Hi Kevin, I hope you’re well and not working too hard. How’s it March already? The year is flying, isn’t it? Listen, I know you’re a busy guy, and honestly, you’re probably not reading this. You’re probably hard at work ahead of The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 release date and trying to get your ducks in a row before Marvel’s Phase 5 kicks off in earnest.
But Kevin, we need to talk because, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, something isn’t right in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it hasn’t been for a while. It can’t have escaped your attention that the last few MCU movies haven’t quite cut the mustard with fans or been runaway commercial successes.
I mean, none of the Marvel movies you’ve released since Spider-Man No Way Home (and you had help from Sony on that) have earned a billion at the box office, and it feels, from a purely anecdotal view, that enthusiasm for the MCU is winding down a bit. Now, part of that’s inevitable.
You and Marvel Studios have been top dogs in Hollywood for a decade now, and we know from the Westerns of yesteryear that no genre stays popular forever. However, it does feel, and we’re sorry to say this to someone who managed to make our nerd dreams come true, that Marvel’s accelerating its own demise.
Let’s use Ant-Man 3 as an example, as it was the most recent superhero movie your studio put out. What the hell was that? I know some people thought it was good, and our own Anthony McGlynn didn’t hate it (read his Ant-Man 3 review here), but as someone who’s watched every one of your action movies, I was frankly a little embarrassed watching it.
The whole thing felt like a parody of what Marvel critics accuse these movies of being. The action was dull and overly reliant on some pretty wonky CGI, the characters felt like parodies of their previous selves, and the story had about as much depth as a particularly shallow teaspoon.
Honestly, though, the worst was that Ant-Man 3 felt like a box-ticking exercise rather than a movie. A corporate strategy to spoon-feed plot to people who didn’t watch the Marvel series Loki and who need to know who the new big Marvel villain, Kang the Conqueror, is before we get to Avengers 5. Basically, Kevin, what I’m saying is that you messed up.
I think the mistake is twofold. Your first mistake was the Disney Plus shows. Now the idea of TV series set in the MCU is actually quite a good one. It allows you to tell new and different stories in an exciting new format without investing movie money in them. The issue is that you made too many.
Last year it felt like a new Marvel property was released every other month, either on the small or big screen, and the whole thing became a bit overwhelming, and I say that as someone who reads comics week to week. If I struggle to keep up with all these shows, imagine how people with only a passing interest feel about them.
The sheer amount of Marvel content has led people (who don’t always have the time to invest in a 6-8 hour long tv show) to skip series they don’t see as important to the plot. I’ll use my brothers as an example. They like the Marvel movies as much as the next person, but they’re not exactly superfans and don’t stay up-to-date on the shows.
So when we sat down to watch Doctor Strange 2, they were baffled by Scarlet Witch’s sudden turn to evil. Is it their fault they didn’t tune into WandaVision (Editor: Yes)? Of course, it’s not. You shouldn’t have to do homework before seeing a movie about wizards throwing glowy shit at each other.
The second issue you’ve got sort of plays into the first. I think you’ve learned the wrong lessons from the success of Endgame. Here’s the thing: Endgame was a great conclusion to ten years of movies, and as a fan, it was gratifying to see a load of winks, nods, and references to the films that came before. Still, that fanservice was the cherry on top of a well-crafted conclusion to the Infinity Saga.
What I’m saying is that Endgame is a good movie. The fact it was part of a connected universe was just a bonus. These new movies you’ve been putting out, though, seem more obsessed with building an interconnected (and frankly confusing) story than in being good standalone films. You didn’t end Iron Man with Thanos sitting on his big space toilet. You built up to it.
I think part of this as well, is how downright baffling the Multiverse Saga has been. Thanos had a clear and obvious goal from the beginning, collect the Infinity Stones. We didn’t always know what he would do with them, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that the audience understood it would be bad if he succeeded.
With Kang the Conqueror, though, what’s the goal? Conquering? That’s a bit vague, isn’t it? Even in Ant-Man 3, you never really showed us why Kang escaping would be such a disaster, and you undermined his threat entirely by having, in the Marvel Villain’s own words, “a man who talks to ants” defeat him in a fight.
Ultimately Kevin, what I’m saying (with some notable exceptions) is that Phase 4 and Phase 5 have just been a bit dull and confusing. Which, you’d probably agree, is a bit of a problem. Don’t worry, though, it’s not all bad news, and I have some unsolicited advice that you’ll never read.
So what’s the good news? Well, there have definitely been glimmers of the old Marvel magic in Phases 4 and 5. I loved Shang Chi (read my Shang-Chi review here) as well as WandaVision and Loki. Similarly, I know people who were greatly affected by Wakanda Forever, which was a lovely tribute to Chadwick Boseman. Also, we can all agree that Guardians 3 looks like it will be ace.
Anyway, on to the unsolicited advice. You’ve actually already realised this, but I’m on a roll now, so I’m not going to stop. You really need to slow down the movie and TV releases and focus on quality over content. Don’t worry about setting up the next domino in your sprawling grand narrative. Just focus on making the best movie you can before moving on to the next one.
If you do this, then I’m more than confident you can make Marvel’s Phase 5 into something special again, and who knows, maybe Secret Wars can knock Avatar 2 off the top of the box office again. That’d be something. Oh, and finally, never show me MODOK’s butt again. That was a low blow, and you’re better than that.