May 19th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The real cost of institutionalised child care

EDITORIAL AGL dismisses $250m bid for Liddell Power Station

GENDER POLITICS As Queensland transgenders birth certificates, 300 women quit UK Labour Party

CANBERRA OBSERVED No pressure on Malcolm to call election this year

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Can Greens regenerate, or are they mulch?

POLITICS Conservative shift in the Victorian Liberal Party

OPINION No fairytale ending from the Land of a Fair Go

LAW REFORM The Nordic Model: proven to curtail sex trafficking

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Committal hearing dismisses main serious charges against Cardinal Pell

GENDER AND ETHICS Transgenderism and the dissolution of identity

PHILOSOPHY The supercharged cheetah

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS One Belt, One Road: China's new empire


MUSIC Business as usual: The sweet tinkle of falling coins

CINEMA Avengers: Last Flag Flying and Infinity War

BOOK REVIEW A hungry beast that ate up 4 million lives

BOOK REVIEW Skewed analysis of republic in crisis



CANBERRA OBSERVED Bill Shorten's Budget-Reply speech: for what ails you

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Behind the U.S.-North Korea rapprochement

Books promotion page

Avengers: Last Flag Flying and Infinity War

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, May 19, 2018

Good movies come in all shapes and sizes. They can be massive CGI blockbusters or intimate dramas, fantastical epics or realistic rambles. But fundamentally they are good stories well told.

Recently released in cinemas are two very different films that nonetheless share a similar heart. One is the culmination of a decade’s worth of big movies and many decades of source material, while the other is a small movie that still calls back to the past. One is about the fate of the universe itself, while the other is about the fate of the universe that is the human soul.

Both are concerned with sacrifice and the value of the individual and both are concerned with putting a face to that individual and affirming their worth in the face of ideology. The blockbuster is Avengers: Infinity War and the intimate drama is Last Flag Flying.

Last Flag Flying is the story of a man who has to bury his son. It’s 2003 and the American forces are about to capture Saddam Hussein. Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell), a Navy man who served in Vietnam, has sought out two of his Marine Corp buddies – Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston), a rough, trash-talking Marine Sergeant who now owns a bar; and Richard “The Mauler” Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), who is now a Baptist preacher and a reformed man. (Check out the trailer above)

Doc’s son, Larry Jr, joined the Marines and was killed in Iraq. Doc’s hoping his old friends will help him bury his son, but not in Arlington, where the Marines want to bury him, but at home next to his mother. After fighting with the Colonel in charge (Yul Vazquez), the veterans get permission to take him back, accompanied by Larry Jr’s best friend Charlie Washington (J. Quinton Johnson). Thus begins the cross-country journey on which the men tackle the demons in their past, while trying to deal with a world that is both the same and yet different from their younger days.

Last Flag Flying

Running through the film is a theme of patriotism and service, combined with a skepticism and cynicism about the civilian leadership. It is a film that pays tribute to the armed forces, while also expressing the bewilderment of many about the conflicts in which they served. As such, it is not a generic anti-war film, but one that is openly and proudly pro-military.

The vets, now cynical about the necessity of the Vietnam War, would nonetheless serve in it again, for the notion of service is at the core of their being; and this sentiment is echoed by the young soldier at their side and the deceased one in the casket. Their country and what it stands for mean something to them, something they are willing to die for.

Avengers: Infinity War is likewise about sacrifice, sacrifice for both noble and twisted ends. It is the culmination of 10 years’ worth of stories, 18 movies and 11 television series. Thanos (Josh Brolin), the “Big Bad”, who has lurked in the background and orchestrated many of the pivotal events of the series, now comes to the foreground.

Unlike in the comics, where he is a murderous sociopath obsessed with impressing “Mistress Death”, here he is an icy logician with an extreme ideology. He believes that the universe is overpopulated and its finite resources stretched. To bring balance, he seeks to wipe out half of all life, dispassionately and randomly, thus giving those who remain a better life. To achieve this end he is seeking the Infinity Stones, ancient gems with powers that will allow him to achieve his goal without undue suffering. (Watch the trailer above)

From the film’s chilling opening to its tragic final frames, Thanos dominates. The Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy seek to stop him, willing to sacrifice themselves, but unwilling to trade innocent lives for this purpose.

Avengers: Infinity War

Melding together the sardonic humour of the Guardians movies with the pathos of the Captain America ones, the result is a big, big movie. It is the penultimate expression of a modern mythology, one that echoes the classical mythologies of the past. Thanos is clearly the villain, but he is a villain whose motives can be understood, and eerily echo those of many “respectable” people.

These two films seem radically different, but at their heart is a shared humanity. The men of Last Flag are heroes by virtue of their service, and their willingness to serve. The same goes for the heroes of Infinity War. Sure, they may have all sorts of powers, but their heroism doesn’t come from those powers. It comes from the love they have for each other, and for life itself.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).

All you need to know about
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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm