As we’ve all known for a while now, the second part of Marvel Studios’ 2018-19 two-part presumed epic Avengers: Infinity War is officially untitled.
The switch from titled to untitled for the 2019 installment was and is a curious move, especially when you consider the original title was a ‘Part 2.’
The filmed-consequently/released-a-year-apart two-part epic format has a pretty solid box office track record. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 outperformed Part 1, as did The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2. Only The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 underperformed its lead-in, of the most recent and relevant examples of the format.
So putting aside relative quality for a moment (always a X factor), given what we know today Marvel Studios could probably expect the market to respond positively to what will almost certainly be billed as the culmination of the Avengers era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Assuming for a second (and for sake of discussion) the overall story arc has not been altered in a significant way, what reason would Kevin Feige and the Fighting Marvels have to give the second act a wholly different subtitle?
Perhaps a reason the answer to that mystery has been so elusive is because we've just haven't been asking the right question...
Before we get to that, however, let’s review what are some probably pretty safe assumptions about the film.
It will very likely be the culmination and end of the entire Infinity Stone-centric, three-phases of the MCU. Basic storytelling dictates Marvel’s going to have to throw the kitchen sink into final chapter. Any Marvel character touched by Thanos and/or a stone has to be weaved into the storyline. That means the Guardians of the Galaxy and new star Doctor Strange must be present and accounted for, as Marvel and directors Joe and Anthony Russo have been relatively transparent about already.
And as someone who has possessed no less than two of the six stones (at the same time no less), fan-favorite Loki also seems like he’ll have to play a role, and we’re betting that might ultimately even be a redemptive one, but that’s a topic for another day.
Ant-Man’s tiny, hidden Quantum Realm seems like it exists to play a role in the larger MCU storyline, and while based on what we know at the moment, Black Panther, Spider-Man and Captain Marvel presence may not necessarily be required, but it would seem likely they would be at least make appearances.
What other facts can we gather about the MCU?
We know Marvel has had tremendous success even outside the main Avengers umbrella. Guardians of the Galaxy was a monster hit and its sequel looks primed to be even bigger. Ant-Man was a limited, somewhat surprise success that has spawned a sequel, and despite debuting in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, no doubt Marvel expects big things out of Spider-Man: Homecoming given the Earth they moved to get his rights back and Black Panther is coming off his own very well-received cameo.
And then there is its latest hit – Doctor Strange, which is exceeding expectations despite being kept at a relative distance from the larger Avengers umbrella. (Make a mental note of that one, this is all going somewhere eventually).
That’s good news. On the glass-is-1/4-empty front, the box office performance of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Civil War could give Marvel a tiny bit of pause.
Ultron wasn’t quite as well-received as The Avengers, and wasn’t the first time all the stars gathered, so its growth at the foreign box office ($946m vs. $896m) versus some shrinkage on the domestic front ($459m vs $623m) was pretty understandable.
What’s a little less clear is why Civil War performed like it did. It was very well received and featured two well received MCU debuts (the aforementioned Spider-Man and Black Panther), but went backwards on both fronts at the box office ($408m domestic/$754m foreign), although as we’ve previous argued, Marvel will probably take the ‘only $1.2 billion problem’ without thinking twice.
There’s a few possible explanations to this:
One is simply the original Avengers was an unreplicable pop culture event. The $623m it made in North America was simply a unique right-time-and-a-place phenomena and the true ceiling of Marvel properties is just lower, and there’d be no shame in that.
Another explanation is Avengers fatigue, relatively speaking. That just a year after Age of Ultron, the market just wasn’t primed for what was for all intents and purposes another Avengers sequel that wasn’t a final chapter.
The third explanation and their rhetorical flipside of the second explanation is that despite the presence of Iron Man and the Avengers and Spidey and Panther, Civil War played to general audiences more like a really, really great performing Captain America sequel and less like an arguably underperforming Avengers sequel.
Maybe the title itself had more influence in the market than maybe us hardcore fans and observers anticipated?
And it’s this point that brings us full circle as to the question of why Marvel is changing the subtitle of Avengers 4. But as we hypothesize, it may actually be the wrong question altogether.
Maybe the better question is are they going to retitle it The Avengers at all?
Let’s throw all the information into a big tossed salad. Almost the entire MCU will likely play a role in some way in what once was Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 ... The MCU has very successful characters and properties outside the Avengers umbrella … There could be some slight Avengers fatigue setting in … And maybe titles do make a difference? Or in summation, maybe Marvel Studios has calculated calling it an Avengers film specifically will actually limit its market appeal? Maybe the studio doesn’t it to play like a very special episode of the Avengers, featuring special guest appearances by…
The “Marvel” brand equity is ridiculously high right now. Their films and TV shows all feature it in their titles and prominently display the Marvel flourishes. So perhaps the answer to the title change is simply that the studio is going to break out a new full title rather than a new subtitle for the film?
How does Marvel Universe: Infinity sound? A signal to moviegoers around the globe that it will be bigger than the Avengers … bigger than any one character or franchise – a title that truly describes the likely scope of project and truly sets up the MCU for a post-Avengers future.
That’s where we’re placing out bets.