This weekend, everyone is going to see Avengers: Endgame. That’s appropriate. It’s a great film, tons of fun, and an excellent capstone to the past eleven years of Marvel films. You should definitely go see it. In fact, go see it right now.
Welcome back. Did you enjoy the popcorn? Ok, now that we’re all on the same page, I’d like to address one big issue with the end of Endgame and the terrifying implications it leaves behind.
Endgame picks up after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, when resident cosmic supervillain Thanos has used the power of the Infinity Stones to kill off half of all life in the universe by rather dramatically rendering it to ash. Five years later, the survivors are still trying to come to terms with what happened (which is not surprising: on Earth alone, we’re looking at the sudden death and disappearance of almost four billion people). Over the course of the film, our surviving heroes hit on the idea of going back in time, acquiring the Infinity Stones from the past, bringing them into the present, making their own Infinity Gauntlet, and using it to reverse the “snap” that wiped out half of all life in the universe. Everyone who was ashed comes back to life, our heroes take down Thanos, the Infinity Stones are returned to their rightful place and time, and our beloved Captain America stays in the past to reunite with his lost love Peggy Carter. All’s well that ends well, right?
(Well, except for the death of You Know Who. That one gets your right in the heartstrings.)
Alas not. If you think about it, undoing the snap doesn’t actually fix the problem. In fact, it might even make it worse. When the snap occurred, half of the population in the universe vanished, but they wouldn’t have been the only people to die. In Infinity War we saw cars crashing and planes falling out of the sky. The drivers and pilots presumably ashed, but we can assume at least some of the passengers were still there, along with people in buildings or on the street who subsequently died in the resulting crashes. That’s a lot of collateral damage. Those people just died, so they aren’t coming back at the conclusion of Endgame. What about patients undergoing surgery when their doctor ashes? And while I hate to bring up suicide, that is a very real probability given sudden death on that large a scale.
If the snap removes animal life too (why wouldn’t it?) is it evenly distributed, or will we see the inevitable mass-famine as some areas suffer a loss of food too great for their surviving populations? Are half of all bees on the planet gone? If so, we’re kind of screwed and facing a catastrophic collapse in the food chain. Not to mention a similar food chain collapse from the loss of insects that feed small animals. Even in places with enough food, the loss of half the global population would cause massive infrastructure breakdown, again leading to both famine and a sudden scarcity of other vital supplies. There is no reason to believe that the victims of the ensuing tragedies would magically be returned to life at the same time as the snap’s victims.
What about the 3-4 billion who were ashed and are now suddenly back? Five years have passed without them. Loved ones have grieved and (in at least some cases) moved on. They have certainly been changed by what would be the greatest mass tragedy in human history. We see Hawkeye turning from loving father to hardened vigilante after losing his family. Once they come back, they are going to find him a dramatically different man than the one they knew, no matter how hard he tries to return to his old self. That’s simply a part of being human: we are shaped by our experiences. But for five years the victims of the snap aren’t a part of those experiences. Not to mention more impersonal problems. Many of the snap’s victims (Snappers?) would find their jobs gone, the homes foreclosed on, and dramatic changes in society and technology that they completely missed. Can you imagine being five years out of date on social media? “What’s MeSpot and why do I have to have one to fill out a job application?”
What about governments suddenly stricken both by a collapse of their bureaucracy and by a loss of their leadership. Snap elections? (Pun intended) What about in a monarchy like Wakanda? T’Challa and Shuri were both ashed, so the king and his natural successor are gone. The surviving leadership in Wakanda would have to determine a new king or queen, and that ruler would be responsible for rebuilding Wakanda after Thanos’s invasion. Then what happens when T’Challa suddenly returns? Would the ruler who rebuilt Wakanda after its worst tragedy be expected to abdicate in favor of the old king?
And while we’re taking about half of all living things vanishing and reappearing, let’s not forget that this occurred throughout the universe, not just on earth. Sure, there are plenty of complex space-faring civilizations in the MCU that probably knew about Thanos and learned about the snap, giving some limited measure of closure to the loss of half their population. But what about other planets, the ones with sentient life that never knew about Thanos or about the snap. To them, this was truly apocalyptic. One day, without warning, half of all life simply turned to dust. And then, five Earth years later (who knows what that is in local time, or in terms of local lifespan) all of those people suddenly reappear with no knowledge of what happened. There is no possible rational or scientific explanation for it. Surely it was punishment from the gods for some societal failing. And then, after implementing some form of governmental, legal, or social change, it was reversed. Who knows what a grief-stricken population on an isolated planet might imagine.
“Well, we banished everyone with green eyes from public life and started the blood sacrifices, and after a single solar cycle, the gods saw pity on us and returned those we had lost. Must be doing something right!”
Even with the snap’s victims back, the horrors of Infinity War haven’t been reversed, they have simply changed.
I’d like to close on one final thought. More of an idea. A story, if you will. Let us not forget that Thanos had what was essentially a cult following, wonderfully demonstrated in Infinity War by his herald Ebony Maw. Are we to believe that all of Thanos’s followers were defeated along with him? What if some remained, still holding onto the fanatical belief that half of all life must be wiped out for the survival of the universe? Forced underground, such a cult would certainly spread throughout the galaxy, worming its way into any planetary population it could find, recruiting converts until it was finally strong enough to carry out Thanos’s will all over again….
I’m not saying that such a cult will appear in future Marvel movies, or that it will be part of the plot in an upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain Marvel film. I’m just saying that it would be really fitting if it did.