To say that we’re living in a “post-Marvel world” is much like saying that we’re living in a “post-COVID world”. If you’ll forgive comparing a multimedia franchise to a lethal plague, the analogy is otherwise quite apt.
We’re talking about a world-conquering force that has deeply pervaded every level of the cultural zeitgeist. Something that has artistically, economically, dare I say even politically changed the world in far-reaching ways. Put simply, the MCU has been such a huge part of the world for such a long period of time that there is simply no going back to a time without it.
Those movies are never going out of print. There will never be a generation that isn’t at least faintly aware that the MCU was a thing. There will never be an era of blockbuster cinema that isn’t in some way affected or inspired by Kevin Feige or the numerous filmmakers on his payroll.
Feige offered us a deal: Follow along through over ten years of movies, and be rewarded with a crossover event worthy of cinema history. We kept our end of the bargain, they kept theirs, contract terminated. And ever since Avengers: Endgame, film enthusiasts and critics and clickbaiters all over the internet have kicked up a shitstorm about how the MCU is over and fatigue has set in. That isn’t the problem. It’s not that Marvel films have become bad, it’s that they’ve become normal.
Going back to the COVID analogy, I’ve taken to calling 2022 “the year of the relaunch”. That was the year when we finally opened the world back up and unleashed all the energy we had pent up over lockdown. By contrast, 2023 has been “the year of the reckoning”. All throughout this past year, we’ve seen people, companies, industries, and even governments forced to reckon with the ruthless law of gravity. We’ve been forced to accept that the 2022 surge was never going to last, indefinite growth on that scale is unsustainable, we’re never going back to the way things were, and it’s not like the Before Times were ever going to last forever anyway.
That’s where we are with the MCU. Except I don’t think we’ve fully acknowledged that or accepted it yet.
Disney is still carrying on like they expect every Marvel film to be a billion-dollar hit. In fact, we’ve known for years that Disney’s whole business model is to crank out blockbusters like they expect every one to be a Frozen-level smash. And that strategy hasn’t worked out for them very well.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Over the past fifteen years, we’ve seen a whole industry of “journalism” built around the MCU. Reputable news sites, clickbaiters, incendiary fuckwit YouTubers, and everyone in between have built their entire fortune on articles about the MCU and the ad revenue thereof. They need the MCU to be a big deal. They need every single Marvel movie to be a huge cultural event that everybody obsessively follows, because that’s what drives the lucrative social media engagement.
This is not sustainable. It never was. Marvel has been — and still is — churning out movies at such a massive volume at such a consistently unyielding rate, we can’t expect every single one to be an Avengers-level event on the scale of Endgame. We can’t have that, we don’t need that, and I honestly don’t think we want that. Because that’s how burnout happens.
Moreover, there used to be a time when we needed to do so much homework before seeing an MCU film. That was a huge part of the “megafranchise” model, the notion of films interlocked in such a way that audiences had to see every single one of them. The MCU has now grown so massive that this is no longer viable. And in fact, it’s no longer necessary.
Again, it bears mentioning that the MCU is now hardwired into our collective consciousness. There are now people out there with no living memory of seeing Iron Man (2008), and even THEY know what happened in the post-credits scene. We know these characters, we know this world, and we know how it works. Even if we see a Marvel movie with details from some unseen or forgotten entry, we can take it for granted that the relevant details were explained elsewhere, look it up online later if we feel so inclined, and move on.
We don’t need huge exposition dumps anymore. We don’t need Marvel films in excess of 150 minutes anymore. Disney doesn’t have to put in so much money and effort at selling us on a world we’ve all been living in for the past 15 years, and I’d love to see them take advantage of that.
I’d love to see us remember that more than anything else, these movies are supposed to be FUN. These movies took up so much time and money, put so many careers on the line, made us all invest so much energy and emotions into the MCU that somewhere along the way, we started taking this shit too seriously.
Everyone — from the studio execs to the hot-takers down to the last audience member — needs to calm the fuck down. For better or worse, the Marvel films are not going anywhere. There have always been superhero movies (at least since the 1940s) and there will always be superhero movies. To paraphrase Kyle Kallgren, we need as many superheroes as there are ways to be heroic.
Stop expecting every Marvel film to reach the scale of Avengers: Endgame unless you are actively rooting for Marvel and all of Hollywood to collapse on itself. Stop worrying about the minutiae of the MCU and don’t feel like you’re being left out if you don’t get every single callback. Stop treating the decline of the MCU like the downfall of cinema itself unless you’re so disconnected and media illiterate that the Marvel films are the only movies you watch.
The Marvel films have become so normalized that it’s time to treat them like any other movie: See what you want to see, skip what you don’t. And for the love of the holiest deity, don’t hold any movie or franchise in such importance that it’s the only cinema you ever see to the exclusion of all else. Remember, Netflix alone has enough content that you could binge it 24/7 without ever seeing the same film or TV show twice and NEVER run out of things to watch. There’s plenty of other stuff out there, there’s always been plenty of other stuff out there, and there will ALWAYS be room for superhero media to coexist with everything else.
The Marvels has already been written off as a box-office bomb, but word of mouth has been surprisingly positive. I’m sure it didn’t help that the SAG-AFTRA strike made marketing near-impossible right when press appearances would’ve made the biggest impact. I’m sure it also doesn’t help that Brie Larson’s take on Captain Marvel isn’t quite the standard-bearer she was hyped up to be in Infinity War. But more than any of that, there’s a sense that this is a period of transition for Marvel Studios. As such, it makes sense that this should be a bit of a rocky time.
But that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. I don’t ever want to say that “it’s only a movie” when it cost millions of dollars and so many people’s hard work over several years, but that doesn’t mean we have to take this shit so personally or seriously.
The Marvels is out in theaters now. I’ll do my best to get to it in short order.