The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a juggernaut in the film industry. Starting in 2008 with the original “Iron Man,” Marvel has maintained a vicelike grip on pop culture and the movie business for over a decade. All of this culminated in the generation-defining film, “Avengers: Endgame,” which was released in April 2019. Do I need to remind you how huge this movie was? For a brief moment, it even eclipsed James Cameron’s legendary Avatar in total box office income and was only dethroned after an in-theater rerelease. Now, if these movies have made so much money and have been considered great for over a decade, why on earth would anyone want them to stop being made? Well, the simple answer is that the newer Marvel movies now feel unnecessary and underdeveloped in light of the masterclass setup that was the first three phases of the MCU.
Not everyone will come away with a positive opinion about every single Marvel film — that is a given. The first three phases, or about the first 11 years, of the MCU were generally praised by fans and critics alike. Not every movie was a home run. There were some that were better than others, but the MCU had a coherent plot with a clear-cut, planned beginning, middle and end. They had their first major event, which was, of course, 2012’s “Avengers.” In this one feature film, many big-name characters, such as Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America and Thor, were brought together. These characters and their respective actors were all household names. Nowadays, one can’t look at Robert Downey Jr. without thinking of Tony Stark. The actors casted for these characters were picture-perfect and accurate to the original comics, while the writing and planning for these characters, as well as their arcs and development, fit them to a tee. The tension and stakes were appropriately raised with every movie in a way that felt natural.
In 2019, Phase Three of the MCU ended with “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” but this was only the beginning of the end. Marvel started Phase Four with “WandaVision,” a television series on Disney Plus. COVID-19 severely impacted their release schedule since Phase Four started with a couple of television shows instead of films. These series’ would highlight a lack of clarity in Phase Four, which represents a prominent issue for the MCU overall. The previous films went for over a decade, setting up an epic two-part climax that started with our heroes losing in “Avengers: Infinity War.” The movie’s sequel, “Avengers: Endgame,” is a three-hour-long blockbuster that broke box office records and served as a culmination for over 20 films. Anyone who saw it in theaters can recount how insane and hyperactive the audiences were to finally see which characters would live and which would die. The movies and TV shows following the sequel felt like Marvel’s attempt to pick up the pieces from where this universe left off.
The major gimmick of the next couple of phases of the MCU — from four and onward — is concerned with the “multiverse.” This concept consists of multiple versions of our favorite heroes, as seen in 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” in which classic Spidey actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield made a return to the delight of critics and moviegoers. While this was a dream come true for many, including myself, it was clearly a cheap way to get the attention of older fans who might have lost interest in the MCU. The plot of these movies felt completely dependent on these multiversal characters, cheapening the characters’ writing. Instead of coming up with unique developments for new characters, it was easier for these films to bring in older ones. While it was exciting to see the older versions of these characters that came to define them as we know them to be, it felt very creatively bankrupt. Why create new, fresh and interesting stories and characters when the writers can just bring back the old actors from 20-plus years ago for a quick cameo and get some extra box office cash that way? The multiverse, while a very comic book-inspired concept, felt ill-timed and cheap.
The critical reception for Phase Four was very mixed. Some movies were disliked, such as “Eternals” and “Thor: Love and Thunder,” and some were praised, like the previously mentioned “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings.” As of this article’s publication, the most recent MCU film, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” has received less than stellar reviews and holds the lowest audience-rated review score on Rotten Tomatoes. Many of these more recent films received negative receptions because the writing and plots were poor. For example, in the most recent Thor movie, it felt like his character had completely regressed. Instead of being the wise, lighthearted yet melancholic warrior he was in “Avengers: Infinity War,” he was written to be akin to a man-child. Many fans who have followed the character since 2011 felt betrayed by this sudden and unnecessary character regression.
With the subpar reception of the latest Marvel films, many are wondering what’s next. Nate Moore, vice president of production and development at Marvel, has stated that the MCU can go for a long time and can end sometime in the future, but might even come back, like the cyclical nature of musicals. This is an interesting perspective, since obviously the MCU cannot continue on forever — it wouldn’t be sustainable. Audiences would eventually get tired of it if, for the rest of time, there was another Avengers movie every year. I think the MCU should release fewer movies and shows a year and should focus on quality over quantity. Spend time on newer characters that deserve great character development, like Spider-Man, Shang-Chi, Kamala Khan and Moon Knight, to name a few. These characters are all relatively new and, if given proper time to develop, can grow to be as well-written as the founders of the MCU, like “Iron Man,” “Captain America” and “The Hulk.”
I’m harsh on the MCU because I love it. I grew up on these films, and I look up to their heroes. These films are pillars of contemporary pop culture, and I would like to see them thrive. However, I do not agree with the current path they are on. I can’t help but feel like they would’ve been better off, overall, ending the series after — essentially — the climax. “Avengers: Endgame” wasn’t a movie — it was a worldwide event. I remember waiting so long to see it, talking to my friends in class about what we thought would happen, trying to dodge and weave spoilers and finally breaking the anticipation and watching it. It was unlike any moviegoing experience I’ve ever had. I believe the MCU’s continuation lessens the impact of films. Imagine if the latest MCU film was the last for 10 years, and how crazy a comeback a new film would’ve been. All I can hope for is that these films get back on track and make me feel anything other than a sigh of mediocre disappointment.
Nicolas Scagnelli is a junior majoring in English.