Avengers: Infinity War is upon us.
For the past 10 years, Marvel has been building up its world of superheroes, supervillains, cosmic guardians, Wakandan warriors, Infinity Stone-enhanced AIs, telekinetic witches, strange doctors, and spidermen. And on Friday, when Infinity War is officially released in theaters (screenings begin Thursday night), audiences will finally get to see the movie that Marvel has promised will completely change everything we thought we knew about its cinematic universe.
But not all of those audiences are on the same page. A lot of us have things to do other than relentlessly internalize 10 years and some 2,200 minutes of Marvel superhero cinema — things like eating, sleeping, finishing Infinite Jest, worrying about the plastic island floating in the Pacific Ocean, knitting, catching up on Game of Thrones, trying to make sense of President Trump and Stormy Daniels, or making our own American Chopper meme.
In other words: Life can get in the way of being a Marvel Cinematic Universe completist. That’s okay. We’ve got you covered. Here are some answers to the questions you may have about Infinity War but were too embarrassed to ask.
1) What is Avengers: Infinity War?
Avengers: Infinity War is the 19th movie in Marvel Studios’ 10-year history, and the third Avengers movie in that span. But it’s also a bit more than that.
Thanks in large part to Marvel’s marketing and cinematic strategy, Infinity War has been hyped since 2012, when Thanos was touted in The Avengers as one of the most powerful villains in the universe. Throughout the years, Marvel has been planting small teases that Thanos seeks to become even more powerful by hunting down six powerful ingots called Infinity Stones, which would make him a galactic threat.
Now, six years later, Thanos is in the home stretch of his plan, and that’s where Infinity War begins. He’s coming to Earth to look for the remaining Infinity Stones, and the Avengers — who are now split up and scattered, following the events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War — are doing everything they can to stop him. Thanos threatens to not only destroy life on Earth but also, in a meta sense, shatter everything Marvel has built since 2008: its characters, its many worlds, and its wide-ranging mythology.
2) How closely does Avengers: Infinity War follow the comics?
In Infinity, Thanos launches an attack on Earth alongside a team called the Black Order — pretty much what’s happening in Infinity War. But when it comes to Thanos’s motivations, and the mythology of the Infinity Stones (which are called the Infinity Gems in the comic books), The Infinity Gauntlet informs the movie a lot.
That said, you don’t need to read the comic books to understand what’s happening in this movie. But if you enjoy Marvel’s movies, it wouldn’t hurt to read the comic book source material and support the medium and the writers, artists, and editors who enrich it with their talents.
3) What’s up with the Avengers: Infinity War sequel?
Back when Marvel was rolling out its plans for its “phase three” set of movies, it initially introduced Infinity War as a two-part story, with part one landing in 2018 and part two hitting theaters in 2019. Then in 2016, Part II was dropped, and the fourth Avengers movie has been untitled ever since.
It’s unclear exactly why this change happened, or what the new title for the 2019 Avengers movie is, but the secrecy around the shift is probably to avoid spoiling the very major things that happen in Infinity War — which, suffice to say, leave the door wide open for another chapter in this story.
4) Can one enjoy Infinity War without ever having seen a Marvel movie?
If you enjoy Robert Downey Jr. snarking, Chris Evans with facial hair, and/or space operas featuring intergalactic threats and gigantic fight scenes, you can most definitely enjoy Infinity War.
If none of those things move the spirit, then you’ll need to watch some Marvel movies of days past. Infinity War contains a lot of Marvel shorthand, an assumption of prior knowledge of how important certain characters are and where they’ve been, and it might be hard to follow if you haven’t seen at least some of the other Marvel films.
The most important prerequisites to enjoying Infinity War are, in my humble opinion, the first two Avengers movies, the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, Iron Man, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther. Those movies, along with their post-credits scenes, should be able to give anyone a cursory knowledge of what’s already happened in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and what it means for the events of Infinity War.
5) Who actually counts as an Avenger anymore?
It depends which idea of “Avenger” we’re dealing with.
In the comic books, a lot of characters have been part of the Avengers, some of whom have also appeared in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, and some of whom are characters Marvel Studios doesn’t have the film rights to, like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.
But movie canon is considered separate from the comic book universe and is its own complex beast. And going by movie canon, the only characters with official Avenger status heading into Infinity War are Iron Man, War Machine, and possibly Thor and Hulk.
But that wasn’t always the case.
The Avengers team was created in 2012’s The Avengers, when Nick Fury activated the Avengers Initiative because Loki, Thor’s brother, posed a worldwide threat. The main team then consisted of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. This team got new additions in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron: Scarlet Witch, Vision, Falcon, and War Machine. In that same movie, Thor leaves Earth and Iron Man goes into quasi-retirement.
The movie that muddies the waters is 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.
