Even the best laid plans can be changed. While Marvel has made no secret of its timeline for up to five years of films, there are far from any guarantees along the way. We’ve seen them take Inhumans off the docket entirely, slot in Sony’s rebooted Spider-Man, and most recently, make a huge announcement concerning the two-part Avengers: Infinity War saga. Originally, Marvel’s plan called for the release of part one 2018 and part two in 2019, acting as divided parts of the same story. What we’ll be getting now though is something far different.
The new roadmap will see Avengers: Infinity War still hit theaters in 2018, but now as a self-contained, single-part story. We’ll still get another Avengers movie in 2019, but instead of serving as a second part to the first film, it will act as a different entity altogether. And while this may seem like a subtle change, what it represents is massive in the greater scheme of blockbuster cinema. Whereas before a drawn-out two-part saga was the status quo, we’re finally seeing a step away from that in favor of better stories in smaller doses.
To understand the ramifications of Marvel’s decision, we first need to go all the way back to the first major franchise to take the two-part approach: Harry Potter. Six movies into a seven-part series, Warner Bros. devised a plan to stretch out the saga just a bit longer in an effort to milk every last dollar out of the Harry Potter cash cow. So, they took Harry Potter and the Death Hallows, a 600-some page book, and divided in half. The first part released in November of 2010, followed by the second half in July of the following year.
This kicked off a tidal wave of similar roadmaps for big-budget franchises. Twilight employed a parallel plan for the final installment of its own series later on in 2011, followed by The Hunger Games years later. By the time both Marvel and DC announced their intentions for two-part Avengers and Justice League sagas respectively, it was more of an expectation than a surprise.
Fast forward back to the present, and we’ve seen Marvel and DC backtrack on all of their original plans. DC was first, when they tried to play it off like a single Justice League installment was the idea all along (it wasn’t). For Marvel’s part, it was a much more publicized process, with little room to deny that they belatedly realized a two-part Infinity War story was a bad idea.
While there’s no denying the financial benefit of the Harry Potter approach, it’s been almost universally maligned by movie-goers as a detriment to good storytelling. It more often than not leads to an awkward break in a narrative that was never meant to be divided in half. The approach can lead to an underwhelming first film that inevitably feels inferior to the more climactic second half. It’s the ultimate proof of Hollywood prioritizing box office numbers over creative interests (as understandable as that motivation may be at times).
That circles us back around to Marvel’s new Infinity War roadmap. The story Joe and Anthony Russo will be telling is one the franchise has been building up to since the first Infinity Stone appeared in Captain America. And for what it’s worth, it made sense that the studio originally wanted to spend two movies sussing out a plot over half a decade in the making. Scaling it back into one film is still the right call. The single release provides fans with a solid beginning, middle, and end rather than the “beginning-wait for the second movie-middle-end” format championed by Harry Potter and Twilight.
Looking at the creative process for Infinity War gives us a fascinating look inside an ever-shifting landscape of ideas. The Russos described it in an interview back in April, citing a workflow that has the duo “watch and cut scenes every 48 hours.” Knowing this, the odds are good that they waded deep into the shooting process, and slowly discovered through frequent cutting that a two-part saga simply wasn’t tenable. Eventually this bubbled up to the Marvel higher-ups, leading us straight to the eventual single-part Infinity War film.
Whether this will lead to the death of the two-part approach remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a promising step in the right direction. Franchises like Marvel have the added luxury of knowing they’ll make heaping piles of money no matter what they do. For the rest, it’ll have to come down to one question: Do you really want to sacrifice a great story for a few extra dollars and a whole lot of fan rage?
As fans of Marvel comics know, the Infinity Gems (or Stones) are the incredibly powerful objects that Thanos has been trying to collect. You can read more about the Infinity Stones here.
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