Marvel's Logical Next Step After 'Avengers: Endgame'

With the launch of Disney+, what if mega-events like 'Infinity War' took a page from the comics and included tie-in storylines on other platforms?

It’s been months since we first learned that Avengers: Endgame might be three hours long, and after months in the editing bay, it’s… still that long. What if there was another way for Marvel to deal with all that footage?

“We’re still at the three-hour mark,” Co-director Joe Russo told Collider, adding that Marvel may be cool with a movie that length if the story demands it. “I think the studio is down with what the best story is,” he said. “Right now, we think the movie is playing well and we’ve had great responses from our test audiences and we’re feeling very good about where it is. We’re still doing work to it.”

The argument in favor of the length, as stated by Russo on more than occasion, is that both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame mark the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to that point, and as such require a lot of time to tie up loose ends, bring narratives to a close, and give characters the send-off they deserve.

This is, to some extent, true — even merely tying off the threads left after Infinity War is likely to take up a long of the runtime, given that half the universe needs to be brought back to life, the Avengers need to shake off their collective loss-funk and then there’s the whole Gamora thing to resolve. Bearing all that in mind, how much time in Endgame can really be spent saying farewell to characters like Captain America or Iron Man — and will it be enough for fans who complained that Infinity War was too light on their favorite heroes?

The obvious solution would be to make Endgame longer, but that seems unfeasible; three hours already breaks records for a superhero movie runtime. But what if there was more than one follow-up to Infinity War? Indeed, what if there were many?

Much was made, when Infinity War was released, about the ways in which the movie followed the narrative structure of a comic book crossover event, with characters from multiple different movies colliding in ways that went far beyond the previous cameos or offhanded mentions, all bound together by a common foe and a storyline that, while multi-faceted, is nonetheless more focused into what is essentially a single plot with a single purpose. While that is true, there was one thing that Infinity War and Endgame avoided in using the comic book crossover model: The tie-in issues.

The logic goes like this: If the comic book series Big Superhero Slugfest is a massive success, then expanding the storyline into an issue of the less successful Hero X will raise sales of that series; similarly, if Big Superhero Slugfest is a hit, then creating all-new series to expand the storyline will create all-new hits, albeit of a slightly lesser degree. It’s been part of the comic book marketplace for three decades, and has become an increasingly important part of the publishing plan for Marvel’s comic book arm over the last decade or so; it’s why something like the upcoming War of the Realms series has already given birth to spin-offs like the War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery series.

Imagine, then, separate movies focusing on Captain America, Iron Man, Thanos or whichever character the fans demanded more of, released between Infinity War and Endgame. Movies that existed for the dual purpose of fulfilling fan demand for more of a particular character, and also pushing the larger narrative forward in such a way that allowed Endgame’s runtime to shrink, even slightly.

On one hand, it feels like an overextension of the Infinity War/Endgame storyline, which already feels dangerously close to being overextended at two movies. Would audiences really be willing to pay money for what are, essentially, Parts 1.5, 1.6 and 1.7 of a larger storyline, knowing that there would be no resolution at hand? At the same time, it also feels like the obvious next evolutionary step of the Marvel Studios formula, which has to date found success in translating the Marvel comic book formula into movies, especially considering the obvious temptation of wanting to expand a successful brand like Infinity War further.

There are baby steps in investigating such an idea; the upcoming streaming service Disney+ would be a perfect proving ground for a mini-series set between movies that further unpacks ideas and explores backstory — or side-story — from those movies, after all, especially given that it’s already known that Marvel Studios intends to have closer connection between the Disney+ shows and the movies than the Netflix, Hulu or ABC shows. If Marvel decides to make the massive hero team-up of Infinity War/Endgame into a recurring feature of the MCU, don’t be too surprised if such a Disney+ project gets announced at the same time. And, if that works out, who knows? Perhaps Marvel’s next big movie storyline will be far more than just two movies long, and span more than a year’s worth of releases.

It is, after all, the one way in which Marvel Studios can manage to go bigger than killing off half the universe in its first major crossover — and a way to avoid people having to sit for more than three hours in their theater seats at a time, for fear of missing important movies when they run to the restroom.