When my family and I first started into our Marvel journey, it was with Captain America. My husband and I were very careful about the things we let our kids watch and we were pretty faithful to watch a movie before introducing them to the kids. With the first Avenger, we fell in love with the story and the character, but we also felt that we were finally seeing a hero we could get behind. Cap stood for everything we did and we were comfortable introducing him to our kids. We tracked down Thor and ended up feeling the same. We didn’t feel Iron Man worked for them so the kids missed those movies, but we began to tentatively explore this universe and bring our family along. As my kids have grown and these movies have come out, we’ve become more and more comfortable with them. And we fell more and more into the fandom with them. By the time Guardians of the Galaxy came out, we were full blown Marvel geeks and honestly, I’d given Marvel a free pass into our family. The movies stayed faithfully clean, the violence remained sanitized and the bad guys were all pretty standard bad guys with bad reasons for wanting to do whatever they were doing. Money, power, etc.
This movie broke the mold that Marvel had carefully built in their previous films. Unfortunately because of that (and as a parent) the free pass I had given Marvel needs to be revoked. At least for now.
I have to inject here that my kids are teenagers. They are 18, 16 and 13, so we knew what we were getting into with this film. We’d talked at length about all of the possibilities and we were ready to go on this one. My sixteen year old daughter in particular had discussed possibilities and theories AD NAUSEUM. We had discussed who would die. Who would live. What if…? It was all in good fun. So we were ready for this movie.
Or so we thought.
When I left the theater last night, it reminded me of the emotional impact of 9-11. I’m not joking. There were people in the hallways crying. One person was on the floor rocking back and forth. There was someone sitting on the pavement last night sobbing. A lot of people were just walking out stunned – unable to speak. And yeah there was a guy in the parking lot screaming spoilers – but not because he seemed delighted in it. He was processing. Yes, it was that heavy.
When I got home, I spent hours answering questions for my other mom friends about whether it was too much for their kids. One of my friends kept comparing it to other movies. Is it like Batman? Deadpool? Is it more like Suicide Squad? Justice League? I had a really hard time answering that because there has honestly never been a movie like this before. Ever. I don’t say that lightly either. Avengers: Infinity War is the culmination of ten years of storytelling and nearly twenty movies. During that entire time, they’ve been building to this climax. Everyone knew it going into the theater last night. You could feel the weight before you went. My kids were wondering who would live and who would die – just like every other movie fan in the world. But as my daughter pointed out, her entire childhood and teenage years have surrounded these characters. They’re invested in the personal and the emotional for each of them. They’re more like friends. We know all about them. Their fears, their scars, their love, their families…Marvel has spent years cultivating and building and growing affection for these characters. So, yes. There’s more impact. People die. We knew that.
As to the violence, they keep the blood off the screen. It’s not gory. This isn’t Tarantino or even Passion of the Christ. They maintain the ‘sanitized’ death of people. However that doesn’t mean that it’s a safe movie. In previous films, we knew people died in New York and Sokovia but for the most part, we didn’t see them. We watched people fall and we knew they were dead but it was pretty…well, Disney-fied. This movie did not do that. It’s almost like every single death that could have happened in previous movies was saved up and they put it on the screen for you here. In big, vibrant color. The opening shots of the movie happen at foot level with a character walking in, over, and around dead bodies. And they don’t shy away from you seeing the horror involved in those deaths.
If I had to choose a movie to equate it to, it would probably be Iron Man 3. In that movie, Tony Stark is suffering from vast emotional trauma, physical pain, torture, violence and the loss of everything he’s ever loved. There is nowhere safe. Nothing safe. It’s everywhere. Avengers: Infinity War is a lot like Iron Man 3 for all of those elements. The emotional impact, the violence and the intensity of battle are all on a similar level. The difference here is that it’s not just Iron Man. Every single character that we’ve known and loved for a decade is brought through that turmoil. There is not one scene in this movie that doesn’t resonate with that same level of horror and emotional impact. I left the theater feeling the same way I did after seeing Saving Private Ryan. No chance to breathe. No chance to let down or be safe. And no chance to process. At all.
And then there’s the moral impact of all the messages in this film. Death is a huge message in this movie. But not like you would imagine. It’s not because death is all over the screen. (Even though it is.) It’s all the messages that the deaths imply. Two overarching themes throughout this film are that “If you truly love me you will kill me” and “We need to die for the greater good.”
If you really, truly love me, you will kill me.
Now this might sound like it’s about sacrifice. It’s not. Sacrifice is easy. Steve lays his life on the line repeatedly in the Avengers films. So does Tony as Iron Man. This is what superheroes do. So it isn’t surprising that we have people ready to fight and die for others. That happens in every Marvel movie. This is different. It holds a greater depth. More than one character is called upon to kill their loved ones. This rolls throughout the movie with families killing each other, spouses/partners being called upon to kill each other, children killing parents and yes, parents killing children. This isn’t something that happens in a one-off scene. It runs throughout as an ongoing theme.
We need to die for the greater good.
At first glance, it appears that this would run concurrent with the other theme, but it’s really not. It stands out separately. This is the argument for every single evil thing that happens in the movie. Human beings (aliens, creatures, etc) are destroying the planets and galaxy with their very presence and they need to die. It sounds odd when you read it here, but I’ll tell you, by the time the movie was over, there were people leaving the theater that agreed with Thanos on why he wanted to do this. The extermination of populations will bring peace.
That brings me to Thanos. He is not your typical Marvel villain. He’ll calmly sit with characters and explain what he’s doing and why. He answers questions. He feels it’s his burden to bear – not that he’s doing this for power or glory or might. It’s a terrible burden for him. This brings up a lot of back and forth for the emotions and morals when seen through a kid’s eyes.
It’s not clear black and white throughout and some kids could be left questioning… well, everything after this movie. Parents need to be ready for the impact. It isn’t because their favorite characters die. It’s because every single death is played for the highest, deepest, most resonant level of maximum emotional impact. Every scene is taut with the higher cost and what this could mean. They’ve built these characters, relationships and situations for years. Now they’re not afraid to use every emotion they’ve cultivated in you.
Am I saying kids shouldn’t go? Not at all. Some kids might handle this better than others. But what I am suggesting is that if, like me, Marvel had a free pass, it might need to be revoked. Or at least pulled back. Go into this one knowing what you’re going to face. My kids went to previous movies that were labeled PG-13 when they were much younger because Marvel sanitized everything and kept it pretty safe. This movie is not pretty safe. Our theater last night was filled with kids. Lots of them. And most of their ages were around 5-8 years old. They left the movie just reeling and I overheard one parent saying they wish they’d known it would be this powerful.
Now let me end with this. As an adult and someone who works in film, I loved this movie. It’s amazingly well done. It creates a new definition of the word epic. It’s powerful and stunning and it deserves to be seen if you’re even smidgen of a movie fan. It’s just that there were a lot of kids in the theater last night. Little ones. Five or six years old. This movie isn’t for them. Parents need to be aware. Go see it first. Then take your kids if you feel it’s a good fit.
However you approach it, I’d recommend being ready to talk through it with your kids.