“Avengers: Infinity War” has arrived, and the results are in – critical response is mostly positive, audience response is overwhelmingly positive, and box office numbers are record breaking.
But what does it all mean for the future of cinema. Do these numbers correlate to a final inarguable proof in numbers that comic book movies are forever here to stay? That this is the final signal that original movies are dead, and all of the studios will simply work in full & sole pursuit of tentpole, mega-franchise IP only, as many other reviewers and industry analysts have decried?
I am here to say, absolutely not.
First of all, The Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, is a one-off IP franchise, nearly 80 years in the making. There are hundreds of established characters, with thousands of storylines developed over those years. Right there, other than the DC Comics Universe, there is nothing else that comes close in scope and history. And from those decades of countless superhero stories, Kevin Feige and his teams of writers, directors, actors and Visual FX artists, have cherry picked the best parts, and crafted 19 movies of varying quality but consistently rising success, in large part because their whole film catalog has been building to a central something. Infinity War, (Now in Theaters Everywhere), and its sequel, dropping next year.
It really could be called the Infinity War franchise (especially considering how they don’t even own Fantastic Four, The X-Men, or Spider Man, this isn’t really the full Marvel Comics Universe)
Infinity War, as many may be aware, is pulled from the Infinity Gauntlet series, which was a huge, huge event for comic book fans in the early 1990’s, a cross-over storyline pulling in dozens of superheroes, helping to drive comic book sales and interest so high, that an entire speculative market, in comics as collectible investments, by people who had no interest in the comics or the genre, burned like wild-fire in it’s aftermath. But then the story concluded, comic sales dwindled. The hard-core fans stuck around as this character or that was resurrected in a post-Thanos era, but a large portion of readers, my young self included, walked away, we’d had our fill, wanted something new. The “investor” market crashed, and Marvel itself filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy just a few years later.
I’m not saying that’s exactly what’s happening here. First of all, Marvel Studios under Disney in the 21st century is not Marvel comics of the 20th. And the planned sequels for Dr. Strange, Black Panther, Spider Man, and Guardians are all pretty bankable hits. But I do think the numbers on those might be less than expected, and beyond that… the sun is setting. Not just on Marvel, or comic IP, but the future short-to-midterm value of all major franchise IP in general, all gobbled up and re-regurgitated over the last 15 years, is already languishing (see: Transformers, Mummy, Alien, the DCU films- that’s a whole other post, and yes, even Star Wars, as example), and will so, even for the current undeniable Disney/Marvel champion, after Avengers 4 finishes in 2019.
Sequels and Reboots will always be a thing, and the sun will rise again on Iron Man and co., but there will be a night before, and in the interim, I believe most emerging book series, or reboot book series, etc will, in the near 5 year term+, be licensed and formatted with a distinct eye on TV, where Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have sort of become a blueprint for squeezing out every drop of potential into an extended run for viewing audiences, and as recent example, the decision to reboot Lord of the Rings has gone to TV (and just reading that, are you excited for more LotR, or rolling your eyes?). I’d expect major IP like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games to follow similar paths when their eventual resurrection dates come up, and wouldn’t be surprised if someone at Disney is already looking at serializing Pirates of the Caribbean on their forthcoming SVOD service.
And honestly, that’s what makes this marvel moment in entertainment so much fun, in my opinion. This plan for the franchise, it’s roll-out, it’s strategic build to the current crescendo that we find ourselves awash in, it’s not a new normal at the multiplex to be worried over, it’s, if anything, a once-in-a-few-decades spectacle, something to enjoy while it’s here, because it is going to go away.
Ultimately, much how Thanos, Infinity War’s central villain (main character?), has come to reset the balance in his universe, this whole mega-marvel-franchise, once it’s central arc has completed, may end up doing a lot more good to reset the balance of cinema in general, clearing the air for fresh ideas, than many of us expect.