The recent MCU productions have received somewhat of a mixed reception. The reason could be the quest to match Endgame-esque expectations from fans.
Avengers: Endgame was a massively successful project from Marvel Studios. The film had everything to appease the fans and perfectly respected the legacy that this shared continuity it had established over the years. It allowed farewells to the long-running storylines and dropped hints for new ones while wholeheartedly weaving the threads between all three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film also gave tonnes of characters a decent individual space in the narrative, making Endgame worth every second. Its impact on pop-culture fans was reflected in its $2B+ gross collection and the high critical ratings. And that was the end of The Infinity Saga.
From thereon, the franchise headed on to Phase Four. The stories are told through two different production formats, further expanding the shared universe and allowing Marvel to introduce us to new characters. But, the films released thus far post-Endgame, though entertainers and worthy of praise for their exuberant VFX work, the production scale, and the character transformations, are failing at storytelling. And it became more evident in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder. Despite the uniquely engaging plot of the former or a capturing ensemble in the latter, the two films received mixed responses. Despite the adventure they offered to the theatrical audiences, both movies felt rushed and a little incomplete.
It's as if Marvel is losing balance in sustaining the audience's ever-growing expectations in terms of the film's "largeness." It has led to missteps that affect the crux or intent of the story of that particular project.
It's a complex topic to discuss as Marvel Studios' Marvel Cinematic Universe is still a massive commercial success. The audience still seems to love what they see on-screen no matter what. But probably, both Marvel Studios and the fanbase need to center the focus on the films before the franchise.
Marvel Studios' Avengers: Endgame did its best to conclude the established arcs of the original Avengers while culminating the decade-long narrative of MCU's shared continuity. We had Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) bidding goodbyes to the audience after consciously anchoring the three phases of the MCU to this moment. There was Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, whose arc met an emotional end but brilliantly solidified her ongoing battle within herself to do good. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) had overcome the conflict between his two personas. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) finally got a chance to retire and look after his family.
Moreover, Endgame even got other characters to a fitting end. The movie ended at a note where it could be called a perfect finale, even if it had been the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film became the highest-grossing film of all time. While culminating an era of MCU, it also left everyone excited about what was to follow. However, that excitement probably came with insurmountable expectations.
This panel probably led to the never-seen-before hype for Marvel Studios. At SDCC 2019, Kevin Feige announced projects like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, WandaVision, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, Thor: Love and Thunder, Loki, and most importantly, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
The lattermost of the slate mentioned a word that opened up possibilities for the franchise. It also led to several crazy, bizarre, and exciting theories from fans, predicting cameos of characters from non-MCU Marvel Entertainment projects and hyping up the franchise's near future.
Probably, these announcements, which also included the titles like Blade, Fantastic Four, and Mutants – have gotten the fanbase excited for name drops and character reveals that it has forced Marvel to push in more references into the storylines to match those expectations. In all that, the aspect of creating a character-centric story lags.
After Marvel Studios' projects actually started intertwining and culminated into the mega events, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. But after watching these stories grow more extensive, the studio has set the bar pretty high. There are expectations among fans, especially the targeted audience, to watch stories with many references to other Marvel characters and possible cameo appearances now that they know what Marvel is planning for the future.
It was something that heavily made news after WandaVision. Fans first hoped for a Reed Richards reveal over the "aerospace engineer" reference. Then everyone possibly wasn't pleased that Evan Peters' cameo in the show was discarded as a 'Bohner' joke. Going further into Phase Four, fans' expectations rose after No Way Home pulled off everything it could to do the perfect fan service. From cameos to multiverse-merger, along with the idea of canonizing Rami's and Webb's Spider-Man Series, everything was about matching that hype and fulfilling the countless theories that made headlines after the film was announced. No Way Home balanced the MCU-oriented story, Tom Holland's Spider-Man's fresh origin, and the live-action Spider-Verse, making it a perfect MCU movie.
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However, fans didn't find the same enthusiasm in Multiverse of Madness, even though it tried adding up to fan service. Not every MCU film can have the best fan service, and Marvel probably needs to stop focusing so sheerly on this. Multiverse of Madness was supposed to introduce the audience to the traverse through alternate realities, which it did via a decent introduction to America Chavez. Besides that, the fan service cameos in the film didn't meet the exact expectations, but they didn't have to. Multiverse of Madness did an excellent job laying the grounds for that concept. It would have been outstanding if the film had focused solely on that part of the plot without worrying about introducing us to a carousal of variant characters.
