Wicked 10: the MCU's Overdue Changes

Wicked 10: the MCU's Overdue Changes

BY MATT TUCK, BLOGGER SUPREME

IG@matt.tuck.writer

FB@ The Comic Blog

We’re all ready for what Marvel has in store for the next three years, but first Disney and Kevin Feige should look at making some much-needed changes to their product.

THE SDCC FANFARE

Like everyone else on the planet, I am excited for all that Marvel Studios announced at San Diego Comic-Con. Starting this time last week, Kevin Fegie broke the news about X-Men ‘97 and Spider-Man: Freshman Year, and that was only the warm up. When Saturday’s SDCC panel rolled around, I expected Marvel to follow DC’s suit and give us a little more detail on what was previously announced. Then Feige and the crew completely blew the roof off SDCC.

In the next three years, the MCU will go headfirst into The Multiverse Saga, with Kang and all his variants as its centerpiece. Along with a stunning Black Panther: Wakanda Forever trailer, they unveiled footage from Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, with Jonathan Majors in full Kang attire. We also got a tearful goodbye from the Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 cast with Chukwudi Iwuji taking the stage in his High Evolutionary costume. 

All of that was merely a preface to the real fireworks. Feige pulled the curtain back on what’s coming in 2025. After we all thought the Avengers were a thing of the past, there will be two new movies coming, and they dominated social media. First, we’ll see Avengers: The Kang Dynasty followed by Avengers: Secret Wars

I got caught up in the moment along with everyone else. The movies and Disney+ shows on tap sound amazing. Here we are a week later, and reality has sunk in. Unless the Marvel Studios powers that be, and that goes higher than even the all-mighty Feige, deem it necessary to alter the current slapstick-happy, dumbed-down MCU formula, we are all in for some major disappointments.

THE WRITING ON THE WALL?

By no stretch of the imagination can we call the MCU’s Phase 4 a failure. Between the movies and the Disney+ streaming series, Marvel is still reeling in astounding profits on its shared universe. However, the data indicates a downward shift. Some might attribute that to superhero fatigue, and I can’t discredit that prognosis, but I lean more toward it being a formula that needs maturity. 

It’s been three weeks since Thor: Love and Thunder had its theatrical premiere, but there are reports circulating that Marvel’s latest Thunder God adventure could lose money. That may be a bit premature, but it isn’t necessarily surprising. Next to Eternals, it has the lowest critical rating of any Phase Four movie or streaming series, according to Rotten Tomatoes. Its 68% average ranks it as the fourth-worst MCU film, though it still beats the second Thor movie, The Dark World, which says a lot about Thor’s sidequests. 

Thor 4 raked in $143M domestic plus $159M overseas, for a $302M global bow, according to Box Office Pro. That made it the biggest opening of any God of Thunder film and ranked 12th among all MCU movies’ opening weekends. Those numbers easily made it the number one box office attraction, but that is standard procedure for anything with the Marvel logo. 

In my review, I had said to watch the figures going forward. 

According to Forbes, Love and Thunder suffered a whopping 68% drop at the box office by its second weekend. Percentage wise, that is a larger fall between first and second weekends than the 64% drop between weekends for the abysmal Batman & Robin from 1997. To keep things in perspective, Thor 4 is still hauling in a huge return overall, but that huge dip has to raise at least a couple of alarms.

CHANGES, THEY NEED TO BE A-COMIN’

Does this mean the shine is coming off Marvel Studios? Not necessarily, though some bloggers are prematurely calling this the beginning of the end for the MCU. There are those pundits who are wondering if it is time for a full reboot. Again, that is premature. 

Love and Thunder wasn’t a good movie, but it was basically a rehash of everything we saw in Ragnarok. That is the common flaw in sequels, which tend to copy everything from the original but make it bigger and more extravagant in a mad cash grab. There were few differences thematically between Love and Thunder and Ragnarok, so Thor 4’s reception likely would have been much better if it had been released first. 

The problem is that it comes on the heels of another disappointment, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Ms. Marvel reportedly didn’t bring in the numbers Disney+ had hoped for. Fans have voiced their complaints about virtually all of Phase 4, and that could be the real writing on the wall that this is not solely about one movie’s performance; it’s all of it.

By no means is this the beginning of the end for Marvel’s box office dominance, and it’s certainly not time to throw in the MCU’s CGI towel. There is no one specific reason fans aren’t lining up to see Love and Thunder, and I would assume Kevin Feige and the Disney executives aren’t panicking quite yet. If we are lucky, maybe it’s enough to make them reassess their future projects. On that note, here are 10 things that would make the MCU much more enjoyable.

