After a truly gigantic helping of hype, the much-anticipated trailer for Avengers: Infinity War is here. Unfortunately, it falls considerably short of those expectations.
The MCU story told over nearly 20 films has been leading to the epic showdown between Earth’s greatest heroes and the Mad Titan, Thanos, and every corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is represented, from Iron Man to Star-Lord. This, by all accounts, should be Marvel’s finest hour, trumpeting the culmination of the work they’ve done in not only bringing their comic book icons to life, but in fundamentally changing the way big-budget franchise filmmaking is done. And while the movie itself may still fulfill that promise, the trailer itself feels like a letdown.
Some of that element of disappointment is built in; this is essentially a teaser trailer for a film that won’t be coming out for months, meant to be the earliest hint of mainstream promotion. The argument could be made a full-fledged trailer a full six months before release would be counterproductive, undermining the well established promotional push for movies like these. But the rules really shouldn’t apply to Infinity War, which has so much built-in goodwill and anticipation that it could easily afford to bend the promotional template a bit.
What we do get with this trailer is frustrating. The only real revelations here are aesthetic; Black Widow’s blonde hair, Captain America’s angst beard, Tony Stark’s… designer sweatsuit? There are multiple shots of people running towards unseen threats and staring intently into the distance. The voiceover is mostly boilerplate, restating the intended mission of the Avengers Initiative, then allowing Thanos some rather cliched villain speak. A few of the effects shots look a little ropey, which is forgivable for a film so far from theaters, though it does invoke the memory of some of the Russo Brothers’ less accomplished VFX moments in Captain America: Civil War.
There’s also something of the Marvel spirit missing here. For better or worse, the MCU has been defined by the loose, snarky energy introduced by Robert Downey Jr. and director Jon Favreau in the first Iron Man, and which reached its apotheosis in Joss Whedon’s first Avengers film. Indeed, Marvel’s most unqualified successes of late have leaned into the comedic tone while still telling stories with genuine stakes, like the Guardians of the Galaxy films and Thor: Ragnarok (even if some would feel they’re too “fun”). Infinity War’s rote menace feels slightly outdated in that context, a version of the MCU that it felt like we’d maybe outgrown. Nobody is saying a massive showdown with Thanos should be a laugh fest, but Marvel has been famously efficient with their trailers, marrying traditional superhero imagery with snappy dialogue and meta winks. There’s absolutely none of that on display here.
A more pointed, but inescapable, criticism: this is decidedly less than what was shown to fans at this year’s D23 and San Diego Comic-Con. The battle between fans and convention exclusive footage is a seemingly endless war of shaky iPhone videos and and YouTube copyright notices, and the fact that the first public offering is objectively inferior to what was showcased for a relatively minuscule number of fans is only going to irritate fans further.
Beyond the merits of the trailer itself, there’s also the nagging feeling that this reveal was simply overhyped. Fans have been clamoring for officially released Infinity War coverage since the SDCC footage was first screened back in July. Marvel had to know anticipation for the trailer was through the roof, and that it would be the subject of a level of scrutiny that surpassed even the considerable magnifying glasses applied to the likes of Star Wars and Justice League. And yet there’s really not that much to analyze; the trailer’s narrative moments are pretty straightforward, and its more visually arresting moments are vague and just a little dull.
This is obviously very, very early in the promotional cycle for Infinity War. There is no one better than Marvel at building anticipation for these kinds of movies, and their track record of box office and critical victories is unrivaled in the history of big-budget franchise filmmaking. Those who have doubted Kevin Feige and friends have been proven fools time and time again.
But by Marvel’s own admission, Infinity War is something slightly different. This isn’t just another Avengers film, or another film intended to shake up the MCU status quo like Civil War. This is the story that the entire saga has purportedly been building toward; a battle with Thanos that will not only see the fate of the universe hang in the balance, but will almost certainly see the definitive end of the story for some of the characters we’ve been following for nearly a decade. The notion of everyone getting out of Infinity War alive seems basically impossible; a battle of this scale has to have casualties that genuinely hurt, that offer weight to what will be, at the very least, the beginning of the end of the version of the MCU we’ve seen up to now.
Is it unfair to put that much at the feet of a teaser trailer? Maybe, but the idea that a trailer can deliver that kind of emotional and visceral satisfaction exists largely because Marvel does it so routinely. The first Iron Man film’s trailer heralded a new, exciting age of superhero filmmaking. Guardians of the Galaxy, which felt like a pretty shaky prospect for a $100 million movie franchise on paper, immediately looked like a sure thing when its legendary teaser was released. The argument could be made that the bulk of Thor: Ragnarok’s wild success can be credited to its dazzling first trailer, one of the very best any movie has ever mounted, period. Infinity War has much more built-in audience faith than either of those movies, and will have to do considerably more narrative heavy lifting, as it will involve virtually everyone in the MCU.
And yet the fact that the initial trailer is so dry and unexciting can’t help but evoke the fear that maybe something of this scale, which has essentially no cinematic precedent, is too big for even Marvel, that the cost of making something this huge work on a technical scale is the loss of the playful, dynamic spirit that has made these films such a sensation.
Avengers: Infinity War may be the moment that superhero films get too big for even the genre’s most dependable studio, where franchise building and raw, unadulterated spectacle outpace narrative and thematic cohesion. That might be too much to hang on a disappointing trailer, but those kind of lofty standards are the price Marvel has to pay for its decade of wild success.
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