With the release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and the Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas special not being far behind, it is almost time to draw the closing curtain on this latest period of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, allowing the stage to be cleared for the next slate of blockbusters and streaming goodies. And so far, the post-Infinity Saga era has been… well, mixed, to say the least.
The MCU‘s journey following the conclusion of Phase 3 has had its highlights for sure, and included bold experimentation with style and multimedia expansion. But the fruits of these labors have left viewers and fans somewhat divided, and not without good reason. So, as the franchise ventures forth from Phase 4 into Phase 5, it could benefit the creative architects behind the MCU to acknowledge the mistakes of the recent past to avoid hindering the future with similar problems.
Not too long ago, people marveled (no pun intended) at the caliber of visual effects achieved by Marvel Studios in their productions, from beautifully realizing entire realms and galaxies overflowing with imagination to somehow making so many fantastical elements blend seamlessly with the natural world. But now, fans stare aghast at a computer-generated She-Hulk that looks half-finished and unconvincing imagery in a supposedly grounded Black Widow movie and wonder what happened.
If Marvel hopes to top, or even match, the epochal impact of its previous era, they would do well to ensure that their special effects are no longer a subject of ridicule, whether that means giving the VFX department appropriate time, resources, or just money to work effectively.
Fan Service Without Purpose
Say what you will about Spider-Man: No Way Home but the movie did a commendable job of making sure that its insane references, cameos, and multiverse shenanigans served story and character development. By contrast, a lot of fan service that was poured into other Phase 4 properties did little more than evoke superficial gasps and cheers.
Take Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, for example. The presence of the superhero organization The Illuminati and the actors who played its members certainly sent comic book fans into a frenzy, but they were ultimately inconsequential to the film’s narrative. The only real reason they were there was to sow seeds for the MCU’s new Multiverse Saga, which in itself could be considered another issue of Phase 4.
Rushing Into Things
A major factor in the MCU’s unprecedented success is the foresight of Kevin Feige and the other Marvel producers to map out the franchise’s universe-building and story arcs in advance. Over a decade was spent crafting Phases 1-3, and to many, it was well worth the wait. As such, it is concerning that the MCU seems to be sprinting towards its next massive arc at breakneck speed, based on the obvious groundwork found in Loki and the Doctor Strange sequel.
Perhaps they feel too confident after their prior success, or they are simply compelled by studio and fan mandate. Either way, the apparent plan to replicate and potentially surpass what came before in even less time seems like trouble waiting to happen. Anything is possible, but it might help them to slow down a tad.
Disregarding The Old Guard
It was inevitable and reasonable that, with the MCU surviving for as long as it has, seasoned heroes would need to make way for a newer generation. However, this should be done while still affording the older cast their dignity.
So far, we have watched Hulk turn into an insecure man-child towards She-Hulk, Hawkeye (and his protégé) be forced to surrender screen time to characters from other properties, and Iron Man/Tony Stark, the MCU’s progenitor, become increasingly insignificant with each passing movie and show. They may be past their prime, but how can MCU fans be expected to continue taking the franchise seriously when its founding champions, who meant so much to them, now get treated with so little respect?
Forgetting That Less Is More
For filmmakers, showrunners, and the like, it is always tempting to want to squeeze too many ideas into a single production, and with something as huge and interconnected as the MCU, there is additional pressure to plant set-up for future installments. Of course, works of art rarely benefit from artists getting ahead of themselves.
Shang-Chi‘s introductory movie might have been stronger without dragons and demons crammed into it. Ms. Marvel‘s show would have been better paced had it not taken a detour halfway through to establish the Red Daggers. And the Eternals… suffered a whole slew of problems, some that arguably could have been avoided had their film pulled back a bit.
Message Overriding Story
Filmmaking as a means for social and political statements is, for better or worse, a long-standing tradition, and blockbuster franchises are not immune to the practice. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Eternals, She-Hulk, and more tried to address and tackle various weighty themes and issues, though not necessarily to the best results.
Often these crowd-pleasers seem to be at war with themselves over trying to be both exciting superhero entertainment and a mature treatise on some topic or other. The problem, however, is not in attempting to fuse the two elements, but rather in coercing one to accommodate the other. Social awareness, representation, and so on are welcome, but should never take precedence over the simpler principles and values of storytelling. No one will listen if a hammer is used to deliver the message instead of a chisel.
At this point, Marvel properties can hardly be judged for making numerous ridiculous creative choices. In some ways, it is admirable. Then again, some might question the necessity of, the intent behind, or even the extent of Marvel indulging in their more outlandish and unconventional ideas.
We have now entered the age of sitcom housewife superhero witches, fourth-wall breaking jolly green lawyers, and multiple parallel realities. While a few experiments have worked out quite well, Marvel shows strain in working to stay relevant and keep people’s attention using stunts and tricks.
The MCU’s sense of humor has grown considerably since its inception, becoming one of its most charming traits… as well as one of its most frustrating. Being light and funny has formed an important part of the franchise’s identity, yet many of its works could have done without a joke or two at times.
In the current era, nowhere is this problem more noticeable than in Thor: Love and Thunder. While director Taika Waititi may have injected renewed vigor into the God of Thunder with Thor: Ragnarok, the sequel arguably got too carried away with his revamped tone, drowning Thor in unending buffoonery involving screaming goats and rom-com clichés.
The “go big or go home” mentality has always been a criticism of, not just Marvel movies, but superhero flicks in general. No matter how dramatically effective some of these might be, there always has to be some explosive action set piece or extravagant CGI showcase, such is the way of the superhero mythos.
However, the dust has barely settled from the aftermath of the monumental Infinity Saga. Constantly maintaining high spectacle from Phase 4 onward will leave audiences exhausted and dilute anticipation for the next big crossover events. Regular superhero combat is fine, but these new movies and shows should seriously consider fewer explosions and lower stakes.
Neglecting Smaller Stories
Even in a long-running franchise, the best way to introduce fresh elements is often simplicity. Now that the war for Infinity Stones and the threat of Thanos have ended, it should be prime time for a return to more intimate standalone projects, especially since the MCU needs new faces to occupy its roster of heroes.
Instead, characters like Moon Knight and Shang-Chi, who should have been dealing with more street-level problems, were dipped too deep into the supernatural sides of their respective source materials, and made to confront literal gods and monsters. There is a whole realm of grittier tales in the Marvel Universe that could be explored further to broaden and enrich the MCU.