Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) concluded in November 2021, yet it failed to make the same impact as previous releases.
Marvel Studios is going downhill after Phase 3
After more than a decade of development, Marvel Studios has turned its cinematic universe (MCU) into a powerful empire in the extremely competitive Hollywood market. Instead of producing independent film projects, Marvel has decided to go in a completely new direction: Building many separate but linked films to serve a more compelling common plot.
On the momentum of success, over the past 3 years, Marvel Studios has continued to expand its universe scale in Phase 4 (starting from the events in “Spider-Man: Far From Home”). Here, their superheroes are not only taking over the cinema, but also breaching into TV formats with notable projects such as “WandaVision”, “Loki”, or the animated series “What If…?”
Despite bringing so many breakthroughs, Marvel Studios still faces a common problem unavoidable to all studios: how to maintain its appeal to audiences. To do that, Marvel has brought the idea of ”multiverse” into its new projects, adding to the cinematic universe that has been established in the past decade. Unfortunately, they are not reaping results as successful as expected, with several releases like “Eternals” and “Thor: Love and Thunder” receiving low scores on large review sites.
Marvel is deemed a “bully” by VFX artists
There have been numerous VFX artists speaking up about the “hellish” and “unimaginable” working requirement that Marvel Studios imposed on them. In particular, they claimed that Marvel would set unreasonable deadlines while tightening their purse, leading to VFX artists working day and night without break, and on a tight budget. The results are underwhelming visual effects – the best the artists can do with what they were given.
Director Taika Waititi previously expressed his disappointment with the VFX in his Marvel project “Thor: Love and Thunder”, which according to him, has lowered the overall quality of the film and severely impacted Phase 4. Against this, the VFX artists can only weakly protest that they have done their best, given there’s barely any time, inspiration, nor money.
Quantity over Quality
There used to be a period where there were only 1-2 Marvel releases every year, leading to larger hype and higher anticipation. However, in 2021 alone, there were 4 movies and 4 series, while 2022 introduced fans to 3 movies, 4 series, and several special year-end series.
On the famous review site Rotten Tomatoes, out of 29 MCU projects, 4 from Phase 4 are lying at the very bottom, with “Black Widow” at 76%, “Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness” at 74%, “Thor: Love And Thunder” at 65%, and “Eternals” with 47%. It seems that the focus on quantity rather than quality has severely impacted the franchise.
It’s getting harder to immerse in the MCU
Early on, whenever Marvel Studios unveil their new projects, many audiences have the habit to binge-watch the old ones. However, with the advent of TV series and the constant cinema releases, this habit is now becoming increasingly difficult and time-consuming. At the same time, the general audience, who are not fans of Marvel, found it pretty much impossible to navigate the cinematic university with all its complexities and timeline.
In addition, all TV series of Marvels are broadcast exclusively on the OTT platform Disney+, which is not yet available to a huge part of the world. Therefore, many people have hard time keeping up with the new phase.
The superhero genre is getting old
The MCU kicked off with “Iron Man” in 2008, ushering in a beautiful era for superhero movies in the next 10 years. The MCU eventually became so influential that DC had to “get into the game”, and many other independent superhero projects were also born one after another. Now however, the array of superhero content has become so massive that it feels cramped and saturated, with viewers getting bored.
Marvel Studios, of course, understands this very well. That’s why they’ve been experimenting with more novel ideas and introduced horror in “Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness” and psychological elements in “Moon Knight”. However, these projects still carry the MCU trademark for superheroes and convey the same message, and thus, are not ground-breaking enough for the audiences.
Lack of connection between Phase 4 releases
In the previous 3 phases, Thanos was “teased” in the credits of “The Avengers” (2012), whilst glimpses of the infinity stones can be seen in later movies. There was a clear connection integrated in each project in a delicate manner, which exploded in the audience’s face by the time “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” were released.
On the other hand, Phase 4 brings confusion, with barely any connection between its numerous projects. Despite all being in the same multiverse with the main villain Kang The Conqueror, “Loki” is the only release to actually go into this character. At the same time, Phase 4 introduces too many new characters, but not so much their actual roles in the overall franchise.
Marvel Studios is overestimating themselves
Marvel Studios was extremely ambitious with their “multiverse” goal, yet what they have done did not live up to expectations. Many fans have expressed disappointment over “Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness”, which was supposed to be the key content for Phase 4. In particular, the movie barely had any cameo, the Illuminati organization is barely intriguing, while characters with huge potential, such as Professor X, were killed.
In other words, the “multiverse” requires a lot of tact and world-building, but Marvel have been obsessed with introducing new characters instead of elaborating on their supposed focus.
Wasting time with repetitive lessons, no central protagonist
Earlier Phase superheroes, such as Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Widow have concluded their journey with many emotions, but there are still many whose appearances continue.
Thor and Wanda, for example, have gone through arcs of development and pain, and yet in new projects, their character arcs seem to have been retracted for the same lessons to repeat. For Wanda, it feels as if her character was completely disrespected, for all developments she attained via “Wanda Vision” was thrown down the drain with “Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness”.
Boring antagonists who lack depth
Of course, not all Marvel releases have great supervillains, but the past 3 Phases all have intriguing antagonists that are well-developed with their own convincing goals, such as Killmonger, Hela, or Thanos.
However, the same did not happen for Phase 4, with villains hindering the superheroes simply to do so. In simpler words, Marvels is just bringing up comic villains without establishing their cases nor setting up their goals, leading to lackluster characters that just won’t remain in the audience’s minds.
Overshadowed by “Avengers: Endgame”
“Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” are the biggest projects of Marvel Studios as of the moment, with the latter even being the highest-grossing film in history. However, the great successes of these 2 movies lead to basically any other future project being overshadowed, and the public having too high of an expectation.
It is expected that the 2025 projects “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty” and “Avengers: Secret Wars” will help to absolve this humongous pressure, but where they will be to do it is a question only time can tell.
Photo: Marvel Studios