What if Infinity War's MCU Payoff... Doesn't Quite Pay Off?
Inflated expectations, peer pressure, consensus bias, and half a dozen other social dynamics may add up to even a total failure of a film being seen as "good," and nobody is expecting the Russos to deliver a poorly made film. That being said, the stakes couldn't be higher come Infinity War. Not only for the characters, but for the filmmakers and producers promising that their "plan" has been building to this very showdown one step at a time... when fans know that's not entirely accurate.
We're not referring to the existence of Thanos outside of the films (at least not after he was introduced in The Avengers). We're not even referring to the fact that the Marvel movie timeline is broken and can't be fixed. We're referring to the seemingly unplanned demands of individual films, which fans have argued for some time now paint Thanos as an inconsistent schemer.
Giving Loki, the literal god of tricks and mischief not one, but TWO Infinity Stones pivotal to Thanos's conquest (the same amount he will have when he begins Infinity War) will be hard to ever convincingly explain. The same goes for sending Ronan to fetch the Power Stone in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Theories can be spun to posit that Thanos was waiting for Earth to be weakest, but it's easier to believe Marvel Studios didn't have a clearly plotted, step by step roadmap - or if they did, they didn't worry about the audience asking questions.
Fans will forgive these plot holes or dangling plot threads because... that's what fans do. But what if once the dust settles, Thanos suffers from the same villain problems Marvel has encountered so far? Yes, the filmmakers may claim that Thanos is complicated and relatable, and in a sense, the 'star' of the movie. But the same claims were made in the past only to fall just as short, leaving critics and fans to continue the debate concerning "Marvel's Villain Problem."
An underwhelming villain may only be a dull or forgettable note in a two-hour movie. But unless the thirteenth or fourteenth time is the charm, there is a significant chance that Thanos will also turn out to be more 'comic book villain' than compelling antagonist with a persuasive mission of his own. Honestly, Thanos's plan to murder half of all life in the universe makes it hard to imagine the audience will see things his way - no matter how tragic an origin story Marvel has given him.
What If Thanos Is Just Another Marvel Movie Villain?
Hopefully the writers, filmmakers, and cast will feel obligated to deliver a bigger, better, and more innovative and ambitious product than general audiences have demanded from Marvel until now. Hopefully, Thanos will live up to the hype. But with the MCU being built on the assertion that every individual threat, and every movie MacGuffin pales in comparison to the size and scope of Thanos... it's hard to imagine he possibly CAN live up to those expectations.
What if Thanos comes up short as just another Marvel villain - with better, stronger, more hero-killing powers? What if the questionable management of the Infinity Stones is never addressed, let alone believably explained? Both seem possible if not likely, since neither have cost Marvel with general audiences, critic review scores, or the movie industry press and blogosphere. Of course, that was after Marvel established their own goalposts as the release of Infinity War.
The worst case scenario is that by stringing the threat of Thanos along for six years, and twelve MCU films, audiences will (rightfully) expect him to be worth the wait. By now the full debut of Thanos and the Infinity Stones will feel like a debt owed, or a years-long promise on which Marvel must finally make good. Needless to say, simply 'giving the audience what they want' may not be enough. Especially not for those fans who feel six times as long a wait demands six times the payoff.
Maybe killing a number of beloved Avengers will do the trick, and make Thanos's desire to conquer and remake the universe seem important or unique based purely on bodycount. And maybe Marvel can do the impossible and convince an audience to see things from the villain's point of view, and that the death of trillions is actually the right thing to do. But assuming Thanos actually wins this battle and remains to be defeated - as most assume he will be - then the studio may have guaranteed a less-than-satisfying payoff.
Those may have been swallowed in the past, excusable with the belief that it would all be worth it in the end. And that is the real problem fans may need to prepare for: Marvel must make Infinity War a greater payoff than any film has had to be. If they don't, the amount of moviegoers willing to buy into another decade-long plan may also be cut in half when Thanos snaps his fingers.
For the time being, better keep them crossed.
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