Book Review: 'Avengers Infinity Saga and Philosophy'
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a rich vein for philosophers. It presented two robots debating the fate of humanity. It has shown us competing moral systems in literal conflict in “Civil War”. The Avengers “Infinity Saga”, the combined “Infinity War” and “Endgame” movies led to a collection of over thirty philosophical essays by the publishers of the “And Philosophy” series.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Avengers Infinity Saga and Philosophy: Go for the Head” from the publisher to review.
About "Avengers Infinity Saga and Philosophy"
Chapter 1 presents the ethical conundrum of the return from the snap ranging from the risk of starvation to property rights disputes. Chapter 2 applies existentialism to life after the Snap. The author suggests Iron Man can best be understood through Satre’s worldview, Bruce Banner by Camus and Captain American via Levinas. Hawkeye is relegated to Nietzsche’s nihilism. I suggest brushing up on Nietzsche, because he’s cited often in this philosophy book.
Chapter 3 analyzes the nature of grief in the post-Snap world and the psychological impact of collective trauma. It presents Thanos as the God of Death. Natasha is presented as his counterpoint. Chapter 4 asks why grief hurts so much.
Chapter 5 seeks to define the logic of time travel in Endgame and points out the contradictions in the plot. It tries to offer a solution via multi-verse theory. Chapter 6 discusses Nebula’s time travel paradox, killing her earlier self. It then tries to solve the paradox via subjective timelines. Chapter 7 asks us to define “genuine” time travel. Then we’re back to defining the rules of time travel in the MCU.
Chapter 8 asks why Dr. Strange would withhold knowledge and compares the amount of knowledge he has on potential outcomes with a God. Chapter 9 presents a philosophical analysis of Captain America versus Tony Stark, a conflict that goes back to “Captain America: Civil War”. The author suggests Ton Stark is a consequentialist and Captain America is a deontologist. It argues Captain America is right given the concept of the multi-verse, because those who act based on the likely outcome of their actions are paralyzed by the Butterfly Effect.
Chapter 10 compares the narratives of Gamora and Natasha’s sacrifices. It also discusses the ethics of each as well as how Natasha’s self-sacrifice met the criteria for getting the Soul Stone. Plato’s Symposium on the Nature of Love is invoked. Thanos’ sacrifice of Gamora is described as a futuristic, utilitarian trolley problem.
Chapter 11 focuses on population ethics. It breaks down the ethical weight of the Snap using totalism, averagism and what is called “person affecting view”.
Chapter 12 discusses the nature of sacrifice. It presents examples of literal blood sacrifice in various religious. It loses points for intellectual dishonesty when having no problem comparing Natasha’s Christ-like sacrifice to save the world to Christian tradition but refusing to link Muslim suicide bombers to Islam. Chapter 13 uses examples in “Endgame” to explain the concept of abduction and adductive reasoning.
Chapter 14 is one of the first essays addressing the moral system Thanos is using. This one draws parallel from Japanese warrior culture. It then argues the Avengers only succeed by embracing death. Strange probably had to die so that Tony was alive to do the reverse-Snap. Natasha literally sacrificed herself. Tony died to save the world.
Chapter 15 links death and humor but avoids gallows humor. Instead, it looks at Loki’s repeated efforts to cheat death. Chapter 16 outlines the four philosophies of death and how Endgame parallels Christian narratives. Chapter 17 dives into the environmentalist doomer mindset. It begs us to believe the greens’ predictions of the end of the world, so be the hero and sacrifice quality of life so we don’t all have to die. Chapter 18 is an analysis of Tony Stark’s life, and more importantly, death.
Chapter 19 compares Abraham and Thanos and concludes he’s no Abraham. Chapter 20 argues Thanos was the hero of the movies. This isn’t a unique view, because I’ve read others who outlined how Thanos’ journey in the “Infinity War” movie perfectly matches the classic hero’s journey. “Endgame” in theory deconstructs it as well as reverses its outcome.
Chapter 21 spells out the differences between Thanos in the comics and Thanos in the Avengers movies. Chapter 22 compares Daenerys Targaryen in “Game of Thrones” to Thanos. It argues they are both made evil by nurture, nature and messianic destiny. Chapter 23 states that Thanos was moral but lost his compass, thus he committed evil acts with good intentions.
Chapter 24 analyzes the critical moment where Thanos says, “I am inevitable” and Tony Stark says, “I am Iron Man.” It compares this debate to the Christian tradition of “I am” statements. Chapter 25 outlines why Thanos was a good villain. (If you want terrifying, look at the sheer volume of dialogue arguing Thanos is right in concept and even in action.) It also takes a look at Ultron’s worldview and similar end goals. Chapter 26 argues that Thanos is a hero through the lens of Nietzsche’s philosophy. It says his failure was using master morality on what is arguably a slave universe and missing the need for internal controls like those naturally regulated systems have.
Chapter 27 suggests Thanos is the modern version of Thanatos, the god of death. It then analyzes Martin Heidegger’s “Being and Time”.
Chapter 28 asks us what makes Steve Rogers good. What did he do and believe that made him capable of wielding Mjolnir. Chapter 29 studies the transformation of Tony Stark from his introduction as a billionaire playboy to heroic savior.
Chapter 30 is the second climate doomer essay. It argues that we need to follow Socratic ethics to literally be good and save the world from destruction. Chapter 30 is slightly better, since it has Nebula arguing with Socrates. Chapter 31 concludes the set and asks if Hulk had a soul separate from Bruce Banner.
The MCU is funny and thrilling in equal parts. The Avengers Infinity Saga gave us amazing parallel arcs, philosophical debates and logical puzzles that will be debated for decades while the Marvel Avengers movies themselves will be taught in theater class as the gold standard in how to tell stories, develop characters and keep the fans and general public equally thrilled about comic book movies.
“Avengers Infinity Saga and Philosophy: Go for the Head” is a great read for those who want to mine the philosophical and ethical issues behind the busy action scenes barring the few obvious conflicts like Iron Man versus Captain America in “Civil War”.
© 2020 Tamara Wilhite