I can’t believe it’s come to this. I’ve been a Marvel fan since I was a kid, drooling over Captain America’s serum-pumped physique and practicing witty Tony Stark-esque comebacks. Marvel Studios deserves every bit of praise and recognition they’ve received; it’s no easy feat to produce more than two dozen successful films in 14 years and earn billions of dollars internationally. But Marvel Studios can make mistakes, and trust me, they have.
Despite COVID-19 setbacks, Marvel’s profitability has grown steadily for decades. “Iron Man” (2008), their first self-financed independent feature film, received a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, averaged 3.7 out of 5 on Letterboxd, and made just under $600 million worldwide. Since then, Marvel Studios has continued to dominate in theaters everywhere and has developed an extremely loyal fanbase. Sure, a small handful of movies were not as successful as others, but the production company has not experienced a true box office flop…ever. I’m afraid May of 2019, post-Avengers: Endgame (2019), arguably the most successful superhero film of the century, is where our problem begins.
Marvel Studios is the Hollywood powerhouse; no other production company can consistently guarantee box-office success. That said, it’s clear that Marvel’s ego is about as big as their annual budget. The production company has received the same complaints for years: they prioritize humor over plot, their characters are superficial, there are no stakes because the main characters never die, there’s zero creativity and most importantly, their movies do not age well. Marvel can afford to ignore all of these legitimate criticisms because, at the end of the day, they’re cashing checks while viewers debate on Twitter.
Now seems like a good time to remind you that up until three years ago, I was one of Marvel’s loyal steeds. Was I aware that their movies were superficial? Absolutely. But let’s be honest, we’re talking about fictional superheroes. These movies are supposed to be fun and light-hearted. No one wants to watch a Super Soldier or the God of Thunder go through a midlife crisis for the sake of character development. If you want depth and strife, watch literally anything else. However, the aforementioned issues are becoming hard to ignore and as a supporter, I’m concerned with how these films will be consumed a decade from now.
No one is blaming Marvel for sticking to what works, but at this point, they’ve garnered the reputation, support, and resources to try new approaches. The formula they’ve been sticking to only works for their white male heroes, and even those are beginning to feel repetitious. “Black Panther” (2018) and “Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings” (2021) were monetarily successful, but their rich culture felt discordant when paired with tired plot formulas. Fans hoped “Black Widow” (2021) would’ve paid tribute to Natasha Romanoff, but instead received an origin story for Yelena. “Captain Marvel” (2019) performed as expected at the box office, but audience members felt Brie Larson’s debut as the first female superhero lead fell short. Are we noticing a trend? It would appear that Marvel cares more about immediate profit rather than sustaining fan loyalty to which they owe their success.
I’m particularly tired of directorial voice and creativity taking a backseat to slapstick humor and basic plots. As a fan, I know that Marvel Studios has worked with several different directors, but it’s not surprising that a lot of people assume all twenty-seven movies were directed by the same person. There is no sense of style or flare. It’s almost as if Marvel Studios uses the same checklist during production before a given project hits theaters. As for the “jokes”? I blame Robert Downey Jr. for setting the bar too high because it’s become nauseatingly obvious that Marvel has been trying to replicate that with every film and character and it just doesn’t work. The only movie that has come remotely close to natural delivery and humor is Ant-Man (2015), and that’s thanks to Paul Rudd and his rewrites to the script.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (2022) might look promising, and it is projected to make just as much as, if not more than, “Spiderman: No Way Home” (2021). But in a podcast with Marc Maron, Benedict Cumberbatch admitted that at times, he wondered if the story was working because of all the moving parts and characters. The film hits theaters May 6 of this year, and yes, I will be watching. I just hope I won’t regret spending $14.29 on May 7.
I’ll end with this: the fact that fans still flood theaters for every Marvel premiere despite the growing number of complaints proves how successful the franchise is. Only time will tell how long Marvel Studios will remain as one of Hollywood’s top production companies. I just dread the day my kids will refuse to watch “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015) with me because Marvel was, like, so 2025.