Avengers: Infinity War will be the cinematic reverse of Where's Waldo; rather than searching for a familiar face in a crowd, audiences will be keeping their eyes peeled for any Marvel superheroes who don't make an appearance, with the next MCU team-up including up to 67 different characters. Even to the most ardent of fans, it's a lot to fit in.
The superhero genre is known for excess, of course, with hundreds of fictional worlds not only suspending belief, but allowing it to float in zero gravity. The rise and rise of comic book adaptations — in particular the multi-billion dollar #MCU — has celebrated the notion that more is more. But despite the MCU's financial and critical success to date, the number of Infinity War characters may be a bridge too far, and could have a negative impact on the MCU.
By their non-conclusive nature, superhero films have shaken the dynamic of cinema — each installment, whether in the MCU, the DCEU or X-Verse — is never fully standalone, instead setting up what's to come in the wider universe. This strategy leaves the overarching story in a consistent state of flux, never truly providing an end.
The byproduct is that in order to progress, studios have to throw more money at each product and introduce more characters, add more special effects, up-the-ante. They have to give audiences their cake, let them eat it, and tell them there's more to come. To date, this has been a successful formula in the MCU; The Avengers, Age of Ultron and Civil War were all financially fruitful and well-received. So why question #InfinityWar?
Is 'Infinity War' A Step Too Far For The MCU?
Like a pressure cooker reaching the point of overspill, there's only so much bigger superhero movies can go until they collapse in on themselves. In a recent interview with KCRW, Logan director James Mangold had a skeptical view on the trend in comic book adaptations. He said:
"Tentpole movies in general, they are not movies, generally. They are bloated exercises in two-hour trailers for another movie they are going to sell you in two years. There are so many characters that each character gets an arc of about six and a half minutes at best, and I'm not exaggerating."
And it's hard to argue. With the introduction of the overarching villain Thanos, Infinity War will include all the #CivilWar characters, plus the likes of Doctor Strange, the Guardians of the Galaxy (as well as the possibility of The Collector, Yondu and the Nova Corps), Thor, Odin and, maybe even Captain Marvel. Screen time for each will be severely restricted, making the film more of a nod toward other #Marvel properties than a self-contained package.
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In his article for Rolling Stone, in agreeing with Mangold and referring to superhero movies as "advertisements" for further instalments, David Ehrlich argues that:
"Perpetually sustaining the inertia of hype is a better financial strategy than delivering a truly satisfying experience."
This "inertia of hype" is evident most superhero movies. The trouble is, it removes any opportunity for genuine peril. Audiences know characters in Infinity War have other upcoming projects thanks to A-list, multi-film deals, so the larger-than-life threat of Thanos will only have a limited impact on the wellbeing of those involved.
Balancing Fan Service With The Complete Package
There is a time and a place for the all-inclusive form of fan service. However, with the budgets involved, and their tight grip on Hollywood, the studios and creative teams behind superhero movies have a responsibility to create films that are also self-contained and fulfilling in their own right — take Logan as a shining example.
In pushing for more, Infinity War could become the first MCU movie that becomes a victim of the franchise's own success. Although the Russo brothers are more than capable of delivering, the quest to go bigger and better will have to end somewhere, and the bigger the bubble, the easier it is to burst.
Will the number of Infinity War characters have a negative affect?