In that film, the United Nations wants to regulate the Avengers because they pose a liability and a danger to bystanders, as evidenced by two world-threatening events (those from the first two Avengers films) and a failed mission that resulted in civilian casualties. As a result, the Avengers split up into two factions — one (Iron Man, War Machine, Vision, and Black Widow) that believes regulation is the way to go, and another (Captain America, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye) that doesn’t trust that regulation. Black Panther and Spider-Man are recruited to Iron Man’s side, while Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. the Winter Soldier, and Ant-Man join Cap’s team.
The ending of the movie results in Cap’s team, sans Cap and Bucky, getting captured and then subsequently broken out of their maximum-security prison (by Cap), meaning they’re essentially fugitives heading into Infinity War. Black Widow is also exiled, for letting Cap and Bucky pursue the movie’s villain, Baron Zemo. Further, in a post-credits scene, Black Panther offers Cap and Bucky asylum, which signals he’s not fully aligned with Iron Man. We don’t have any idea what happens to Vision, but he does appear with Scarlet Witch in Infinity War trailers, possibly indicating that he’s also left Iron Man.
Since the Avengers were a superhero team created by a branch of the US government, and because Civil War established that the UN wanted to regulate the team, something Iron Man and War Machine agreed to, it would appear that they’re the only officially recognized members of the Avengers left on Earth; the others would probably be considered fugitives. Thor and the Hulk were absent from the events of Civil War and were last seen fleeing Asgard at the end of 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, so their current Avenger status is a question mark. Black Panther never formally joined the Avengers, and Spider-Man shrugged off the official offer in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Then there are the Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange, who haven’t interacted with the rest of the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (save Doctor Strange’s brief Thor: Ragnarok cameo) and therefore haven’t been offered Avenger status.
The ramifications of Civil War on the Avengers team will most likely be explained and reconciled in Infinity War. That said, Thanos invading Earth is prime motivation to bring all of Marvel’s good guys together — as we’ve seen in the trailer — which will probably mean all our favorite superheroes will be honorary Avengers in spirit, regardless of government authorization.
6) What’s the biggest criticism of Marvel movies?
The most common critique of Marvel movies is that Marvel Studios has found the formula for a successful superhero movie and has trotted it out over and over in different skins. That formula includes a hero finding himself, a world-threatening weapon, a destructive villain obtaining said weapon, snarky jokes, and a moment when the hero finds himself and is called to duty — usually right before the villain is about to conquer the world.
Movies like The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The First Avenger have similar plots. I’d also posit that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther have a lot of commonalities among their respective narratives (read: daddy issues). Plus, Marvel movies often seem to be graded on a curve, as Captain America: Winter Soldier is often referred to as a “political thriller,” which is a generous interpretation of the term.
Then again, some of these movies — like Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 — do manage to distinguish themselves in terms of tone, visual style, and character development; you just have to be well-versed enough in the Marvel formula to recognize the variations.
Helping matters is that the core Avengers — Black Widow, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk — all have distinct characterizations that can be matched up in exciting new permutations; think of Thor and Hulk’s buddy-comedy antics in Thor: Ragnarok.
All these characterizations come together in Infinity War — and having seen it, I can assure you it is nothing like any other Marvel movie before it.
7) Black Panther is breaking records and made a billion dollars. Is he in this movie?
Yes, Black Panther is in Infinity War. But keep in mind that the filming of Black Panther ended right around when Infinity War began shooting, meaning that Marvel had no idea just how popular Black Panther would become before its characters were written into Infinity War. Spoiler alert: T’Challa doesn’t have a big speaking role in Infinity War, but he and the Dora Milaje are fearsome fighters in the siege on Wakanda.
8) Will the Marvel Cinematic Universe ever end?
If Marvel wants to keep making money, which we can assume it does, probably not. Marvel has made more than $14 billion worldwide from its 18 movies since 2008; Infinity War alone is projected to earn close to half a billion worldwide in its opening weekend. Marvel also turned obscure comic book heroes like the Guardians of the Galaxy into massive, money-generating hits. And Black Panther, the last movie Marvel made prior to Infinity War, continues to break box office records.
If it isn’t broke, Marvel won’t end it.
Staring into Marvel’s future pipeline, a Black Panther sequel has been confirmed, as well as an untitled Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel in 2019 and an untitled Guardians sequel in 2020. After Infinity War, the next Marvel movies coming up are Ant-Man and the Wasp, coming this July, and Captain Marvel, hitting theaters in March 2019.
9) If the Hulk gets big, how do his pants stay on?
The weird conundrum with the Hulk is that when Bruce Banner morphs into the Hulk, he grows in size, causing his shirt to rip — but his pants never do. By this point in the MCU, one would think we’d have seen at least a couple of incredible Hulk wardrobe malfunctions.
But apparently there’s an explanation for it. According to a 2015 report, Disney said the Hulk’s pants are actually made of stretchy microfiber that grows with him. Right. But I guess if a purple-skinned bringer of doom and destruction, literal gods, sorcerers, and a talking raccoon can all coexist in the Marvel Universe, so can the Hulk’s indestructible stretchy pants.