Marvel’s Multiverse Saga is in Danger of Losing its Grandeur Due to Superhero Fatigue
Published on February 24th, 2023 | Updated on February 24th, 2023 | By FanFest
No matter how timeless the creatives, stories, or fandom may be, all IPs inevitably experience cycles of success and failure. Despite its vaunted position in popular culture, even Star Wars is not immune to this truth: some previously planned projects were terminated and fans are still left guessing as to what’s coming next for the franchise.
As Star Wars began to fade, the Marvel Cinematic Universe rose up to take its place in popular culture. From Iron Man’s premier back in 2008 all the way to Spider-Man: Far From Home this year, movies within the MCU have dominated at the box office, raking in more than $22 billion dollars worldwide!
Especially in Phase 3, Marvel created some of their finest pieces; this included fan-favorites like Thor: Ragnarok, iconic films such as Black Panther and arguably the most moving grand finale ever seen in cinema with Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel – Avengers: Endgame.
After the conclusion of some of its major characters’ stories in 2019, Marvel Studios was tasked with reconstructing their renowned cinematic empire. Consequently, they launched a range of fresh and unique figures while simultaneously releasing more content than ever before and embracing Disney+ as streaming services flourished. Despite these efforts however, the outcomes were mixed.
Marvel Studios’ Phase 4 has been off to a slower start than its predecessor in terms of box office success, with just one film—Spider-Man: No Way Home — achieving the $1 billion milestone since 2021. In comparison, six movies achieved this during Phase 3 despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on theaters. Additionally, Eternals holds Marvel’s lowest Rotten Tomatoes critic score at 47%, lower than Iron Fist and Inhumans which were not produced by Marvel Studios and thus omitted from official MCU canon.
Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been met with mixed reactions and criticism due to its fragmented story arc, abundance of content in too short a time frame, as well as varying levels of quality from production to production. This discontentment is evidenced by tepid box office numbers and critiques that have prompted louder conversations about superhero oversaturation – an indication that viewers are growing weary of these blockbuster films and series.
It’s worthwhile to consider the fact that Marvel isn’t alone in its production of superhero stories. In recent years, many studios have attempted to join forces with caped crusaders including Sony, Amazon, and Warner Bros. Not only are there innumerable projects released by Marvel but Amazon has accelerated their offerings with The Boys and Invincible while Sony delivers a mix of live-action films as well as animated movies featuring Marvel characters; not forgetting Warner Bros’ contributions too! The DC Universe has been attempting to keep pace with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and is now on the brink of a reboot headed by James Gunn — renowned Marvel director and co-CEO/cochairman of DC Studios. Although ardent fans can distinguish between projects from different studios, for most viewers this translates into an endless influx of superhero movies and shows.
Despite worries about an oversaturation of superheros, many hoped Phase 5 to be the foundation for Marvel’s next dynasty. After reaching new heights with Endgame, it was evident that some restructuring and renovations were needed in order to move forward. Similarly, just as when the Golden State Warriors had a rebuilding year after losing Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson due to injury or free agency, Marvel too required time to prepare their comeback.However, the first Over the weekend, Phase 5’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania premiered to a less than desirable response from critics, earning it an abysmal 48 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes – nearly equivalent to Marvel Cinematic Universe’s lowest score.
Are we starting to feel the fatigue of seeing too many superheroes? Could it be that the greatest peril for our beloved Avengers isn’t a diabolical villain like Thanos or Kang, but rather an apathetic audience?
When San Diego Comic-Con 2019 happened, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige shared a magnificent presentation disclosing the entire plan of projects, creatives and casts which received an immense amount of excitement from fans. However, any talk regarding MCU’s current and future landscape must start by considering the dire consequences that COVID has inflicted on productions, theaters as well as on people’s lives who have been staying indoors for more extended periods of time. Marvel’s carefully designed scheme became its biggest challenge after the universe was hit with a huge shocker that nobody could have foreseen. With every MCU project contributing to upcoming narratives, Marvel Studios had to accelerate their release agenda in order for them not to lose an entire year of production. The excitement surrounding this news was palpable!
Despite movie theaters reopening, many film enthusiasts stayed home – some still wary of large indoor gatherings while others chose to simply wait until films were available on streaming platforms. Social distancing protocols remained in place at numerous theaters, further limiting seating capacity per showing. As the world’s second-largest film market, China focused primarily on local movies and delayed releasing a Marvel movie for over three years…until Black Panther: Wakanda Forever finally premiered February 7th 2023 (three months after its U.S release).
