University of Sussex Students' Newspaper

The Downfall of Marvel: Has the MCU Reached its Endgame?

Harry Turnbull

ByHarry Turnbull

May 13, 2024

Picture the scene; it’s April 2019. Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man sacrificed himself for the sake of the Universe, and Chris Evans’ Captain America lived his dream life with his dream girl. Marvel had reached its peak and after three phases and 23 films, Kevin Feige’s vision of the MCU had been achieved. It was the perfect ending, so what’s happened since?

Phase four of Marvel was, right off the bat, a so-so revitalisation, with the much-anticipated Black Widow solo film accumulating a mere $379.8 million at the box office. For comparison, Endgame mustered 7.3 times more than this amount. This box office mediocrity was down to a forgettable villain and questionable VFX (although the fault of this is not down to the VFX teams, as they were working in morally ambiguous conditions). However, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings seemed to give another glimmer of hope to phase four, due to Simu Liu’s compelling performance as the titular character, and impressive visual effects that treated viewers to a spectacle rather than just another martial arts film. Fans were then cautiously optimistic about Marvel’s future, even though the overarching plot with the key villain was up in the air. Marvel then followed with Eternals, the MCU’s first rotten film on the Rotten Tomatoes scale. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a film with a critique score of less than 60% gets a rotten status and Eternals only managed to amass a score of 47%. Visually stunning landscapes and effects failed to save its slow, dull plot and lacklustre characters.

It was clear that there was a distinct lack of forethought that went into a post-Endgame MCU, resulting in inconsistent and generic tropes that have been seen all too many times in Marvel history. This theme of mediocrity continued through to the following MCU projects, such as Thor: Love and Thunder and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and continued over into phase five with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and more recently, The Marvels, which to this date has made the least at the box office. The saving graces of these phases are Spider-Man: No Way Home and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, although they still struggled to curate any form of originality, and based their successes primarily on nostalgia and fan service, particularly with the return of Andrew Garfield and Toby Maguire’s respective incarnations of Spider-Man. In terms of the wider MCU plot, they add minimal impact besides the odd reference to the multiverse. 

Perhaps one of the most fascinating yet divisive new additions to the MCU is the introduction of television shows alongside the routine production of films. Admittedly the hype around WandaVision was palpable, even though its initial release was during a COVID-19 lockdown. It was a solid debut to the world of MCU TV, however, with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier following, the trope of forgettable villains and slow plots seemed to make a return. It felt like a chore to watch week after week. Whilst we have had some gems from the TV world, such as Moon Knight and both seasons of Loki, which was our best dive into time and the multiverse we’ve yet to have, the remainders don’t have that same level of excitement and memorability that their predecessors had. Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel, whilst demonstrating excellent performances from newcomers to the MCU, suffered from lazy writing, and we don’t even talk about She-Hulk and Secret Invasion

The main problem of the current MCU is their shift from quality to quantity with no clear plan for the future. An ambitious Kevin Feige has led the MCU to greatness over the first three phases of its lifespan, with each film being a multi-million and billion-dollar box office smash. There is a saving grace. With the introduction of Ryan Reynolds’ infamous Deadpool into the MCU accompanied by the highly anticipated return of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Marvel fans could be treated this summer with a comforting and familiar environment. However, with current figures from critiques and box offices, has Feige’s ambition got the better of him? And if Disney doesn’t take a break and re-evaluate the future, could we be waving goodbye to the golden age of the MCU?

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