The Marvel Crisis Misses The One Thing Fans Actually Want
There's a pretty simple solution to the MCU problem.
The future of Marvel is apparently in crisis. According to a bombshell new article in Variety, the MCU is in decline by nearly every single metric. Outside of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, MCU movies have underperformed both critically and financially in 2023, while the overall quality in VFX has declined due to a myriad of internal issues. With a bloated continuity, and confusion about the overall direction of the franchise, it seems like now might be the moment when the biggest pop-culture brand in the world is slowing to a halt. But is the solution to Marvel’s problem actually a bit simpler than its complicated cause?
While hardcore fans and pundits look at what’s happening inside the Marvel beast, the answers to fixing the MCU are probably more obvious: What do most people actually like about this franchise?
When the smash-hit, game-changing film The Avengers came out in 2012, a huge portion of the people who saw it had skipped previous entries in the then-brand-new Marvel Cinematic Universe. How do we know this? The movie made $1.519 billion at the global box office, while the first Thor film made $449.3 million one year prior. Also released a year before The Avengers was Captain America: The First Avenger, which did $370.6 million. The Avengers was, logistically, a sequel to these two movies, but even if we combine the box offices of Thor and Captain America from 2011, it’s still short of the impact of The Avengers.
What’s the overall point here? Well, the mainstream appeal of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has little to nothing to do with a completist mentality or continuity. From a storytelling perspective, The Avengers needed those two movies to come out in 2011 in order for 2012 to make sense. But let’s put this in perspective: Prior to 2011, in terms of what people had actually seen, the MCU was just two Iron Man movies, because let’s face it, the Edward Norton version of The Incredible Hulk barely counts.
It was only after the smash success of The Avengers in 2012 that the mainstream really began to think of the MCU as the MCU, but even then, during Phase 2, most people wondered when we were going to get another actual Avengers movie, rather than say, Thor: The Dark World. Yes, there are objectively good MCU movies that happen in between Avengers tentpoles, but let’s get real. The reason why Marvel is floundering right now is simple: They’re not making Avengers movies.
The possible truth nobody wants to admit, especially Marvel stans, is that the success of the MCU has little to do with the MCU itself. Instead, it’s all about the Avengers. The siloed Avengers will never be as exciting to a mainstream audience as the legit Avengers are when they’re all together. It doesn’t really matter if it’s the original line-up either. Getting new Avengers, and having old ones leave is part of the fun. The key is the team itself. Subconsciously, Marvel knows this, which is why most of the Disney+ shows deal with actual members of the Avengers, who are just kind of on vacation.
The problem with the recent approach is that if it’s not an actual Avengers movie, it’s hard to convince non-hardcore fans to care. Thor: Ragnarok proved to violate this rule, but try to imagine a version of that without the Hulk. Thor: Love and Thunder on the other hand feels inessential, almost like watching one of the Disney+ shows. WandaVision had moments of brilliant beauty and restraint, but then Wanda herself was mistreated as almost a side character in Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. The fact that a former Avenger was also turned into an irredeemable villain is also a baffling move for a media conglomerate supposedly obsessed with protecting their IP. Not to knock the artistic intentions of Sam Raimi, but wouldn’t most people rather have seen Scarlet Witch and Dr. Strange team up to defeat an evil force rather than the multiverse murder spree that we got? (Never forget, Marvel thought it was a good idea to release this movie on Mother’s Day weekend.)
While the upcoming film The Marvels offers us some of the superhero team-up content that should fuel the brand, the reality is this movie would stand a much better chance at the box office it was called Avengers: Rise of the Marvels. In the comics, Carol Danvers, Monica Rambeau, and Kamala Khan all are members of the actual Avengers at some point or another. So, why not just go there right now? Again, this is an Avengers franchise, and seeing movies about heroes who team up and call themselves the Avengers should be the starting place for all these stories. The Marvels and Loki might be teasing a long game that leads to a new Avengers movie, but right now the road is simply too long. Nobody wants to wait anymore. We don’t care if the villain is Kang or somebody else. We just want to see some version of the Avengers.
For the average person, the MCU ended in 2019 with the release of Endgame. It’s now been four years since we’ve had an Avengers movie, and at this point, the effects of Thanos and “the blip” have been fully explored in the various movies and TV shows we’ve had since. It’s time to move on. It’s time to just give Marvel fans another actual, Avengers movie ASAP. If everyone is wondering why the MCU feels like it’s fallen apart, maybe it’s time to remember how it was assembled in the first place.