10 BETTER, MORE REALISTIC SETS

For movies with $200 million budgets, the sets are looking more and more fake. Obviously, green screens are necessary for sci-fi movies set on distant worlds and alternate universes. When done correctly, the fake backgrounds are hard to notice and feel real. Once upon a time, Marvel Studios was among the best at blending the green screens with the sound stages. Infinity War and Endgame both did great jobs with this, and it added to the bigger moments.

As an audience, we are aware that what we’re seeing is fiction, but the effects were of high enough quality that it didn’t take us out of the narrative. Lately, Marvel has been coming across as increasingly lazy in this department. Although Black Panther was draped in accolades, it had its fair share of phony sound stages. The worst culprit was the cliffside waterfall fight scenes when T’Challa defended his crown from M’Baku and later Killmonger. There was no question that these were actors on a soundstage, and it looked cheap for a $200 million production. 

Even worse was Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. When Doctor Strange and America Chavez fell through the Multiverse and ended up in an alternate dimension New York City, the rooftop was painfully phony. Sure, you need green screens to portray the floral NYC, but everything about the soundstage looked exactly like what they were: fake set pieces. With so much money invested in MOM, there’s no excuse for bad green screen moments. Personally, I appreciate when a movie films on location and ditches soundstages, but I understand that can’t work for every MCU film.

9 IMPROVED CGI

Going hand-in-hand with the bad soundstages are the copious amounts of CGI. Of course, that is not a criticism. Some comic characters can look great with practical effects and costumes, but we’ve seen what happens when that goes awry. Remember the Thing in Fox’s first two Fantastic Four movies? Michael Chiklis in his foam and rubber suit was the worst kind of cringey, and it only gets worse with age. There are some characters who can only be portrayed properly in CGI, but that’s not my problem. I’m referring to the smaller moments.

Taika Waititi has come under fire for mocking the CGI in Love and Thunder. In a video that has since gone viral in the comic community, the director and Tessa Thompson, who plays Valkyrie, break down the Asgardian town hall meeting dubbed “Taste the Rainbow.” Specifically, they laugh at the effects on Korg, Thor, and Jane Foster and how fake all three characters appear. Waititi has come under fire for the remarks, but more on that in a moment.

Again, for movies with nine-figure budgets, things should look much better, but the special effects appear rushed. It’s been one of the most common complaints about the MCU’s Phase Four projects, particularly the movies. While Waititi mocking the visual effects of Love and Thunder ruffled feathers, the resulting conversation about the CGI and the pressures on sfx artists could bring about much-needed changes to future projects.

8 QUALITY VERSUS QUANTITY

Whenever a studio has a hit franchise on its hands, it inevitably cranks out sequels like the Keebler Elves baking cookies. Unfortunately, that usually means a steady decrease in quality as they feel rushed and cheap. There have been many culprits here. Jaws, Rocky, Rambo, Terminator, and more recently, Jurassic Park/Jurassic World come to mind. 

When it comes to the MCU, it is a different beast entirely. The sprawling shared universe is made of individual franchises, but it’s not to say Marvel doesn’t fall victim to the same issues. Waititi’s remarks highlights what could be the looming problem for the MCU: oversaturating the market. With Disney+ at Marvel’s disposal, there is always a new MCU project premiering practically once a month. 

After the pandemic made 2020 a Marvel-less year, they came back in force. Since 2021, there’s been WandaVision, Loki, What If…?, Hawkeye, Moon Knight, and Ms. Marvel on Disney+ while Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, Spider-Man: No Way Home, MOM, and Love and Thunder all debuted in theaters. Having so many projects and more on the way, is Marvel Studios stretching itself too thin? 

Whether it's television, movies, or gaming, the fans lose when studios rush projects because there’s no time to waste before getting to the next project. That could be why the CGI, soundstages, and the plots for Phase Four have overall gone down in quality. There’s just too many in too short a time.

7 TONE DOWN THE CAMP

There’s no question that the MCU’s mastermind Kevin Feige loves campy, corny superheroes. This is the guy who produced Spider-Man 3 and greenlit the atrocious “Bully Parker” dance sequences and horrid dialogue. Granted, the MCU did a better job of delivering the laughs alongside the action than Spider-Man 3, all unintentional comedy aside, but the cleverness is waning. Even for critics who enjoyed both Love and Thunder and MOM, the overabundance of silliness and camp in both movies was overbearing. 

I attribute at least some of this to Disney. Phase 4 in particular has acting on par with those campy Disney live-action sitcoms. Since they’re intended for kids, most adults overlook it with an eye roll. Now it seems that same Disney Channel feel is seeping into the MCU, and it’s not working. 

6 LESS COMEDY, MORE ACTION

Camp and comedy tend to co-exist in a story, but they are not the same things.

