Is the Marvel Cinematic Universe Trying Too Hard to Play Catch Up?
Does it feel like we’re getting too much Marvel? It feels like we’re getting too much Marvel.
Just a few days ago, we got the Disney+ release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, with Thor: Love & Thunder finally hitting theaters next week, just a few days after the penultimate episode of Ms. Marvel. Come August, we’re meant to be getting She-Hulk, later to be followed by Black Panther 2 in November, the mysterious Halloween special, the holiday special for Guardians of the Galaxy, and so on. And this isn’t counting Spider-Man: No Way Home going back to theaters in September, simply because it feels like it needs even more money. At least one piece of Marvel media per month can feel dizzying, especially in the year 2022, where it feels incredibly surreal that it’s already the end of June.
Perhaps obviously, the reason for this is covid-19. High off the victory of Avengers: Endgame, Marvel Studios proudly announced a new slate of Phase 4 content that would alternate between theatrical releases and the then-upcoming Disney+ streaming service. But once the pandemic hit, many of the things announced back during Comic-Con found their momentum suddenly kneecapped, like the most of the entertainment industry back then. Things were so bad that nothing was released from the MCU in 2020, as the various films and shows that were planned for that year got kicked to 2021, and even then often multiple times. But this wouldn’t last, since just a few weeks into 2021, WandaVision began Marvel Studios’ frankly aggressive output. For the last two years, we’ve been yanked from grounded stories between MCU vets having to reckon with the aftermath of the Infinity Saga to newcomers suddenly promoted from being billed as special guest stars to recurring cast members as the MCU builds up to its next mega-crossover.
Social media had itself some fun snarking about how good it was to have a full year without the MCU and all its third-act CG madness, and in hindsight, it’s hard not to agree at this point. When the MCU first started, and leading up to at least half of Phase Two, several new movies managed to feel like an Event in and of themselves. Even when they were sequels of varying quality, the time between one film and another felt long enough to come up for air, do some stretching, allow yourself to do some light speculation and keep focus. But with each installment now having only weeks, at best, between each other, the majesty that the MCU insists to you that it’s got feels unearned. The franchise is now, gradually, beginning to feel like an obligation on par with doing your taxes or taking the trash out, and that’s not in a position that any IP should be in, let alone one that’s so obsessed with forward momentum as this one.
And it’s starting to show in the MCU itself. By now, you’ve surely heard that Ms. Marvel has had reportedly the lowest viewership of any MCU series thus far. Releasing it the same day as episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi surely didn’t help, and it would’ve been nice if the show actually had some time to breathe. The show’s proven itself to be pretty enjoyable and nice change of pace from normal MCU fare, and has succeeded making Iman Vellani into a real star who will capably carry The Marvels when that releases next year. Just in the TV sphere, it’s good there was a month between it and Moon Knight’s finale back in May, and She-Hulk is coming out a month after its final episode in mid-July. If the MCU overall had just a little more time like this between releases, maybe even two months, we’d have ourselves a sweet spot, but these feel more like accidental oversights.
What can be done about the MCU at this point? It appears that the only option would be some kind of outright failure that convinces Marvel Studios to slow down, since the franchise just won’t let itself take a break. With its constant stream of content, it’s easy to wonder if it’s afraid of being forgotten in an age where the biggest insult of an IP is to be ignored. The idea of Marvel Studios having insecurity about its place in history is laughable, since it will surely outlive us all. What it needs to do is take better care of itself before it inevitably, finally eats itself to death. Like its many movies and shows, burnout comes for us all, and it’s best to identify it now before you’re sitting in your room, wondering why you can’t make anything happen.
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