When the Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige stood up in front of a crowd in 2014 and announced the company’s film plans for the next five years, he was aiming for a show of commercial force while reassuring fans there was a strictly plotted path ahead. They would get an Avengers 3 in 2018 and an Avengers 4 in 2019. There’d also be a Black Panther movie and a Captain Marvel movie, and plenty of other sequels. (You can watch the presentation and hear fans screaming at the very notion of more Avengers.) But the unwitting side effect of all these projects was the loss of narrative stakes. With the franchise guaranteed to roll along for years to come, how could any truly surprising stories be told in the interim?
After all, Captain America: Civil War—the 2016 extravaganza that pitted Marvel’s biggest heroes (Iron Man and Captain America) against each other in a grand battle—felt oddly weightless. Audiences knew both characters would live to scrap (and, probably, repair their friendship) in future Avengers movies. But on Wednesday, the trailer debuted for Avengers: Infinity War, in theaters next May, promising a more cataclysmic showdown between Marvel’s ever-expanding stable of stars and the massive, purple-skinned menace Thanos (Josh Brolin). There will be big set pieces, alliances forged and shattered, alien portals in the sky, all the usual stuff. But the trailer also offered the latest hint of something unheard of until recently: an ending.