We are a little less than a month away from the release of Marvel Studio’s Black Widow on July 9, and the most excitement I can muster up is: “meh”.
My interest in the fledgling MCU was ignited by the flame that was Iron Man in 2008. Perfect casting in an art-imitates-life role for Robert Downey Jr. led to a career revival for both RDJ and his onscreen counterpart Tony Stark. With a strong story and deft direction by John Favreau, the MCU was born when, at the end of Iron Man, Samuel L. Jackson (another brilliant casting move)—as Avengers head honcho Nick Fury—invited Stark to join the Avengers Initiative. I was hooked.
Fast-forward to 2012, and one of the biggest movies of all-time was released: The Avengers. This box-office behemoth was at the top of the cultural zeitgeist, and tied together the previous threads of the various MCU entries. Equal parts humor, action, and heart, The Avengers shattered records on the way to $1.5 billion at the global box office. The MCU was the new king in town.
Despite the success of the budding MCU, a small but growing minority levied (valid) criticism towards the MCU for creating formulaic and unoriginal superhero movies. Enter the Russo Brothers. Released in 2016, Captain America: Civil War (which some considered The Avengers 2.5), was the first MCU spy thriller/espionage movie—that just so happened to be a superhero movie. Great storytelling combined with a moral ambiguity flipped the script on the traditional “good vs. evil” formula that was so prevalent in superhero movies, and introduced a grey area that gave depth and nuance to our superheroes and forced them to ask a question they are rarely ever asked in movies: what are the consequences of my actions? The MCU carried on destroying all in its path.
Before its zenith and culmination of years of world-building came to a head in Avengers: Endgame, the penultimate (and in my opinion best) Avengers movie was released: Avengers: Infinity War. Non-stop action led to one of the riskiest and best endings in cinematic history: the bad guy wins. With Thanos snapping away half of all life in the universe and the abrupt ending seeing our dejected superheroes losing not only the battle–but half of the Avengers–left jaws on the floor. Perhaps there was no more anticipation after a cliffhanger in cinematic history than the ending of The Empire Strikes Back.
An agonizing year-long wait later, the Avengers finally lived up to their name in Endgame, with the Avengers defeating Thanos’s army, and Tony Stark making the ultimate sacrifice and snapping away the Mad Titan himself. Steve Rodgers walked off into the sunset, and the 23-movie Infinity Saga came to a satisfying end.
Where does Marvel go from here? Apparently to the scrap heap.
Black Widow is the next MCU release coming up on July 9, but is that a story that really needs to be told? Her character literally died in Endgame, effectively wrapping up her story arc. Do we need to see a side mission she does before the events of Captain America: Civil War in 2016 that has a negligible effect on the movies that come after? I say no.
Next on the release docket is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. You couldn’t pay me to get excited to see this movie. The preview reveals no plot, and makes no effort to get you to care about one of Marvel’s D-List superheroes. Marvel seems to be falling back into their oft criticized “formulaic superhero movie” trope. Unlike the relatively unknown Guardians of the Galaxy that graced our screens in 2014, when the MCU was in full throttle and fans were desperate to get new content–no matter how obscure the heroes were—Shang Chi just seems uninteresting. Now that the Infinity Saga is over, does anyone even care about a no-name Marvel superhero? I guess we will find out on September 3.
Finally we get to (yawn) The Eternals. Another preview short on plot or coherence. The Eternals are a race of super-beings who have been hiding in secrecy for thousands of years who have vowed not to get involved in human affairs until AFTER the Infinity Saga. Apparently, Thanos wiping out half of all life in the universe was not enough to get them to help, but now is the perfect time to reveal themselves once the Avengers as we know them are gone. Hard pass.
It seems Sony is the only studio that has any idea or clue about how to continue on with Marvel characters we actually care about. Anticipation is high for Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Spiderman: No Way Home to be released on September 17 and December 17, respectively. I am personally looking forward to the satisfying conclusion of the Tom Holland Spider-Man trilogy.
All this is not to say that there aren’t some exciting developments on the docket for the MCU. Thor: Love and Thunder looks to be another hilarious and rollicking good time under the direction of brilliant auteur Taika Waititi. Speaking of brilliant directors, original Spider-Man trilogy legend Sam Rami is directing Dr. Strange’s second cinematic outing: Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Both Spider-Man (rumor has it, Rami’s Tobey McGuire Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man’s Andrew Garfield will make an appearance) and Dr. Strange seem to be taking on the MCU Multiverse, which should open up new creative avenues and expand the MCU in ways we’ve never seen; and perhaps build to the same excitement audiences had for the Infinity Saga.
Likewise, James Gunn’s quirky and funny bunch return in Guardian of the Galaxy 3 (now including Thor!) and the always affable Paul Rudd returns as Ant-Man in: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantummania, which should be a light-hearted and funny adventure; while potentially setting up the MCU’s new big-bad: Kang the Conqueror. Lastly, the Fantastic Four will be added to Marvel’s Phase 4 (fitting the Fantastic Four would be released in Phase 4), but no release date or plot news has been made available.
Will the MCU reach the almost unattainable heights it reached during the Infinity Saga? Only time will tell. But for this author, the future looks cloudy. But, I’d rather have expectations surpassed than not met. The ball is in your court Marvel.
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