I will elaborate more on this topic in a moment, but it could be time for Feige and company to focus more on a solid plot than jokes. One of Marvel’s trademarks is its comedy. When it’s done right, it makes for a more enjoyable experience. The problem is that Marvel wants more and more laughs in its product. They’re becoming less action and more comedy, when the original formula that made the MCU a success was the opposite. Sure, Iron Man had its share of well-timed jokes, but it had an interesting and serious story to tell. The Disney era is in full swing, and Marvel is slacking on story in favor of making full-blown comedies that are becoming increasingly forgettable. Some of Phase 4’s failures at the box office come from casual fans dismissing the latest Marvel hoopla as runofthemill cartoon silliness. 

5 LEVEL UP THE MATURITY

From the start, Marvel Studios has added well-timed levity to the action and drama, but Spider-Man: Homecoming felt more like a kids’ movie than the previous entries. Once that was a mega-hit, Disney heard the cash registers and went full-steam into making the MCU nonstop kids’ movies. There have been exceptions to that - Black Panther and Infinity War come to mind - but the plots, dialogue, and silliness have been geared more toward the younger crowd in recent years. Phase 4, be it the movies or the Disney+ shows, are gradually being pushed further into PG territory. Hawkeye would have been a better fit on the Disney Channel, and Ms. Marvel was fully intended for children.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying lighthearted kids’ affairs, and many adults embrace the escapism of it all. Family-friendly movies typically make the most money at the box office, considering they appeal to the widest range of viewers. I have no doubt that steering the MCU into full-fledged children’s movies is a Disney directive. Just look at the current slate of Star Wars products, which are even more on the kids’ side than the prequels (and that’s saying something). The real problem is that the more Disney leans into children territory, the worse the movies and shows are getting. The plots are dumbed down, the characters are continuously softened (i.e., Hulk and Thor), and everyone seems to be getting more kids in key roles (i.e., Baby Yoda in The Mandalorian, Baby Leia in Kenobi as well as the Asgardian children, not to mention Love, in Thor: Love and Thunder). 

Believe it or not, it is possible to make intelligently written kids’ movies with heavier themes and well-rounded characters. Pixar has reshaped the PG landscape with some of the most touching movies of the past 20 years. Maybe Marvel Studios needs to hire some of those filmmakers. 

4 GIVE THE FILMMAKERS MORE FREEDOM

From a corporate standpoint, it’s all about money. What we have to remember is that the corporate executives are not fans. Their jobs are to make profits, and the Disney execs are great at their jobs. Once they saw the kid-friendly, action-comedy formula made money, they clearly wanted more and more of it. 

Director Joe Russo put it best with his chocolate ice cream analogy, and I will paraphrase his comments. Creators give you chocolate ice cream, and you like it, so they give you other ice cream flavors to choose from. Corporations see chocolate ice cream is their best seller, so they bombard you with nothing but chocolate ice cream served in every way imaginable. “You like chocolate, do you? How about double chocolate? Triple chocolate? Chocolate with sprinkles?” They keep feeding you chocolate ice cream until you don’t want it…for the rest of your life. 

Going hand in hand with Disney crafting Marvel and Star Wars into corporate, PG kids’ cinema, it accentuates where the DCEU is outperforming the MCU: variety. Not every movie or show needs to be an action-comedy nor does it all have to be PG. 

With the DCEU, the filmmakers seem to be given more creative freedom with the content as of late. Although WB executives are infamous for ruining perfectly good screenplays, the recent crop of DC content has been the opposite. The result is a variety of superhero and comic adaptations for everyone. There’s the Marvel-like Shazam! that is mostly a kids’ action-comedy. Then there’s The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker, which are still action-comedies, but intended for adults. If you want something more dramatic, DC has Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the Watchmen series, and The Batman

The point is, Disney and Marvel need to understand that comics aren’t exclusively for kids, and the movies and series shouldn’t be, either. If Love and Thunder is any indication, the audience is ready for something different.

In recent weeks, Ethan Hawke has commented that while Marvel Studios is very much actor friendly, they’re not necessarily director friendly. If we read between the lines, that could be why we’re seeing more directors walking away with the old “creative differences” excuse. Who knows? If the filmmakers are allowed to make their movies, the maturity could be leveled up.

3 RESPECT THE CHARACTERS

The most common complaint about Multiverse of Madness and Love and Thunder has been the overabundance of silliness. Certainly, fans have grown to expect this from Marvel, and that goes double for a Taika Waititi MCU entry. Having a dufus, egotistical lead in both GOTG and Ragnarok were refreshing, especially with the emotionally heavy Infinity War around the corner. IW gave us the best Thor, who still retained some of his klutziness from Ragnarok, but he ascended to Defender of Mankind by the end. His “Bring me Thanos!” battlecry as he laid waste to the Mad Titan’s forces brought cheers across theaters. Then came Endgame, and both Thor and Hulk were softened ahead of the kid-friendly, lighthearted time travel shenanigans before the crowd-pleasing and dramatic finale. 

