The latest Avengers film has become the biggest superhero flick of all time in China. Xu Fan reports.
Building its cinematic universe in the same decade that China's movie industry has opened up and expanded has certainly helped Marvel Studios produce the kind of financial success that would fill Tony Stark with avarice, especially after its latest triumph.
Avengers: Infinity War, the studio's 19th feature, marks the Marvel Cinematic Universe's 10th anniversary and has set some records to become the comic giant's most successful superhero movie in the world's second-largest movie market.
Although its release on the Chinese mainland came two weeks later than the rest of the world, the third installment in the Avengers saga opened on Friday and raked in 493 million yuan ($77.7 million) on Sunday alone to top the foreign film box-office charts in China.
It's Marvel's biggest and most star-studded epic yet, grossing 1.27 billion yuan in its opening weekend, earning the second-biggest opening in China's box-office history after The Fate of the Furious and making it the country's biggest superhero hit of all time.
It's worth noting that Infinity War eclipses The Fate of the Furious in dollars due to an exchange rate discrepancy, but the latter still earned more in yuan.
Around 10 percent, or 128 million yuan, of the total was earned from the country's 514 Imax cinemas, making it the highest-grossing film for the format in China since it was introduced here in 2002.
The film starts where the mid-credits scene in last year's Thor: Ragnarok left off: in outer space, aboard an Asgardian refugee ship, before diverging across multiple plotlines set both on Earth - in New York, Scotland and the fictional African country of Wakanda - and across the galaxy. The somewhat tragedy-laden tale revolves around the Mad Titan, Thanos, and his bid to bring balance to what he believes is an overpopulated universe by removing half of its residents. To do so, he must collect six powerful gems called Infinity Stones.
This storyline has been building since the end-credit scene in 2011's Thor, when Thanos made his first on-screen appearance, followed by the subsequent revealing of five of the six Infinity Stones in Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor: The Dark World, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Doctor Strange.
In Avengers: Infinity War, the final stone is unearthed and the seven-year long story arc enters its final phase as earth's mightiest heroes assemble across time and space in an attempt to nullify the threat posed by Thanos.
With the film's title listed as one of the top 50 most searched phrases on microblogging site, Sina Weibo, the popularity of the Russo brothers' directorial flick - distributed by Walt Disney and produced by Marvel Studios - is indisputable, and it has obtained a score of 8.5 points out of 10 on the popular review site Douban.
However, there was just as much drama off screen as there was in the box-office bonanza itself.
Earlier, organizers enraged Chinese fans attending a Shanghai promotional event on April 19 when they issued fewer tickets to die-hard Marvel fans than to the fans of the Chinese singers Eason Chan, Jane Zhang and Jason Zhang, who were also invited to sing some songs and promote the movie.
Things went from bad to worse when the event's host sidelined Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo and Tom Holland, letting Chan stand center stage.
Seemingly not quite prepared, Chan made the atmosphere even more awkward as he asked in a speech about the stars' characters, Iron Man, Hulk and Spiderman: "What do we call them? Supermen?"
Taking into account that DC's Superman has been a long-standing rival of Marvel's characters in both comic books and on the big screen for more than half a century, it's easy to understand the outpouring of the fans' wrath.
Like the Avengers, the angry fans assembled, online, to demand justice. Marvel Studios, Chan and the host all said sorry via their Weibo accounts. All seems to have been forgiven and forgotten, though, as the roaring box-office numbers appear to show.
When Avengers: Infinity War premiered at midnight of May 10 last week, millions of Chinese fans flooded to cinemas, although most of them had to work on Friday. The first screenings brought in nearly 60 million yuan, just shy of the record-holder The Fate of the Furious, which grossed 62.7 million yuan.
For most industry watchers and critics, the success of this latest Avengers outing is greatly due to the decadelong development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, arguably the most influential and lucrative movie franchise in the world, gathering together dozens of well-loved superheroes, which all started with Iron Man in 2008.
China's movie industry grossed merely 4.34 billion yuan that year but soared to 55.9 billion yuan in 2017. It was a period of high-speed growth occurring, coincidentally, at the same time as the MCU's expansion, giving it a perfect springboard to cultivate a large Chinese fanbase, compared with other blockbuster franchises, such as Star Wars, which began in late 1970s.
For some, however, the franchise may have evolved a bit too far and become too "fan-oriented."
In a Douban review marked as "useful" by more than 8,000 netizens, film fan Ling Rui writes that audiences who did not watch the several previous Marvel films would feel confused about the plot of Infinity War.