By Will Brown
2019 saw the end of Marvel’s Infinity Saga. An overarching saga spanning 21 years, 23 films and 25 superheroes. Avengers: Endgame became the highest grossing film of all time (until Avatar later reclaimed its top spot) with a box office of around $2.8 billion dollars. However you feel about Marvel films, it’s undeniable that this was a veritable cinematic achievement – and attempts to imitate Marvel’s success (looking at you, DC) has shown that it’s not as easy as it appears.
But the Marvel Cinematic Universe did not end at the conclusion of the Infinity Saga. Phase Four of the MCU has so far given us three films and (with the expansion onto the small screen through Disney+) three series. Yet there are those who suggest that the MCU is on its way out, and that Phase Four is simply the dying embers of a successful franchise. It is, after all, quite hard to raise the stakes from a madman intent on halving life across the universe.
However, this new phase of the MCU has coincided with Covid-19 – which makes it quite hard to objectively say whether these newer films have done poorly. On paper, all the newer films from the MCU have done quite poorly at the box office in comparison to their peers. Black Widow comes 23rd out of 26, Shang-Chi comes 24th and Eternals currently sits at 25th (for those wondering, 26th is 2008’s The Incredible Hulk). But taking in the context of the pandemic and the knowledge that all these films will quickly end up on Disney+, where people may be more comfortable watching them, it is harder to know how successful these films have truly been. In terms of reviews, they have mostly (sorry Eternals) been as positive as they usually are – so it’s evident that the quality is remaining consistent.
And how have the TV shows fared? It’s much harder to know for certain given that they were all exclusively on Disney+, but Parrot Analytics do attempt to analyse this through social media mentions, ratings, and piracy data. According to Parrot, all three of Marvel’s series (WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki) hit the #1 spot worldwide during their run. Critics have also been quite favourable to the series – so there’s no significant flop there either.
So, is Marvel on its way out? The success of the Disney+ series alone would suggest otherwise, and by pandemic standards most of the films have been quite successful. Some have argued that the newer films from Marvel have not had quite the same hype – but I’d argue that’s partially to be expected from the types of films we’ve received so far. We’ve had a prequel and two introductions of new, unknown characters. Neither would be expected to generate quite as much excitement as a sequel for a beloved character – and given that the release of the teaser trailer for December’s Spider-Man: No Way Home racked up 355 million views within 24 hours (blowing far past Endgame’s 289 million), I’d argue that the hype for Marvel films is far from dead. Perhaps a greater litmus test for the franchise will be the 2022 slate, bringing a series of sequels for the fan-favourites of Doctor Strange, Thor and Black Panther. With any luck, the pandemic will have less of an influence, and we can begin to truly see what the state of Marvel’s empire is.
Of course, I don’t think anyone expects Marvel films to last forever. Genres rise and fall over time, and Marvel is uniquely disadvantaged in that they have established a certain tone and style that audiences have come to expect. Whilst that uniformity may have been the key to its success, it also hampers it from growing and developing. It’s natural for film genres to evolve, compare Sam Raimi’s camp Spider-Man to James Gunn’s gory The Suicide Squad and it’s evident how much the superhero genre has transitioned, and as such, the danger for Marvel lies in its inability to make that same transition.
I don’t believe that Marvel is going away any time soon, and I for one will continue to see each film as it comes out alongside countless others. But I would be pleasantly surprised if the franchise ever reaches the heights of Endgame again – only time will tell.
Image Credits: Erik Mclean via Unsplash