A lot of digital ink has been spilled writing about the future of the Marvel Studios and the MCU after a bout of box-office misses and waning public interest in what was once the king of pop culture. So what’s rotten at the heart of Marvel Studios?
Well, I’m a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but a lot of the goodwill I feel towards the franchise comes from my love of the comic books that inspired these fantastic tales. So, while watching all the Marvel movies in order to prepare for Loki season 2 (It’s a dirty job, I know, but someone’s got to do it), I realized something. The MCU is making the same mistake Marvel Comics made decades ago.
What do I mean? Well, to put it simply, the studio that used to make the best superhero movies in town is getting lost in its own continuity. Let us explain. To watch and understand Avengers: Endgame, you had to watch 21 films, which, while daunting, is more than achievable in a single month, with a few days to spare to get over superhero fatigue.
By the time Marvel’s Phase 5 is over, and we get to the Secret Wars release date, though, you’ll have to have seen 39 movies and 14 Marvel series to be completely up to date with all the official goings-on in the MCU. That’s a nearly impossible task for even the most dedicated of Marvel zombies. But wait, it gets worse.
If the Secret Wars rumors are to be believed, various characters from across previous Marvel continuities (including the Fox Marvel Universe and the Sony Marvel Universe) will have a role to play in the upcoming Marvel movie, which means you’ll have to watch them as well.
There are 13 X-Men movies made by Fox (if we include Deadool 1 and 2) and five Spider-Man movies made by Sony (not including the MCU films or the Venom spin-offs). That makes the total watchlist ahead of Secret Wars potentially 57 films long plus 14 shows, and again, that’s not even everything. We haven’t included the Fox Fantastic Four films, the undated MCU shows, or the Marvel Netflix series.
To put it in a context people can understand, at the time of writing, it would take you around 66 hours to watch all the currently released MCU movies (we’re not working out the length of all the Marvel series for the sake of our sanity). That means the average Marvel movie runs for about two hours. Some quick math shows then that by the time we get to Secret Wars, we’re potentially looking at 80 hours of Marvel movies.
That’s nearly three and a half days! You can travel to the moon in that time! Do you really want to spend them rewatching Marvel films? The point we’re trying to make is that Marvel’s at risk of being caught in its own continuity snarl with the sheer weight of shows, movies, and spin-offs dragging the entire franchise down as people begin to feel that keeping up with everything is homework set by the House of Mouse.
This is a problem that’s dogged the comics world for decades, with big crossover events like Civil War, Secret Invasion, or Secret Wars sacrificing storytelling and readability as they’re forced to split their story across multiple books starring different Marvel characters. Perhaps more potentially disastrous, though, is the fact these events don’t allow new readers, who are put off by the sheer weight of continuity, from jumping on board.
So what’s the solution? Well, I’m glad you asked, hypothetical reader. The answer is to copy the comics, of course. What newer crossover stories have done is scale back, limiting the number of characters who appear in a story.
So, for example, rather than having Captain America, Iron Man, Kitchen Sink (there’s probably a hero somewhere with that name), and all the Avengers appear, the writer will limit it to two to three characters. That way, the story becomes more manageable for more comic readers and makes it an easier jumping on point for potential new fans.
Marvel Studios could easily adopt this formula by splitting the various Avengers into different sub-factions. You could have a street-level Avengers team of Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Ms. Marvel dealing with a relatively low-powered Marvel villain like Kingpin. Meanwhile, you could have a ‘Magical Avengers team’ with Doctor Strange, Wong, and Scarlet Witch teaming up to take on Mephisto or Kang the Conqueror. You get the idea.
By doing this, you’d reduce the barrier to entry for the MCU significantly because you wouldn’t be asking people to watch every movie, just the ones with the characters they care about. The mega fans could still watch them all, of course, and Marvel should probably reward them for that, but the impetus shouldn’t be on maintaining the mega fans. They’re going to turn up anyway. It’s the more casual fans that need the help.
As Loki’s executive producer, Kevin Wright, told us when asked about keeping the multiverse working, he said it’s ultimately about simplicity. “If it’s intriguing and simple. We’re winning, he told us .”Once it becomes confusing and homework, it’s not going to work, or you’ve got to refine it.” It sounds like a lesson Marvel could apply to Marvel’s Phase 6 and beyond.
Of course, doing so would reduce potential box office taking, and if there’s one thing businesses hate, it’s making millions when they could make billions.
If you love Marvel, then you’re probably watching Loki season 2, and you could be a little confused by everything going on at the TVA right now. Don’t worry. We’ve got guides breaking down some of the show’s more complicated ideas, like Temporal Looms and Time Slipping.