Then came Love and Thunder, and Thor took a mighty leap backwards to his clueless Ragnarok form. Now it seems fans are ready for a more serious God of Thunder akin to what we saw in Infinity War. Don’t get me started on Professor Hulk, who sorely needs a dose of savage brute. 

What it comes down to is Marvel Studios’ insistence that all superheroes are ridiculous and silly, so why not hire comedy writers and directors for every project? Thor has never been a joke in the comics, yet he has become a straight comedy act in the MCU. Just like the movies, not all characters need to be played for laughs, but Marvel Studios is intent on giving us more chocolate ice cream. They debated casting Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” Reubens or Pauly Shore as Thanos, and the latest rumor is that Jason Segel will play The Thing in Fantastic Four, though I imagine he will voice a CGI Ben Grimm. Either way, it sounds like another PG, by-the-numbers action-comedy. 

2 TAKE A BREAK FROM THE POST-CREDIT REVEALS

Speaking of by-the-numbers, it is time for Marvel Studios to take a step away from the tried-and-true formula. I understand that it has worked like a charm for the first three phases. When it was fresh, I enjoyed it, but we’ve reached a point where you can set your watch to it. It’s not to say that formula doesn’t still work; it’s just on borrowed time at this point. No matter how good something is, we can only digest so much before we’re bored.

One of the things that reeled in audiences from the start was the idea of a shared universe. Until we saw Robert Downey, Jr. stroll into the bar scene in The Incredible Hulk, our favorite superheroes didn’t typically appear in each other’s movies. They all existed in their own separate worlds. For us to get Captain America Easter eggs followed by Tony Stark teasing the Avengers was a dream come true. Marvel Studios heard our cheers, and they gave us more and more teases and wove the stories together. Phase 1 built to the Avengers mostly by use of their post-credit scenes. Phases 2 and 3’s teases laid the groundwork to Civil War and Thanos’ arrival. Since we were pumped for what was to come, the post-credit scenes were used expertly to have us ready for the epic events to come. Those bonus scenes told a story in themselves, and it hyped Avengers, Infinity War, and Endgame. Phase 4 is sorely lacking that singular direction.

Marvel’s latest CGI adventures have been widely criticized for having no direction. They all have the perfunctory reminders that, yes, the characters are in the same shared universe. Without the build toward the next massive crossover event, the post-credit scenes have become stale. They are disjointed and highly predictable, and they aren’t as much fun. No Way Home’s bonus scene wasted a Tom Hardy cameo; Eternals, Multiverse of Madness, and Love and Thunder introduced new characters that didn’t exactly blow anyone away. Shang-Chi basically wanted to shoehorn him into the Avengers with unnecessary cameos from Captain Marvel and Bruce Banner. It teased some big event, but it has gone nowhere so far. Black Widow connected to the upcoming Thunderbolts movie, which was a slight improvement.

Since the post-credits scenes are stale, maybe it’s time for Marvel to take a break. The fun in those added scenes was when we didn’t know what was coming. The real intrigue was the times we didn’t know to look for them. It made the post-credit scenes exciting and new. Now, it’s like a requirement, and Phase 4’s bonus content has felt completely uninspired. Giving the post-credits additions a rest until they are necessary would make the next ones mean more.

1 APPRECIATE THE FANS

I cannot stress this enough: Marvel Studios needs to appreciate its fans. In the world of corporate entertainment, it’s all about profits and expanding the audience. To reel in new fans, the product is morphed and tweaked in an effort to appeal to potential viewers who aren’t in the target demographic. The problem with that strategy is that the original fan base is gradually left behind. In other words, the corporate agenda either assumes the core audience who made the product a success in the first place will either stick around or are no longer needed. Either way, it always spells the beginning of the end to ostracize the dedicated, lifelong fans. Once they leave, they don’t usually come back. All those passing fans will eventually lose interest because they weren’t exactly fans in the first place.

Kevin Feige and the rest of Marvel Studios’ think tank comes across as intent on driving away the lifelong Marvel fans, which is sad. It has nothing to do with gender swapping or race swapping characters. The troubling part is mean-spirited fan trolling. It started with WandaVision teasing us with Evan Peters as Quicksilver only to pull the rug out from under us with the infamous “Bohner” joke. Then there was the wasted Venom tease, and the word on the internet was that the original plan was to make it even more of a joke by having Venom stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel. The latest trolling was the Illuminati being decimated in short order by Scarlet Witch in MOM. It was a waste of great characters that can be seen as trolling the fans by dangling the carrot only to snatch it away.

My suggestion to Marvel Studios: stop doing that before your audience wises up and tunes out.

Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and the Blogger Supreme. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog, or on Instagram at matt.tuck.writer.


Leave a comment. You do you.

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published