12:00pm PT by Christian Long
Can 'Avengers 4' Live Up to Its Promise?
[This post contains spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War.]
Over the weekend, moviegoers the world over flocked to theaters in droves to Avengers: Infinity War, the film that was billed as the Marvel Cinematic Universe's definitive turning point. It's an epic showdown between Marvel's superheroes and Thanos (Josh Brolin), a power-mad tyrant bent on destroying half of all sentient beings to bring balance to the universe.
As expected, it was a grand, ambitious spectacle filled with jaw-dropping events all the way through the film’s final moments. What wasn’t as expected for many, however, was the fact that the film is essentially the first half of a two-part story, meaning viewers won't know the full extent of the fallout until its forthcoming (and as-yet untitled) sequel hits theaters next year.
Splitting up the finale of a major film franchise certainly isn’t a new idea. Warner Bros. was so hesitant to say goodbye to its Harry Potter series that it released the final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in two parts in 2010 and 2011. The Twilight films then followed suit by releasing Breaking Dawn — Part 1 in 2011 and Part 2 in 2012. Typically speaking, these two-part event films aren't held in high regard by the public; they're often seen as a ploy by studios to milk their franchise for all they can by padding their final installments with unnecessary filler — namely by turning its Part 1 into a prelude. (Some fare better than others. The Deathly Hallows two-parter received strong reviews; the two-part Twilight finale did not.)
However, given the scope of the story and the sheer number of characters and narrative threads, this could prove to be an example where the two-part installment was warranted. And, while neither Infinity War nor its 2019 sequel mark the end of the MCU by any stretch of the imagination, it has been long-touted as the culmination of everything they've worked for since Iron Man blasted his way out of a cave back in 2008.
When the anticipation for Infinity War was starting to build, so too were questions about its sequel. When Marvel Studios announced Phase 3 back in October 2014, the fourth Avengers movie was billed as Avengers: Infinity War — Part II, before being tentatively renamed as "Untitled Avengers 4" in July 2016. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo have said the change came because the films were going to be "different and distinctive," while Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige confirmed in an interview the name itself would be a spoiler. More recently, Feige said that speculation about the title had gotten “out of hand,” and it was being held back so that the focus could remain on Infinity War.
Either way, the messaging seemed to dispute the idea that Marvel was following in the footsteps of Deathly Hallows, splitting its biggest film into two parts for maximum profitability. After all, Marvel took a tremendous risk creating the framework of a shared cinematic universe, and after a decade of consistent box-office hits, it didn't seem like it'd need to go that route. Especially considering that audiences have shown time and again that they're willing to line up for a new Marvel movie regardless.
With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why some moviegoers may be a bit disappointed when walking out of Infinity War. Everything we'd seen in the trailers was promising that this would be the big payoff to what the MCU had been hinting at since the mid-credits scene in the first Avengers: a knockdown, drag-out fight between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the Mad Titan — which not everyone would survive. What we got was a rousing final battle that ended with many of the franchise’s most popular (and bankable) characters crumbling into dust. The heroes fail, Thanos achieves his goal and half of all life ceases to exist.
Given that Marvel has crafted such a detailed cinematic universe, it may seem a little surprising that it would not only take the two-part finale route but go out of its way to make it seem like that wasn’t the plan all along. Granted, with the MCU’s meticulous world-building, the scope of Infinity War is so massive that it'd be all but impossible to cram into a single movie, which makes Marvel's decision to split it in two seem less like a blatant cash-grab and more like Feige and company taking the time they need to tell the story the way they want to.
What has resulted so far is a record-breaking film that not only lacks a happy ending, cinema’s most ambitious crossover event ends on a cliffhanger. Which likely means that the upcoming fourth Avengers film will be the one to complete this particular story, as well as parse out which of the devastating events in Infinity War will become part of the MCU canon when it’s all over. While it remains to be seen exactly how these two movies will hold up when they're seen as a single, coalescing story, it seems that Marvel may simply be giving the story enough time to be told properly.
We won’t know for sure until Avengers 4 hits theaters in May 2019.