May 5, 2023
WRITTEN BY: AMARÚ AND JOSEPH
Following the release of and mixed reviews surrounding Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, not to mention the general conversation of “superhero fatigue” getting increasingly louder, our very own Amarú and Joseph used an email chain to discuss MCU’s Phase 4 and The Multiverse Saga to determine just what the hell everyone’s problem is.
This is that discussion, with edits only being made for clarity of understanding.
J: So…what do you think, Ru? If you ask me, the main problem is the fans. Yeah, that’s a loaded statement, but stay with me… Phase 4 has been an interesting experiment (to say the least), but let’s be realistic: Phase 1 was just as aimless as Phase 4, except now, the general audience is like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in (500) Days of Summer, upset that their impossible, self-imposed expectations aren’t being met.
A: Yeah, I guess there might be some aimlessness, but if you take a deeper look at the ratio of universally loved MCU films relative to the number of films released in the given Phase, you’d see that the percentage of “great” films in Phase 4 is around the same as earlier Phases. I’m pretty positive that most people don’t consider Phase 1’s The Incredible Hulk, Thor, or Iron Man 2 as classic comic book content. Same with Phase 2’s Iron Man 3, The Dark World, or Age of Ultron. Admittedly, Phase 3 is an outlier here because so many MCU films and storylines were wrapped up in one of the biggest achievements in cinematic history. Hmm… that actually furthers your point though.
After Phase 3, Phase 4 expectations were impossibly high, and with that, you end up with an MCU fanbase that has divided into two factions: one that believes the MCU is dying since it has failed to meet those expectations, and the other living by the mantra “In Feige We Trust.” It seems your only choices as a fan are to be a shill who blindly loves every new piece of MCU content or a hater that spews the paper-thin theory of “superhero fatigue.” But I think the other thing that really gets lost in the shuffle here is that all this content comes from Marvel Studios…emphasis on Studio.
The Universals and Paramounts of the world release dozens of movies a year in different genres and of varying quality, and they don’t get the vitriolic fandom treatment if one doesn’t hit. They are expected to have a mix of duds, blockbusters, and Oscar-caliber movies, and The Multiverse Saga’s catalog mirrors a typical studio’s catalog more than it mirrors Phases 1-3 because it has demonstrated the studio’s ability to break away from “The Formula” to release content in any genre that it chooses. Quantumania is a Star Wars-like space opera, Multiverse of Madness is horror adventure, and regardless of whether their brand of comedy worked for you, Love & Thunder (slapstick), Ms. Marvel (coming-of-age), and She-Hulk (courtroom procedural) all stuck to a clear and specific comedic style.
With all this new genre-specific content, not to mention special presentations like the 1940s-inspired Halloween special Werewolf by Night and The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, I have to wonder if it’s time for fans to stop putting an Infinity War-level standard on each and every piece of content the studio releases.
J: Yeah, No Way Home isn’t a hit because it offers world-altering consequences for the MCU, but rather because of how it treats its characters. Arguably, this is the first Spider-Man film where Peter Parker actually feels like Spider-Man by the end. He is forced to sacrifice and deal with tough issues that pose a greater threat, but more importantly, are deeply personal. Thor has a similar struggle in Love & Thunder. He’s trying to find his inner hero while also learning that he can’t save the love of his life, which harkens back to the cause of his depression and time as Bro Thor: his inability to save mankind from The Snap.
I think the big thing people forget is that these heroes are also “people.” They have canonically gone through serious trauma after Infinity War and Endgame, and in order to remain good characters that we want to continue watching, they need to be developed. There can’t be a Thanos-level threat in every movie; otherwise, how would anyone grow? Are all these great characters supposed to just go back to normal after The Blip? There are real effects to what has happened, and those effects should be shown.
But back to your point about Marvel being a studio first… There is kind of a Catch-22 here. On one hand, Phase 4 seemed, at times, like it could have been the birth of the typical studio approach. Warner Bros. doesn’t require you to watch Dune to understand Elvis or Space Jam, and several pieces of Phase 4 felt like they were going to be self-contained enough to be their own brand. It’s a smart idea. Those who may have avoided the MCU for fear of not knowing the proper watching order could jump in without feeling lost while also finding their niche brand of Marvel. On the other hand, in the typical studio form that the typical studio doesn’t say out loud, Marvel Studios is interested in making money and keeping their audience…an audience that they know always wants their stories bigger and better while also being as straightforward and interconnected as possible. This is where A-List cameos and the introduction of new characters in post-credit scenes come in. Ms. Marvel ceases to be a unique, standalone coming-of-age story as soon as you announce that the character is integral to 2023’s The Marvels, which the series even cemented with a Brie Larson cameo. It doesn’t make the series bad in and of itself, but people who may not have cared for the tone or youth-skewing storyline probably felt they had to watch it because skipping it would have been like skipping a chapter in a book. If they didn’t watch Ms. Marvel, would they be lost when watching The Marvels?
So, Marvel can either potentially win new fans through creative and varied swings or potentially lose fans who feel they are constantly hate-watching things outside their wheelhouse just to keep up. With those two options in mind, why reinvent the wheel? Why invest in more unique, standalone stories when the fans you are ostensibly trying to please - the ones who are already here - will talk shit the whole time on the internet? It’s a “bird in the hand, two in the bush” scenario.
A: Honestly, they are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. With more than a century’s worth of comic lore to delve into, the backing of The Mouse, and the vision of Feige, the MCU has the capacity to do both. If Feige & Co. can balance must-see content with creative freedom, while also giving fans what they want, why would they pass that up? Good on them for trying. Unfortunately, the opportunity for growth has turned into a lose-lose situation because of the internet. Either Marvel jumps to the whims of a fandom wanting every single frame to move the collective story forward, make the same kinds of movies for another 20 years, and incessantly listen to the fatigue claim…or they take more risks with their content, slow roll the vision of the next two or three phases, and continue to listen to claims that their films have lost their luster.
J: Definitely. The true threat to the MCU isn’t Kang the Conqueror, it’s a toxic fandom that emboldens and enables the shareholders to chase corporate greed while quieting the internet, leading us to a generic future where every movie is about the same two-dimensional heroic archetype with virtually no weakness saving the world for the umpteenth time.
A: All in all, I’d tell fans maybe instead of perceiving every piece of content you don’t like as the end of the MCU as we know it, consider how long it actually took to get to this place. No comic book fan ever thought this possible, and it has taken nearly 20 years to get here. Get out of your feelings and give Marvel the benefit of the doubt. I think they’ve earned it.
Marvel Studios might not be exactly like other movie studios, but they ARE a studio. If we don’t let them act like one, it’s like you said: that’s where actual fatigue will set in because another 20 years of the same MCU formula is going to get boring. Despite what fans may think, Phase 4 has brought the most originality we’ve seen since 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. That’s almost a decade ago. Granted, not all of them have lived up to the unrealistic post-Thanos hype, but is that Marvel’s fault for not delivering or the fans’ fault for being unreasonable? Truthfully, how much of Phase 4 is any worse than Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 or Ant-Man and The Wasp?
If the fanbase’s floor is two pretty-good-but-flawed movies…and the ceiling is near-masterpieces Infinity War and Endgame… I think the MCU is doing just fine.
Photo Credits: Photo 1, 2, 3 - Marvel Studios; Photo 4 - Marvel Comics