The Decline of the MCU

Marvel Studios alienates their audience

The year is 2019. In the month of April, all of pop culture entertainment was talking about one thing: the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. The previous year, the highly anticipated Avengers: Infinity War rocked the world of big-budget filmmaking, with a scale unmatched by any previous superhero films and creative decisions that shocked and thrilled fans. Infinity War left moviegoers on a devastating cliffhanger in which half of the cast — including Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther — was killed off just before credits rolled.

Marvel fans and casual moviegoers everywhere were hooked for a whole year while waiting for Endgame, the follow-up to Infinity War and the supposed conclusion to a universe-wide story that began with 2008’s Iron Man. Once Endgame released, it immediately broke box office records everywhere, and for three years it held the title of “highest grossing movie of all time.” This time was the peak of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the creative decisions were so compelling that it felt like Kevin Feige, the primary producer of the MCU and head of Marvel Studios, could do no wrong among both critics and audiences. 

Cut to present day. The most recent MCU products are Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Thor: Love and Thunder among others. Both of these films appear to have lost the magic of the Endgame-era MCU content, with both audiences and critics showing only passive interest in the events of both of these films. Only four years after the future of big-budget looked to have “MCU” written all over it, the Marvel Universe feels messy and without direction, and does not show signs of improving anytime soon. What happened?

Many explanations have been theorized and most of them have some sort of merit. Maybe Disney took over and steered things in the wrong direction; maybe the MCU’s venture into the multiverse created disorganization and chaos in the writing department; or maybe they’ve simply run out of good ideas and source material. For this writer though, it appears to be a simple case of oversaturation.

Marvel fans receive at least three MCU films a year and even more Disney Plus TV shows, each one adding on to the story enough that it becomes difficult to watch any new MCU movie without having watched every single previous project. Counting how many films and TV shows one would need to watch in order to catch up is impossible, much less actually watching them all.

Kevin Feige produces every single project and makes sure that there are no plot inconsistencies, a job that seems impossible given how many different overlapping characters and big-budget filming is happening constantly. Even the visual effects work is being criticized as of late, and VFX designers who have interviews with publications like Screen Rant or Vulture have revealed that the lack of quality visual effects is because of the lack of time to work. Apparently designers are given as little time as two weeks to render the visuals for complicated superhero action scenes — just thinking about having that work assignment feels like drinking a bottle of anxiety.

If there are three months between every film and even less between television shows, then how is each project supposed to be developed fully? Not only this, but from the audience’s perspective, they get no chance to miss the universe and crave more time with the beloved characters. Fans are receiving more content every month of every year, and after a couple of years it gets tiring and even grating. Even die-hard fans are walking out of recent films and wondering why they were even created if not for monetary purposes.

The answer to this decline in cultural prominence that the MCU is currently experiencing is somewhat obvious, but correct all the same: stop putting out so much content. The best years of the MCU were when Feige was putting his focus into quality projects that further the universe in a meaningful way. Today, these projects are few and far between films and TV shows that people forget about a week after they are released.

The filmmakers who are hired to direct and write each MCU product are more than capable of making work that lives up to the level of quality viewers and critics expects. Taika Waititi, the director of the messy Thor: Love & Thunder, has proven time and time again that he is one of cinema’s most creative voices with films like What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, yet his recent Marvel film feels rushed, likely because of studio interference. If directors like Waititi were given the creative freedom and time to make the film they wanted, then perhaps the MCU would begin to return to its former position of glory.

It is an unlikely scenario that Disney starts releasing less Marvel films in the name of quality — even though the newer films are not making quite as much money, Disney still profits greatly from every release. But eventually they too will realize something needs to change, and that the same formula of releases cannot sustain itself. What that change will end up looking like is anyone’s guess, but the only certainty is that one is direly needed.

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