Do We Care About the Avengers Anymore?
In the beginning was an idea – what if you could bring six characters across different movies that could come together in a team-up movie? Not only that, but what if the success of this could create a cinematic universe, the likes of which audiences had never seen before. That billion-dollar idea was born from Kevin Feige and the team at Marvel Studios – if they could stick the landing with Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012, then they could shift the cinematic landscape forever. We don’t need the Time Stone to know how it all played out.
The Avengers as a team and as a franchise have become some of the most popular characters in the world. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) became the cornerstone of this new frontier in the comic book movie space. With each sequel, new characters joined the roster, but it always came back to this original team of six. In their last outing Avengers: Endgame, the six original Avengers come together one more time to reverse the damage done by Thanos (Josh Brolin) and to break the box office together. Some of them still may be active, but the team as we originally knew it would cease to exist until we see a new group of Avengers assemble once more.
At a recent conference, Bob Iger made a comment about the future of the Avengers. “If you look at the trajectory of Marvel in the next five years, there will be a lot of newness. We’re going to turn back to the Avengers franchise with a whole new set of Avengers, for example.” As we wait for the next class of Avengers to be established in the Multiverse Saga, a lingering question comes to mind– have we, as an audience, outgrown the need for the Avengers?
Who Are the Avengers Now?
Though it was a triumphant moment when Steve Rogers cried out “Avengers assemble” in the epic final Endgame battle, not every hero on that battlefield was an Avenger. The remaining Avengers from the original six are Clint Barton, Thor, and Bruce Banner; as of now, all of them are concerned with reestablishing their lives with their families, including Bruce with the introduction of his son, Skaar (Wil Deusner) at the end of She-Hulk. Outside the original six, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) is seemingly gone for the time being; Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is in the Dark Dimension with Clea (Charlize Theron); Shuri (Letitia Wright) is now ruling Wakanda; Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) just mysteriously teleported to New Jersey; and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) would rather make up for lost time with his daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton). Just to twist the knife a little further – Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is still an Avenger, but no one will know how to reach him because they don’t remember Peter Parker. Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is officially Captain America, but is there an Avengers team for him to lead?
As of now, the only thread that most of these characters have to each other is Wong (Benedict Wong). Not only has he appeared in the most Phase 4 titles, as the new Sorcerer Supreme, he seems to have the most awareness of what’s happening across the multiverse (while trying to marathon The Sopranos and This Is Us). He approaches Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina) at the end of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Rings, and later, he goes out with them for a night of karaoke. Wong is committed to building up the sorcerers at Kamar-Taj, which includes America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) at the end of Doctor Strange 2. Though he does run into legal battles and goes to Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) for help in She-Hulk, he also breaks out Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) and seemingly brings him back to Kamar-Taj for more fight training. If Wong is the new Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) recruiting and bringing together a new class of Avengers, then the future mid-credits and post-credits scenes should start showing audiences this.
The original Avengers team was brought together by a common enemy, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), pointing towards the Infinity Saga’s big bad. For the Multiverse Saga, the new big bad is Kang (Jonathan Majors). While his appearances in Loki and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania have established the threat he and his variants pose to the multiverse, Kang’s presence has yet to unite a new class of Avengers together. Based on the film slate, it’s hard to feel invested in a team that might not come together (let alone mean anything to each other) until Avengers: The Kang Dynasty.
Why Audiences Have Outgrown the Avengers
Another reason why audiences may have outgrown a central Avengers team is due to the other teams and groups within the MCU. We have different teams that occupy their own space within this multiverse-spanning franchise – the Ant family from the Ant-Man movies, the Guardians family from Guardians of the Galaxy, and Wakandan royal court from Black Panther are just a sampling of the different groups that have their own dynamics that’s separate from the Avengers. In Phase 4 alone, we were introduced to the Eternals and Moon Knight (Oscar Isaac), each operating completely separate from the Avengers and heroes established in the MCU. Yet at the same time, there seems to be a tease for new teams in the future. Phase 4 introduced new characters who could establish the West Coast Avengers and Young Avengers in the MCU. Unfortunately there’s too much set up and nothing in place for these characters to cross paths.
Shang-Chi and Ms. Marvel were given some connections to the established Avengers from Endgame. Shang-Chi and Katy spoke with Carol Danvers and Bruce Banner about the ten rings’ origin. In the case of Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) seemingly switched places with Carol at the end of her series; she will be seen again in The Marvels, along with Carol and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris). While Jennifer Walters interacts with superhumans through the legal system and got her powers from her cousin, there’s little indication to suggest she makes the jump over to the Avengers line-up, or even moves beyond the confines of the Disney+ series.
At the end of Phase 5 is Thunderbolts, the first type of team-up movie we’ve had in a while and the only team-up movie before Kang Dynasty. The roster is to include – Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), Red Guardian (David Harbour), and Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko) from Black Widow; US Agent (Wyatt Russell), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), and Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl) from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier; Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) from Ant-Man and the Wasp; and Emil Blonsky. It’s hinted that Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Thunderbolt Ross (Harrison Ford) will be responsible for bringing this team together. This team of anti-heroes already has more history with each other than what remains of the Avengers.
At the end of the Multiverse Saga lies two Avengers movies – Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars. As the names tease, these are looking to be massive events that could bring the entire multiverse of the MCU together on a grander scale than Infinity War and Endgame previously did. However, a large reason why those movies meant so much to audiences, especially Endgame, was that we were connected to a core group of characters. With six heroes across multiple movies, audiences watched as these special individuals became a group and later a family.
The Avengers were brought together initially by Loki, but they came to mean something to each other. Moments like the party scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron make the Avengers fallout in Captain America: Civil War hit harder. Tony Stark and Natasha Romanoff’s deaths matter because we’ve seen and spent time with their characters across at least five movies. Watching Tony reconcile with his dad Howard (John Slattery) in Endgame doesn’t mean anything if we didn’t have Civil War. The other five Avengers reacting to Black Widow’s sacrifice wouldn’t have been the same if we hadn’t watched her let her guard down and let these people into her life over the course of these movies. As the Avengers became their own type of family to each other, they became an anchor for the audience to come back to throughout each movie in each phase of the Infinity Saga.
The point is this – it’s great that the MCU has expanded the way that it has. Now more than ever, there are a variety of characters and stories for audiences to latch on to. However, because of the uncertainty of who is an Avenger and who isn’t and the uncertainty of when they’ll pop up again, it’s not going to mean the same if and when they arrive for the big team up movie. Most of the active Marvel heroes are connected within their own teams and families, not to the Avengers. They don’t need an Avengers title when you have your own franchise.
To some degree, the general audience will still care about the Avengers as a team. There was something special about that first movie, seeing these heroes come together to defeat Loki and save the world together. Nick Fury introduced this idea to bring together a group of remarkable people to see if they could become something more, to work together when the world needed them, and to fight the battles that he and the rest of the world never could. Until Kevin Feige and the team establishes who’s on the roster and why they matter to each other, we aren’t going to care. Sure, in the beginning it took five movies to bring the first generation of Avengers together, but we’re on the other side of eight movies, eight Disney+ series, and two specials that do very little to establish who the new Avengers will be.