Every film in the MCU has been leading to Avengers: Infinity War... so what happens if the movie is bad? That suggestion may sound like heresy to some, but let's face it: no director ever set out to make a failure of a film, but even the best have slipped. And with so much riding on the success of Infinity War (and Avengers 4 after it), a bad blockbuster - or honestly, even a disappointing one - could do more damage than some might think.
The coming threat of Thanos and his Infinity Stones has made the MCU feel greater than the sum of its parts until now. And Marvel Studios is actively touting that Infinity War is a culmination of every MCU storyline AND the launching of the studio's next decade of films.
Should Infinity War fail to stick the landing - fail to rise above the underwhelming villains, thin characters, or mandatory plot devices fans accepted in the past for the sake of THIS story - then bad reviews are just the start of Marvel's problems. Because they'll also be asking fans to take the story bait for another decade of films - all within the same movie.
But hey, it's not ALL bad news...
Avengers: Infinity War Being Bad Risks "Phantom Menacing"
The storm of hatred and emotional reactions to even suggesting Marvel make a poor or disappointing film arguably proves our point, but Marvel does have an edge. For everyone willing to be intellectually honest about it, the idea of current audiences - fans, critics, or general moviegoers - judging a Marvel film with any sense of impartiality or objectivity is foolhardy at best, and willfully ignorant at worst.
That isn't to devalue the work done by writers, directors, producers, or casts that exceeded expectations in the earlier Marvel films. The creators now occupying those roles, however, regularly repeat that the pressure has never been greater. Due to the success of the MCU under producer Kevin Feige people have come to expect Marvel movies to deliver... which works both ways, from a psychological perspective.
It's a proven tendency simple enough for even non-psych majors to grasp and personally relate to: if you expect something to be good, you're far more likely to view it that way. By the same rule, things you expect to be bad... rarely surprise you (look into "confirmation bias" and "belief perseverance" for more details).
There are exceptions, of course, but if you expect great, even 'better than most' or 'just fine' probably won't feel like a disappointment, (when averaged out over the entire audience). The best example is Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, a prequel the entire world was waiting to eagerly devour when it first released in 1998. Anecdotally, most movie fans have heard of (or personally remember) the positive reception from fans... and the slow realization that Episode I was destined to be the worst Star Wars story, once the excitement and generated buzz wore off.
The numbers back that response up, with few scathing reviews for Phantom Menace at the time, and a CinemaScore of "A-" from test audiences. The CinemaScore system itself drives home our point, since audience scores anywhere below "A" are viewed as cause for serious concern, as a vast majority of moviegoers leave the theater satisfied (wanting to have spent their money well, and have enjoyed what they expected to).
But in the case of Infinity War, those expectations have been inflated to heights rarely seen.
For Infinity War, "Good Enough" Isn't Going To Be Good Enough
Take one look at today's media landscape, with Marvel films openly called the greatest superhero blockbusters in history, and each new release often praised as better than any before, and the odds are tipped in the studio's favor. It's a testament to the studio's marketing and brand power, and thanks to their innovation in shared-universe-building, the spectacle and adventure of a Marvel movie is measured on a scale that they themselves defined (demonstrated by DC and Fox movies being compared, often negatively, to Marvel's style).
At their most critical, both fans and critics responding positively to Marvel's brand have noted a clear "Marvel formula": hitting the expected notes while perhaps under-delivering on risks, or a consistent, discernible "message" beneath the thrills. Which means one can say with all likelihood that Avengers: Infinity War will be received at least as positively as most other Marvel films.
Infinity War, however, is trying to accomplish more than "most other Marvel films." It's trying to make almost twenty films lead to one event, guided by less-than-invisible hands along the way. The informal tagline promising that the entire MCU has "all been leading to this" is true from the studio's view.
But the odds of this colossal culmination failing to deliver have become greater than the studio may like.
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