We were shown 18 Marvel films before they reached the culmination of epic proportions: The Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame which lead to the final showdown with Thanos and his alien army against most of the characters introduced in the previous films. It’s a pretty safe bet that this feat would not be accomplished again in film history. And it seems even the creators that were able to achieve this miracle of a task are having trouble replicating it. In the subsequent 11 films that have followed the Infinity Saga and since the beginning of Phase Four there doesn’t seem to be a clear villain they are building up to or even a clear direction that we are heading for. Now with the Kang of it all taking place in the real world, that direction seems even more directionless. Disney+ shows haven’t helped either. In what feels more like homework than entertainment, the Marvel Shows have been more misses than hits. It appears Kevin Feige and crew have strayed from the road quite a bit.
This is not to say that there have not been detours from the first three Phases. The beginning of Phase Two (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier) had little to do with the Infinity Stones, only to really lean on it with Guardians of the Galaxy by speaking at length about Thanos and the power of the Infinity Stones. And with Spider-Man: No Way Home which looked like the perfect catapult into a new realm of possibilities with the introduction of the Multiverse. They stumbled yet again. In Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness like most of the films in Phase 4 the main character ends up almost exactly where they started at the beginning of the film. Two of the films seem like the have no bering on what’s coming, Black Widow being dead and the Eternals being disbanded, maybe to never be seen again. There was no mention of the giant Celestial sticking out of a quarter of the earth they left behind in any of the films that came after.
It appears this slate of films has more in common with Marvel Comic Annuals now. These are usually big bold stories that live outside whatever current storyline the character was involved in. For example, as Peter Parker/Spider-Man battles for this life against the Sinister Six in Amazing Spider-Man #1, in the next issue of the regular series, issue #14 there is no trace of them instead we are first introduced to “The Menace of…Mysterio”. That’s what this current series of films feel like, disconnected stories with varying degrees of success.
What does this all mean? Is the Marvel Cinematic Universe turning into Marvel Comics?
As it has always been in comics, there were peaks and valleys. In the 80’s people like John Byrne, Louise Simpson, and Chris Claremont were kings and queens writing “Fantastic” and “Uncanny” stories every month for years. Then the 90’s came along and it was all variant chromium-covers, with names like McFarlane, Lee, and Liefeld who drew “Amazing” and even more “Uncanny” covers.
It was all about the art until it wasn’t and in the aughts, the Architects: guys like Bendis, Fraction, and Brubaker helped shape what when transferred to film would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To this day, all the names I mentioned above don’t get enough credit for what now, feels obvious that we took for granted. Great Marvel characters in great Marvel movies!
I have been a fan of Marvel since the late 1970’s. I had waited patently though some great and mostly bad Marvel movies. For 30 years I waited to see what was on the page come to life as it did in 2008’s Iron Man and then to hear the word “Avengers” mentioned by the Ultimate Comic Universe version of Nick Fury no less to connect to other Marvel characters to come. The kid in me awoke. I am still grateful that I was able to share the Infinity Saga with my kids. Whereas my love for these four-color characters started on the page, now lives on in them through the films. Call it superhero fatigue, call it poor filmmaking, call it directionless over saturation. Nothing can take away what was. And if indeed we are witnessing a similar trajectory for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as fans have seen for years in Marvel Comics, it just means there is even more greatness to come.