Eighteen. Although there have been many more movies featuring Marvel comic book characters or that have been made by Marvel Studios, there have been 18 ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ movies since the studio began Phase One of its ambitious, interconnected franchise plans in 2008 with Iron Man. That’s more than an entire season of the average US TV show these days.
Getting to the end of your first season without getting cancelled is impressive enough. Getting this far with a relatively consistent continuity, despite numerous writers and directors, is even more impressive. But getting this far with at least some really good movies coming out of the endeavour is nothing short of amazing.
The key to the MCU’s longevity is that while some characters hop around and appear in other movies, each movie has had a different roster of superheroes to play with, ensuring a different tone and freshness to each one (hopefully). In addition, each main character’s franchise has stopped after three movies: it’s not Iron Man 18 we’re watching in cinemas, since we stopped at Iron Man 3, and Thor, Captain America and co have similarly bowed out after three movies or fewer in favour of new arrivals such as Black Panther and Doctor Strange.
However, one important feature of the MCUs is its periodic reunions of characters from all the franchises, both past and present, for something typically Earth-shattering that requires a combination of superheroes to defeat. These movies cement in the audience’s mind the idea that the MCU is truly interconnected and that missing out on one film is possible, but it’ll be like missing an episode of a serial TV show if they do. Iron Man might not have got a fourth movie, but he’s shown up in The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: Civil War, and Spider-man: Homecoming, too. And that’s before we even get to the ensemble The Avengers movies, in which everyone turns up, whether they’re dead or not.
Which is where we get to the problem. Movies aren’t TV series. Sure, you can stretch them to three hours or so if you want, but if you’ve got literally dozens of regular characters in separate movies, when you bring them all together in one movie, how do you give them enough screen time to properly service them as characters while still having a decent plot?
The Avengers: Infinity Characters
When Avengers: Age of Ultron came out, I suggested that writer-director Joss Whedon had done just about as well as anyone could be expected, given how many characters he had to squeeze into his script. In retrospect, my review was probably a bit more generous than the movie deserved, since it hasn’t held up so well on repeated viewings chez TMINE. But it’s still not bad.
One area I was also wrong about was in suggesting that Whedon was about the only person who could have pulled it off. Whedon was, of course, the king of Marvel’s Phase One, but since then, some unexpected new royalty has hit town: the Russo Brothers. Improbably picked to direct Captain America: Winter Soldier following their work on the paintball episode of Community, they immediately hit the ball out of the park with what to my mind is the best movie of the entire MCU – and a damn fine spy/action movie in its own right. No small surprise then that they got its sequel, Captain America: Civil War, to direct as well. That movie can also be considered The Avengers 2.5 in its own way, given how many MCU characters are in it, and while it wasn’t as good as Winter Soldier, it was still a really good movie.
Hopes were therefore high for their Avengers: Infinity War, the first of two movies designed to polish off the first three phases of the MCU – the season finale, if you will. By contrast, the once box-office transforming The Avengers and The Avengers 2‘s character rosters feel more like a small piece of local theatre, given there are probably twice to three times as many characters for them to juggle, both old and new. Infinity War also had to round off the massive storyline that’s been building since as far back as Thor.
No pressure, then.
Fortunately, they’ve certainly risen to meet the challenge, managing to out-Whedon Whedon himself.
The story so far…
For those of you who haven’t been following the linking storyline – and it does get explained in Infinity War, you’ll be glad to hear – there are six great big McGuffins known as Infinity Stones that have been popping up all over the MCU in the likes of The Avengers, Thor: Dark World, Thor, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Each of these has a different mega-power and the Big Bad of The Avengers, Thanos, wants to collect them as he’s basically an intergalactic Thomas Malthus – believing that life outstrips resources, it’s his mission to wipe out half of all life in the universe so that the survivors never have to worry about starvation, overcrowding et al ever again. If he gets all six stones, he can kill everyone with a single wave of his specially made Infinity Gauntlet (guess what that’s for).
Naturally, Earth’s mightiest heroes – as well as Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy – aren’t really inclined to let him. But even combined, can they really take on a Titan who can beat the Hulk in a fist fight, crush a god’s neck with his bare hands and hurl a moon at someone he doesn’t really like? And give that Infinity War is the first of two movies that answer that question, who’s still going to be left standing at the end of this one?
You may be surprised. Both non-spoilery and spoilery reviews after this trailer and then the jump.