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What Happened to the MCU

Courtesy of Marvel

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has entertained audiences for fifteen years now. The first eleven years were dominated by the Infinity Saga, also known as Phase One, Phase Two, and Phase Three. During these eleven years, box office records were broken, including nine movies making at least one billion dollars at the box office. Superhero team-ups audiences never thought they would see finally happening. Marvel was on top of the world. In 2020, due to COVID-19 and delays in projects coming out and productions being halted, no MCU projects came out except for the final season of Agents of SHIELD on ABC. Phase Four finally began in January 2021 with WandaVison.

Phase Four and Five have so far dealt with hurdles. Before Phase Four, no MCU movie got a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes. Eternals became the first MCU movie to get a rotten score. Less than two years later, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania became the second MCU movie to get a rotten score and didn’t do so well at the box office. Thor: Love and Thunder almost got one less than a year before that. The Disney + MCU shows haven’t been building the hype they started out getting. Concerns are growing that The Marvels could be another MCU project with a mixed to negative response. Secret Invasions left fans frustrated with it’s controversial decisions with specific characters. What is happening with a franchise that once seemed almost perfect?

It’s no surprise COVID-19, along the delays in release dates and production starting for some projects, played a role. 2021 had five MCU Disney + shows come out, including the animated What If...? series. Four MCU movies came out in 2021 as well. Marvel had been catching up on projects that should have come out earlier. VFX workers are being overworked to meet deadlines and recently voted to become unionized. Some effects are coming out sloppy in some movies, including Thor: Love and Thunder and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

The presence of certain characters has been missed as well. After Avengers: Endgame, the only original Avengers from the 2012 movie that are still around are Thor, Hulk, and Hawkeye. Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, who started the MCU in 2008 with Iron Man and has received critical acclaim for eleven years as Tony Stark/Iron Man, was killed off in Avengers: Endgame. Chris Evans’s Steve Rogers/Captain America got his happy ending in the same movie. Scarlett Johannson’s Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow also got killed in Avengers: Endgame. Her 2021 movie Black Widow was a prequel to Avengers: Infinity War and is her official last movie playing Romanoff. Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa/Black Panther was supposed to be one of the leading characters post Avengers: Endgame, but Boseman’s passing in 2020 due to colon cancer pushed Marvel to kill off T’Challa in the MCU despite many wanting the character to be recast instead. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is likely the last appearance for certain characters from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

There is a major question as to who the new faces of the MCU are. After Thor: Love and Thunder, there are currently no plans for Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. Hulk and Hawkeye appeared in Disney + shows, but no plans for them to appear in any upcoming shows or movies. Right now, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange seem like the two main faces. Who else could be considered that? Right now, no one seems to know. There was likely hope from Marvel that Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel could be one of the faces of the future, but she hasn’t won over audiences just yet. There is a chance some fan favorites like Scarlett Witch and Sam Wilson as the new Captain America could slide in. Deadpool and the Fantastic Four will soon join the MCU, but it’s unknown how much Feige and Marvel Studios will utilize them after their upcoming movies.

Another issue is right now, there is no main story arc for the MCU. Outside of a few projects, the Multiverse Saga of the MCU hasn’t been as connected as the Infinity Saga. Does that make it a bad saga so far or make all the projects bad? No, but it does make audiences wonder what the payoff will eventually be. A lot of the heroes are scattered or still need to appear. The first three MCU phases had at least one Avengers movie in each phase. Avengers: Kang Dynasty is the next Avengers movie, but won’t come out until Phase Six in 2026 if it doesn’t get delayed due to the many strikes going on.

Another issue is the number of unanswered story arcs that keep building up. Some of them began before Avengers: Infinity War. For example, is Baron Mordo going to face off against Doctor Strange? The Mordo Strange faced in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. was from another universe, not the main one like it was set up in the first Doctor Strange movie. Will Mac Gargan become Scorpion after it was set up in Spider-Man: Homecoming? Will Hercules appear again after being in a mid-credit scene in Thor: Love and Thunder? These story arcs eventually need to be addressed or concluded.

Has every MCU project after Phase 3 been bad? No, it’s had some very good to great projects and moments. Spider-Man: No Way Home was a successful crowd-pleaser that brought nearly twenty years of Spider-Man movies together and broke box office records at a time when movie theaters needed a big hit. A few months before that, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings got great reviews and was considered one of the best MCU solo movies to come out. The first four MCU shows got very good reviews despite the finales getting a mixed response. Recently, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 made the most money of any Guardians of the Galaxy movie and got great reviews. While Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness got good, not great, reviews, it made over $900 million worldwide.

The downsides for the MCU aren’t exactly pointed at Kevin Feige, but more so Disney as a whole. Disney has struggled after 2019 with projects besides the MCU, with Bob Iger having to return in 2022. Iger’s return hasn’t done much to help Disney. Most of the Star Wars shows have gotten similar responses to the MCU shows. Disney-produced movies are getting mostly mixed to positive receptions that aren’t high. The box office hasn’t been the best for most Disney movies. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny was considered a box office disappointment. Marvel could simply be another studio dealing with the struggles Disney is dealing with that’s beyond Kevin Feige’s control.

Another issue is the ongoing strikes in Hollywood. These strikes are likely going to delay Marvel’s movies and shows. The only movie that wrapped up filming before the Actors’ Strike was Captain America: Brave New World. Thunderbolts, scheduled for a December 2024 release date, didn’t even start filming and will likely get delayed to 2025. Deadpool 3 was filming before the Actors’ Strike. Daredevil: Born Again got delayed with no release date now. The show was originally going to come out in 2024 before the strikes delayed everything. The upcoming Blade was facing delay problems even before the strikes.

Some anticipated projects can turn things around. Before the writers’ strike, Tom Holland’s fourth Spider-Man movie was being written, and according to Tom Holland, the writers are working hard to make sure it’s a special movie after Spider-Man: No Way Home. As mentioned earlier, Deadpool 3 was currently filming before the Actors’ Strike and is rumored to be a multiverse event film bringing many characters together. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is already confirmed to be returning. Fantastic Four could also turn things around, giving movie fans a good Fantastic Four movie for once. Loki Season 2 is coming out soon and could change things for the Disney + shows. Daredevil: Born Again, with Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio returning as Daredevil and Kingpin, is one of the most anticipated MCU shows.

The next two Avengers movies, Avengers: Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars, are bound to be big movies. Rumors hint that many characters from different Marvel movie franchises could appear. Avengers: Kang Dynasty got delayed to 2026, and it’s likely that Avengers: Secret Wars is still scheduled to come out in 2027. These projects could likely get delayed. There are questions about what heroes will be in it and what kind of Avengers team will be put together without certain characters who helped make this franchise one of the best series.

Do you think the MCU has gone downhill? Do you think it can be saved? What MCU projects are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below.

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