Disregarding the talks of Marvel’s decline, its Phase 4 movies in fact had remarkable success at the box office. Seven films garnered an average $371 million , with Spider-Man: No Way Home performing highest earning a whooping amount of $814 million domestically and Eternals gaining only 164.8 Million! To add up to that Phase 2 collected 308 Million over six releases, taking Avengers: Age Of Ultron as it’s peak grossing film while Ant Man earned 180 Million dollars altogether. Three more MCU pictures such as Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, Wakanda Forever and Spiderman No way home topped off domestic Box Office Top 10 list. Phase 3 boasts four films in the top 10, while Phase 2 has two and Phase 1 a single film.
Moreover, the public’s enthusiasm for MCU films stays robust on Rotten Tomatoes despite dissenting voices online. For instance, Eternals earned an impressive 77% audience score and was the most streamed superhero film of 2022; meanwhile, Quantumania currently enjoys a healthy 84%. The only outlier here is She-Hulk which has seen its audience score unnaturally reduced to 33%, probably due to review bombing – it already has over 19 000 reviews from audiences alone (almost double than that of other MCU shows on Disney+).
Despite the lukewarm reviews from critics, Quantumania has had a remarkable start to its theatrical run by grossing nearly $240 million worldwide in its debut weekend – making it one of the most successful Presidents’ Day movie releases ever and contributing immensely to the already-massive financial success of Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Phase 5 and Beyond
Marvel Studios has undoubtedly accumulated a considerable amount of financial success, yet there is now an observable transformation in the way their projects are seen. Quantumania serves as one great example – it has both an extremely large gap between fan and critic scores on Rotten Tomatoes, with its critics score being substantially lower than the first two films in the Ant-Man series (83 percent for Ant-Man and 87 percent for Ant-Man and The Wasp).
The Rotten Tomatoes critics score is determined by the compilation of reviews from authorized reviewers that can be grouped into “fresh” or “rotten”. Although this measure doesn’t give a perfect depiction of any movie, it could allude to an arising issue with Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The debate arises when debating whether this problem lies in-house at Marvel Studios or if it’s because of increased viewer expectations.
Karama Horne, journalist and author of the book Black Panther: Protectors of Wakanda, suggests that it might be critics rather than fans who are fatigued with superhero films as fan devotion to favorite characters compels them to show up for each installment. Yet Horne also acknowledges that some frustration from fans was caused due to shifts away from definitive versions of beloved characters in recent multiversal movies. “Marvel ‘doubled down’ in Phase 4. Literally. Two Black Widows, two Visions, two Lokis and even two guys fighting over Captain America’s shield. I think fans reacted badly because many of them wanted either better written stories about the new characters, or simply the old ones back,” Horne told The Ringer.
Author Frederick T. Joseph, who wrote the Wakanda Forever children’s book, The Courage to Dream, strongly disputes that superhero fatigue is a problem and instead maintains that Marvel must continue to be creative if it wishes to stay relevant. “I don’t think that people are necessarily tired of superhero movies. I think that people are tired of superhero monotony,” Joseph said. “When you look at something like WandaVision … it feels like a very fresh take in this world. It’s less about punching aliens and blowing up buildings and more of a profile piece on what a super-powered, reality-altering person could do while they’re experiencing deep depression and grief. That’s deeply creative.”
Joseph, the mastermind behind the “Black Panther Challenge” to send children to free screenings of Black Panther, looks ahead in anticipation for Marvel’s next project. Citing popular successes such as HBO series Watchmen and Everything Everywhere All At Once, Joseph hopes that future works will be enriched with greater diversity and unique stories. “I’d like to see Marvel platform more marginalized creators. I think there are so many untapped dimensions. … I want to see Marvel bring us into more real worlds. Ground us in something. That’s what made the Spider-Man films so special,” Joseph said. “Avoid trying to recreate the same type of magic from Phases 1 and 2, because we’ve seen it.”
As a devoted Marvel fan and high-level cosplayer, Justin Otero usually attends Marvel premieres with his group. He believes that viewers have become used to having an obvious path for these stories to follow.
“There was an oversaturation of movies and shows, with no clear direction of how they would work together down the line,” Otero said. It seems that for some fans, Marvel is suffering from its own massive success in creating a shared universe. In the post-Endgame era, fans are consistently focused on the next epic crossover event and don’t have the patience that they might have had when the MCU first started.
