Marvel Studios and the multiverse of silliness: What happened?
Reading Time: 3 minutes After a historically low opening box office for Marvel Studios with “The Marvels,” one begins to wonder, what went wrong?
The year is Summer 2008. Marvel has just released “Iron Man,” with Robert Downey Jr., a vastly unknown actor, leading the charge in the main role of Tony Stark.
At this point, superhero films were rather hit or miss. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy had just wrapped up on a rather sour note and fledgling director, Christopher Nolan, had begun his widely acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy with the rather explosive introduction, “Batman Begins.”
Hollywood was unpredictable as far as superhero films were concerned. Marvel Entertainment faced major financial trouble with the fading popularity of the comic book medium. They had sold off the film rights for several major characters and groups like the X-Men, Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, and Hulk in order to keep their head above water. They had previously self-produced the Blade franchise, which received relatively good box office numbers.
They made a gambit and jumpstarted the production of “Iron Man,” hoping for box office success. The film made an astonishing $98 million, outperforming prior Marvel Studio films by a great margin. One thing set it apart from previous films of the genre: the famous end credits scene. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury stepped out of the shadows and announced to a shocked Tony Stark, “You think you’re the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you have become a part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.”
This line sent waves through the world, filling people with anticipation for what was next. Marvel began to pick up steam, releasing films like “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Thor.” Each of these films had an end credits scene that built off the other.
Then the culmination of four years of anticipation paid off. Marvel released “The Avengers.” For the first time in cinematic history, fans saw their favorite heroes interact on the big screen. They teamed up and took on the threat of Loki, amidst incredible character development and fantastic team cohesion. This film set the precedent for future projects, propelling Marvel from several interconnecting films to an expansive Cinematic Universe.
The next seven years were filled with 17 consecutive films, each one interconnected with the other, eventually culminating in “Avengers: Endgame.” The villain, Thanos, was a threat that felt real. He was built up since the first Avengers film, creating anticipation for what was bound to be an incredible finale. “Avengers: Endgame” was a massive hit, landing it the number-one spot of the highest opening weekend of cinema history and number two in total box office, right behind James Cameron’s “Avatar.”
Soon after the release of “Avengers: Endgame,” Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, took to the stage of San Diego Comic-Con and announced the upcoming slate of Marvel projects, titled “The Multiverse Saga.”
Feige announced that alongside the standard fare of Marvel movies, they would be releasing TV series exclusive to Disney +. People began to feel extremely skeptical about the quality of upcoming films when the planned slate portrayed a staggering number of projects within a shockingly short time.
The first few projects were received relatively well, with some, like “Loki,” “WandaVision,” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” receiving widespread love from fans. However, the first nail in the coffin would be the release of “The Eternals.” It would be despised by most and seen as middling at best. This set the trend that started the decline of Marvel films and TV series. It showed that Marvel had traded a well-thought-out plot structure and incredible VFX for the fastest route to theaters and consumers.
This downward trend was later followed by “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,” which currently holds the record as the lowest audience-ranked MCU project on Rotten Tomatoes, at a staggering 32%. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” followed at the beginning of 2023, receiving one of the lowest box office openings in MCU history. This November that box office failure was overshadowed by “The Marvels,” which has become the biggest flop in Marvel history.
With the overflow of superheroes in Hollywood, a phrase has been passed around the community: Superhero fatigue. The MCU has gone from a passion project of die-hard fans to simply a format to make money. People have begun to tire of the same set of action scenes and flashy VFX that has caused well-thought-out plots and themes to fall to the wayside.
Marvel has lost the overall faith of the franchise in the pursuit of money, which in the end is causing them to fail. If Marvel does not burst out of their current mold, we may see them go the way of spaghetti westerns and fall out of the pop cultural zeitgeist.