The building hype over 2018’s upcoming Avengers: Infinity War has just reached its first peak with the release of the film’s trailer. This is our first extended look at what the upcoming crossover will involve. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, check it out below and we’ll see what we can learn.
So that’s a lot to take in in just a few minutes. What are we looking at?
Well, in some ways we’re seeing the fusion of the two main plotlines of the MCU so far. We might call these the political plotline, which culminated in Captain America: Civil War, and the cosmic plotline, which kicked off in the first Avengers movie and has been developing throughout the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor movies.
In terms of characters, we don’t get absolutely everyone, but we get a pretty good run at it, with literally dozens of superhero characters, from Spider-Man and Doctor Strange to the Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther. We’ve got Thanos (Josh Brolin) as the main villain, accompanied by the Children of Thanos. These are based on a set of villains called the Black Order, created as part of Jonathan Hickman’s run on New Avengers (and the Infinity crossover series) back in 2013. These sinister space types are very much in keeping with Thanos’ aesthetic: weird aliens with strange powers and menacing names like Ebony Maw or Proxima Midnight.
Other than that, we’ve got both teams of Avengers formed in Civil War, plus the Guardians, Hulk, Thor, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and various characters from the upcoming Black Panther. That’s a lot of characters, and we’re still hearing rumours about characters in the film who don’t appear in the trailer, like Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie from Thor: Ragnarok. We don’t know much about the plot, but it looks like we’ve got multiple sequences with multiple hero teams: one in New York, one in Wakanda, and presumably one in space.
All of this seems to indicate that we’re entering another stage in the development of the MCU.
See, ever since the first Iron Man film, the Marvel movies have been mimicking the development that occurred in comic books as superhero universes became a thing. They haven’t necessarily been following the development of the Marvel comics (which, remember, really started with a team book, Fantastic Four), but they’ve been replicating industry trends. We started with solo hero films, then we got a team-up movie. We had some spinoff films, and then in Civil War we had the big one where the characters fight each other. Now we’re moving into a genre very familiar to superhero comics fans: the big line-wide crossover event.
Big line-wide crossovers are such a feature of comic books that comic book fans may not quite grasp how weird this looks to a moviegoing audience. On one level, this is pretty much what you’d expect from a Marvel movie: a big summer action spectacular with a certain amount of possibly spurious dignity. On another level it’s something you don’t get often in the world of cinema, and it’s really weird that it exists. There have been crossover films before, of course, from Aliens vs Predator to Freddie vs Jason to Godzilla vs King Kong, but with the utmost respect to those films, none of them were exactly huge summer blockbuster events.
As strange as it seems to say it, the Infinity War trailer represents the arrival of a new form of film. Will it work? We can’t know for certain, but history suggests betting against Marvel isn’t the smart play.