What’s Wrong with the MCU?

Certain members of my family have been of this opinion for some time, but after seeing Black Panther: Wakanda Forever this weekend, I’m having to face up to it as well: The MCU has lost its way. About a year ago, being very excited about the lineup for the next twelve months. We were getting the Spider-Man crossover. A new Thor movie from Taika Waititi, who had killed it with Ragnarok. A Dr. Strange movie exploring the Multiverse. And another Black Panther film from Ryan Coogler.

I can’t be the only one who looks back at the group now and thinks that every one of these films was a mess. Going back farther, by my count, the Marvel Studios has made one really good film since Avengers: Endgame, which was Shang-Chi. Great characters, great actors, great directors; lengthy, tedious movies. How? I have three theories, presented here from most optimistic to most pessimistic.

Why aren’t these movies working anymore? Image Credit: TheDirect.com

1. COVID. Films of this scale are huge productions involving hundreds, if not thousands, of creative and technical players. And for most of Phase Four we have been constrained by a global pandemic. How many sessions of people sitting down together to work on the finer points of plot outlines, dialogue, logistics, etc. were lost? How many of the people involved were dealing with big distractions, as everyone’s lives were disrupted? Maybe it was inevitable that this kind of production was going to suffer during this period, and, as we continue to adjust back to this new normal, the ship will right itself.

2. Niche Comic Book Plots are Too Convoluted for Mainstream Film. The plot of every Phase One MCU film can be explained in one sentence. After submitting to a medical experiment, weakling Steve Rogers is transformed into super-soldier Captain America and fights in World War Two to defeat the Nazis and HYDRA. Kidnapped by terrorists, genius arms dealer Tony Stark builds himself a super-suit and deals with the consequences of his past actions. Nick Fury assembles a team of superheroes to stop an alien invasion. Now try this with, say, Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness or The Eternals or Spider-Man: No Way Home.

3. The MCU Should Never Have Worked In the First Place. Name the second-most-successful 30-film franchise. You can’t, because nobody has ever attempted to do what they’re doing at the clip they’re doing it. Star Wars is the closest, at around a dozen films, and the fastest they’ve ever turned them out is the stretch between 2015 and 2019, when they produced one per year for five years. This had wildly uneven results, ending with a film so bad that they decided to just stop making Star Wars movies for a while. No other superhero franchise has survived past five films, and the Warner Bros.’ DC films are laughably bad. Who else belongs in the conversation? The James Bond franchise is probably the most successful, because it does a hard reset with every new Bond actor.

Meanwhile, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever earned $180 million domestic over just the first few days, so it’s very possible that the powers that be do not see this as a problem that needs fixing.

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