By diving into the cosmic realm of ‘Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania’, Marvel Studios has provided a tantalizing glimpse at what Phase 5 could hold for fans. And beyond!
Otero further stated that the pandemic-induced, condensed release schedule has caused superhero fatigue due to a decrease in each project’s individuality and exclusivity. “Phases 1 and 2—it was new, and the pace they were releasing them kept everybody drawn in,” he said. “But Phase 4 … everything was so close together. … You didn’t really have a chance to grow that want for it, that need for it. That’s where the fatigue comes in … you need it spaced out so you have that longing for it.”
Regardless of some current slip-ups from Marvel, Horne, Joseph and Otero remain hopeful for what’s to come. According to Otero the post-credits scenes in Quantumania will provide fans with much needed guidance as well as set a fresh start for Marvel that will bring it back up. “It’s Marvel. They’ll find a way to bring people back in,” Otero said. Even as he acknowledges that superhero fatigue is a factor, Otero says that his interest in the franchise remains high. “I’ll still go see every one. I don’t think there’s one that I would not see, even if it was not well received.”
With ‘Phase 4’ of the Marvel Cinematic Universe introducing an array of new characters and fans, Horne – author of Black Panther: Protectors Of Wakanda – is eager to witness what Marvel will create with this fresh array. “I’m so excited for the potential that lies ahead,” he said.
For Joseph, he believes that the key to the Multiverse saga’s success could lie with its marquee villain. “Phase 4 was figuring out what the MCU is, post-Endgame, in a universe where so much was centered around, quite frankly, the bravado and gravitas of very specific people,” Joseph said referring to stars like Robert Downey Jr. and Chadwick Boseman. “With Jonathan Majors, you might be getting another Robert Downey Jr. type … [where] it doesn’t matter how good this is or bad it is, I’m here because I’m here for Jonathan Majors.”
Marvel Studios Is Listening
Responding to popular demand, Disney and Marvel have taken proactive steps to address worries. Bob Iger, recently returned CEO of the company mentioned in a Disney earnings call that they will be “strategically curating” content with an emphasis on cost management. Kevin Feige also commented similarly in Entertainment Weekly regarding their plans for restructuring upcoming projects’ releases so each film can maintain its unique luminance.
“I do think one of the powerful aspects of being at Marvel Studios is having these films and shows hit the zeitgeist. It is harder to hit the zeitgeist when there’s so much product out there. … We want Marvel Studios and the MCU projects to really stand out and stand above. So, people will see that as we get further into Phase 5 and 6. The pace at which we’re putting out the Disney+ shows will change so they can each get a chance to shine,” Last week, Marvel Studios announced that the premier of its third 2023 feature film The Marvels had been moved from July 8 to November 10. Additionally, only two of six previously declared Disney+ shows—Loki Season 2 and Secret Invasion—will definitely be released this year. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Ironheart, Echo, Agatha: Coven of Chaos and What If…? Season 2 are expectedly delayed as Feige told Entertainment Weekly.
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It is likely that the decision to slow down was already in the works before Marvel Studios released their plethora of content during pandemic shutdown. Phase 4 saw seven films, eight Disney+ shows, and two special releases over a two-year span – an intense pace which wasn’t beneficial for any of its stakeholders. To ensure quality projects are being produced, it’s essential that they take time to rest and recharge while working towards new ideas with fresh perspectives.
As we progress, it’s important to keep in mind that Marvel is far from running out of creative ideas. Feige isn’t worried the slightest bit about whispers of superhero burnout because he knows that he still has some of his greatest weapons at hand—the Fantastic Four and X-Men franchises which had been barred from Marvel Studios due to conflicting film rights. Fortunately, those issues are no longer applicable.
“We’re just now tapping into arguably one of the biggest aspects of the publishing history. It’s pretty remarkable, and it’s a testament to the house of ideas and what Marvel publishing has done these 80 years,” Feige said to Entertainment Weekly. “The question is how to do it and when to do it, and that’s something we’ve been working on for years. Now we know. But we’re not going to talk about it.”
Ron Seoul-Oh is the leader and primary editor of POCculture.com, a pop culture expert, as well as the inventor behind the Shang-Chi Challenge and Return 2 Wakanda charity initiatives. He has been certified by Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer for his skillful critiques on entertainment topics and is highly acclaimed by publications such as Los Angeles Times, CNN, CBC – just to name a few!
Covering superheroes, anything dark, horror, and more! Lead writer for Fan Fest