Marvel is known for their tight-fisted approach to marketing, but Avengers: Infinity War - Part 1 may be the greatest trick yet. Selling a movie is as important as the making - what's the point of having something great if nobody will watch it? - and over the past ten years, Marvel Studios has become king of the game. The shared universe idea intrinsically builds investment in the other connected films, but through fine-tuned secrecy and long-lead releases, they've made each release an event in itself. But that's nothing on what they pulled over the course of four years with Infinity War, actually correcting a big mistake.
As the world now knows, Avengers: Infinity War ends on a startling cliffhanger where villain Thanos, despite the best efforts of the heroes, wins, collecting all six Infinity Stones and snapping his fingers to wipe out half of all life in the universe; a bunch of favorite Avengers vanish into clouds of dust and the Mad Titan sits on his porch smiling. It's a startling finale, not just because the likes of Spider-Man and Black Panther are now dead, but because it goes against all conventional wisdom. The cliffhanger came out of the blue, greatly shifting the perception of next year's Avengers 4 in a single click.
Of course, this was actually obvious if you were paying attention. When it was first announced, the film just released was only the first half: in late-2014, Kevin Feige confirmed the MCU's entire Phase 3 slate, which culminated with Infinity War - Part 1 in May 2018 and Infinity War - Part 2 a year later. From that point, it was clear Infinity War was a two-part story of intrinsically, narratively linked films. Until it wasn't.
As Infinity War came together, suddenly all involved at Marvel - from Kevin Feige to directors the Russo brothers to screenwriters Markus and McFeely - were keen to make clear that Avengers 3 & 4 were in some fundamental way disconnected. By April 2016, we were told the two films were "very different" and a month later it was confirmed the titles would change, with it subsequently clarified that despite "cross-pollination" the stories were different. Even as the films entered their back-to-back production, the company line was that we were dealing with two very different beasts.
- This Page: The Real Reason For Infinity War's Title Change
- Page 2: How Marvel Tricked Audiences Into Thinking Part 1 Was The End
- Page 3: The Problem Facing Infinity War - Part 2
The Real Reason Infinity War Lost Part 2
Now, many aspects of that 2014 plan have changed - Inhumans was removed from the slate, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Ant-Man & the Wasp were added, and several movies shifted around - but perhaps the most important is the dropping of "Part 1" and untitling of Avengers 4 (Marvel doesn't even give it a number). All of the others are big, hefty plan adjustments with a clear purpose - adding or removing a movie - whereas here we're dealing with hushed semantics - and that's telling.
To understand what happened, it's important to note what happened between Infinity War - Part 1/2 being announced and the promise being rescinded. When Feige made his announcement, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1, the first half of that series' own finale, was just a month from release and under a wave of immense hype. However, while it did admirable numbers (if not matching its predecessor, Catching Fire), Part 2 a year later was the lowest grossing film in the franchise by a margin. Hunger Games' problems came primarily from fracturing the single narrative of a book (one regarded as the weakest of the trilogy), but it was clear the financials were impacted by wider perceptions of two-parters. This was seemingly confirmed when The Divergent Series: Allegiant, a retitled Part 1 of another third book stretch, bombed so badly the series was stopped in its tracks. Add in the diminished returns to the extended Hobbit trilogy and a clear image was painted: audiences weren't comfortable paying multiple times to see fragments of a story. This was even, somewhat, echoed with Avengers: Age of Ultron, which existed at once standalone and in a larger narrative much to audience frustrations.
While telling a story over two movies could pay dividends - see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - it was clear that general audiences were wizening up to the trick. Marvel was by this point a powerhouse almost akin to heyday Potter and didn't have the source material stretch issue, so it's entirely possible Infinity War could weather it, but considering the scale of the undertaking - in terms of story, budget and production - that was a risky gamble to make. Thus, tact changed.
There is, also, the unavoidable spoiler advantage worth considering. Thanos is a character known primarily for his finger snap, and if you're going into a two-part story where that's his motivation, it's not hard to make the leap that this is the point of story divergence (even though the act in the comic isn't a cliffhanger, it's often taken as such in the popular consciousness). Keeping what became Avengers: Infinity War as Part 1 of 2 invites far too much confidence in what is designed as a shocking finale. And that's where the change goes from damage control to something truly genius.
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019