Moreover, there's a further focus on creating grand-scale adventures with each movie. Endgame came after a decade of continuous progression in MCU's intertwining stories and twenty-one films. Marvel has also unveiled plans for how the franchise's next saga will culminate. Hence, there is still time for big-scale adventures, which is when these character-focused stories are established to support the final narrative. For the MCU to keep its heritage intact, fans must eventually learn to understand.
Marvel took its own time and pace to reach the culmination of The Infinity Saga. Marvel built a firm ground with its characters and slowly started accumulating them together in one film. It wasn't until Phase 3 film Captain America: Civil War that we started seeing the characters crossing over into other films sharing the same continuity.
Now that the franchise has entered a new era, it would take time for ensemble-featuring stories like Avengers. New characters are being brought into the MCU, and gradually there will be a time when their stories cross over. But when it took a decade for The Infinity Saga to come to that massive conclusion, it could take a few years for this next segment of the MCU to take a similar shape.
After Endgame, Marvel Studios also has one slight limitation. Any new character who enters the franchise must be accustomed to its pre-established setting. This means every new character would be aware of Avengers, dealt with the Blip, and their story would have to align to the backdrop set during The Infinity Saga. It has drawbacks and limits the writers and directors when it comes to laying out the characters' experiences in the MCU.
Still, until now, Marvel has cleverly managed to introduce these new characters without much hassle by giving them strong support from existing storylines. Until these characters do not get familiar with the narrative that previous MCU phases have explored, it wouldn't be possible to recreate an Endgame-esque movie. Not that that day won't come, but it's better to give Marvel Studios the time to bring each character towards that closure simultaneously.
Marvel faces a complex progression with the MCU, given that there's a 'Multiverse Effect' in all narratives. And before Marvel brings all characters from alternate realities into the foray, it's essential to give them time to settle in the 'circus' as Bruce Banner calls it. Fans are always hoping for some character or the other to show up in every film now that No Way Home has happened but not every movie can have major cameos and incursions from other Marvel universes. Still, MCU films are doing good at that part.
Shang-Chi outright brought Wong, Abomination, Hulk, and Captain Marvel into the story to help Simu Liu's Shang-Chi's arrival into the existing superhero world. No Way Home brought back Charlie Cox's Daredevil. Most recently, Thor: Love and Thunder introduced Brett Goldstein as Hercules, which expanded the MCU towards new corners.
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There's time for the big crossovers to happen. Still, Marvel Studios is cleverly placing new characters into the spotlight. Hence, there isn't much wait between two appearances of fan-favorite superheroes. And soon, Namor and Adam Warlock will also become a part of this ever-expansive universe.
Marvel Studios probably needs to focus on the experiments with new characters and stories, giving itself the same space it had during Phase I and II. The Disney+ originals are giving the studio that space to a large extent. By having more run-time (at least five to six hours in a miniseries), Marvel Studios can explore the new stories more profoundly and in reasonable detail while solidifying the presence of supporting characters such as Sam Wilson, Wanda, and Bucky Barnes.
Through that strategy, Marvel Studios has produced the best-rated shows, including Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel. Both the characters are now in line to make their feature film appearances soon enough. Primary emphasis on storytelling allows Marvel Studios to create better stories, which are not under duress of referencing other MCU characters (as in Moon Knight) and carry forward the franchise as if there's a fresh new wave to it.
Not that the films like Multiverse of Madness and Love and Thunder haven't entertained the audience or not made it big at the box office. But, these films didn't spur out the same jaw-dropping sense of enthusiasm as films like Thor: Ragnarok or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Maybe, it would be better if Marvel did not care too much about interlinking between stories; the stories would have a better impact on the audience, further strengthening the culmination of The Multiverse Saga.
At SDCC 2022, Marvel Studios announced Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars. Both these comic stories bring unprecedented changes to the multiverse and result in some epic collaborations of characters. The announcement establishes that Marvel does plan for a big adventure in the near future and that it has been laying the breadcrumbs for the mega event that fans are waiting for. It's these two films that the post-credits sequences from the recent projects are leading to. It's only a matter of time.
Earlier, fans were eager to see how Marvel opened up the multiverse. Still, now that they know, the studio should be given that time stamp and allowed to gradually open up the branches of the timeline, ultimately ending with these big plans successfully executed.
He's a cinephile, a self-proclaimed movie geek, and an avid binge-watcher; always ready to sit through a film or a television series, regardless of the genre. His love for cinema always puts him in an analysis mode, studying plot points and cinematic images. Writing for MovieWeb since February 2021, he is always looking for people and groups to discuss and drink on films.