their own emotions, can be all that bad.

Maybe because it has some elements which are positive but wrapped up in a message of centre-right of self-esteem it hits a nerve. This is not unlike “Let It Go” where the self-affirmation by Elsa is nearly-but-not-quite the same ideology/pseudo-psychology of Peterson, that they find it more viscerally unsettling because it is a woman who is affirming her individualist independence from society.

Anyway…Vox then heads off into more alarming rhetoric of his own:

“Just remember that we’re the ones with the guns. We’re the side with no reason for shame. We are servants of the King and the defenders of the West. They know they are guilty, they know they are damned, and they are openly flaunting their sin. They are warriors and they are at war with our God, our civilization, our faith, and our nation.”

The takes a detour into anti-semitism and homophobia and then declares:

“Their satanic hymns will not save them from the justice of the Almighty God in the end.”

As you know, I’m not religious but I enjoy theology. If I was religious I really would have to wonder what god it is that Vox Day worships. There was an earlier piece a few days ago where Vox said something unintentionally revealing and disturbing once you pause and think about his position on many issues: (direct link, archive link)

“Here is a reliable heuristic for evil: does it justify, rationalize, excuse, defend, encourage, advocate, or require sex with children in any way, openly or covertly, directly or indirectly? Then it is evil, topped by an evil sauce, with a side of evil.”

Does that strike anybody else as deeply unself-aware of things he has actually said?

Vox Day has repeatedly cast doubt on the claims of victims of sexual assault and abuse. For example this comment from is pickup-artistry site in 2013:

“Sexual abuse is a problem. But as is often the case, the overreaction to it has created problems of its own, as children have become aware that they can create massive problems for adults by falsely accusing them. Perhaps the awareness that they run the risk of bankruptcy if they don’t control their progeny will convince parents that their little angels may, in fact, be little devils in disguise.”

He has repeatedly opposed Codes of Conducts generically for example saying:

“This is just straight up thought, speech, and behavioral policing, and it explicitly goes in one direction, the direction that provides the SJWs with political control of the organization.”

…about a code that sought to prevent:

Physical contact and simulated physical contact (eg, textual descriptions like “hug” or “backrub”) without consent or after a request to stop. Threats of violence, both physical and psychological. Incitement of violence towards any individual, including encouraging a person to commit suicide or to engage in self-harm. Deliberate intimidation. Stalking or following. Harassing photography or recording, including logging online activity for harassment purposes.  Unwelcome sexual attention, including gratuitous or off-topic sexual images or behaviour. Pattern of inappropriate social contact, such as requesting/assuming inappropriate levels of intimacy with others.

Of course that code didn’t expressily mention child protection, but don’t forget Vox’s caveat: ‘openly or covertly, directly or indirectly’.

Even his much vaunted campaigns against pedophiles is something he primarily uses to attack critics, push homphobia or demonise immigrants. The conspiracy theories he promulgates (and which his vandalised version of Wikipedia promotes) serves to hide the danger and prevelance of sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

I don’t know. It’s probably just routine malice mixed with incompotence and confusion about his own semiotics. Maybe it is just his tendency to mix his own messages (like attempting to ironically surrounded himself with pseudo-satanic imagery while styling himself as an evangelical Christian) but given the whole of the picture, I keep returning to the question: if Vox thinks gods are real what kind of god is it that he worships and would deem itself happy with his efforts?

{refs:

https://web.archive.org/web/20180424193338/http://alphagameplan.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/girls-lie-about-sexual-abuse.html

https://voxday.blogspot.com.au/2015/09/weaponized-codes.html and yes, the bits I quoted were not the only thing in that code of conduct but they were parts that Vox also quoted and he clearly objected to them being in the code. }

[ETA: sorry that got a bit darker at the end. For added amusement, Vox trying to get his minions to understand his point in the comments is funny in places.

“It isn’t about YOU. It isn’t about YOUR reaction. Why is that so damned difficult for so many of you to understand? You do not win by holding your ground, you win by taking the enemy’s ground.

FFS, next I’m going to have to write fucking musicals. I don’t want to write fucking musicals.”

Gosh, why IS it so difficult for a bunch of alt-right/MRAs to understand that it isn’t about them and their reaction? 🙂

Also, the witchfinder general of SF has stepped into the discussion: http://www.brianniemeier.com/2018/04/what-were-really-up-against.html

“The Disney paypigs who continue subjecting their children to satanically inspired princess movies no doubt blissfully hum this song to themselves as they wait in the drive-thru at Starbucks. But among the disaffected engineer types who, while smarter, tend to make a vice of excess pragmatism, the equal and opposite problem emerged.”

? No, I’m not sure what he is trying to say either. ]