Avengers: Infinity War has an impossible task. It has to unite the narrative threads of 10 years of movies—some of which haven’t even been released yet—into a single film. It has to accommodate aesthetics from Thor’s Asgard to Black Panther’s Wakanda, to allow the swagger of Iron Man with the irreverence of Guardians of the Galaxy, to bring together outer space and the Quantum Realm. And in doing so, it has virtually infinite ways to misstep.
But will it? Nope.
First of all, this is a movie from the Disney machine that has turned Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel into a hydra of box-office hegemony; over the past decade or so, even when they falter, they don’t fail. But, more importantly, based on footage the studio released today at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, the movie looks pretty damn good.
The clip opens with one of the weirder possible meet-cutes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the Guardians of the Galaxy flying through space, only for a bedraggled Thor (fresh from fighting his “friend from work,” Hulk?) to thwack into their ship’s windshield like a Norse mosquito. “Who the hell are you guys?” he asks when they take him aboard. The resemblance is faint, but the moment feels like a throwback to the first time he landed on Earth in Thor. No time for nostalgia, though; villains need make an appearance. Preceded by his unmistakeable voice—“Fun isn’t really something one considers when balancing the universe, but this does put a smile on my face”—Thanos (Josh Brolin) appears, finally paying off all those post-credits teases, and rampages through a dark world that looks like something straight out of, well, Dark World.
From there it’s a parade of quick cuts. A worried-looking Scarlet Witch; fan phenom Loki staring, transfixed, at what appears to be the Tesseract; Tony Stark/Iron Man fretting that someone (Thanos, presumably) has brought his war to them; Thanos grabbing Thor by the head; Doctor Strange Strange-ing; Spider-Man getting his Spidey sense and whipping around in the Avengers-worthy suit Tony Stark showed him at the end of Spider-Man: Homecoming. If the Avengers are the Jackson 5, this movie is their Victory Tour—nothing but the hits.
For 10 years Marvel has been promising that these movies are all building to something: the biggest collection of heroes to ever show up to battle one Big Bad. As orders go, it’s a tall one. Like, Burj Khalifa tall. Most big comic-book team-ups don’t execute them perfectly. Things that high either touch the sky or collapse under their own weight. It’s impossible to tell from a few well-edited bits of footage, but it appears as though Avengers: Infinity War—directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, who also helmed the last two (excellent) Captain America movies—has delivered. If it manages to deliver on the promise of today’s teaser, Disney might just want to pull the plug on Marvel Studios and go out on top. (That’s how the multi-billion-dollar entertainment industry works, right?)
That’s a very big if, though. The problem with a sizzle reel is that you can’t taste the steak, and for now it’s impossible to know if this many heroes—67 characters, reportedly—can even co-exist in any meaningful way. Anything short of three hours could give each of them, what, four minutes of screen time? After three painstakingly plotted “phases” of the MCU, hardly anyone here needs an introduction, but you’re still looking at a parade of drive-by cameos and battles that look like a melted Vermonster: just a swirl of heroes no one can keep straight.
Next year, Marvel Studios will celebrate its 10-year anniversary, dating its current incarnation to 2008’s Iron Man. Back then, the idea of any movies series beyond a trilogy seemed insane. (So did hiring Robert Downey, Jr. to play a hero.) On May 4, 2018, it might prove just crazy enough to work.