Spoilers for the latest Avengers movie. You have been warned.
The best thing about the last Avengers movie was that the villain won. And he won not by dint of the heroes’ back luck, but because he deserved to win.
Thanos: Crafted a plan for many years, a plan which he executed meticulously, without letting himself be carried away by the highs and lows. In his most challenging moment, he sacrificed the only thing he loved for the plan.
The Avengers: They spent most of their time and energy in internal warfare, notwithstanding the shadow of Thanos looming over them since the first movie. When they finally realize that they are doomed if they don’t make peace with one another, they take up blind idealism as their guiding star.
By sacrificing a single one of their members – a sacrifice that this member was willing to make – the Avengers could have thwarted Thanos’s plans beyond any possibility of recovery.
And why not? Human history is littered with heroic sacrifices, stories, true or imagined, of people who gave their lives so that many others could live. We have even built religions around this theme, so exalted that it is by our species.
But no – to this millenarian value, the movie superimposes individualist American heroism: “No Man Left Behind.” Either we all survive, or none survives. The brother who is by my side is more important than half of the universe’s population.
The movie is a battle of values: of “cold” values like rationalism, stoicism and persistence, versus fiery idealism and fraternity. The result is clear: the Avengers lost their friend anyway, and Thanos annihilated half the conscious beings of the universe. An absolute defeat for the superheroes.
Idealism and fraternity are phenomenal values, and I greatly exalt them. But they are not strong enough to use by themselves when waging a battle.
Sacrifice wins battles – the other values can only support it and give it meaning.