It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Marvel movies don’t have the same hold on us that they used to. Are they still making a lot of money? Of course they are, and will they still be grossed out? Again, the answer is a resounding yes. But where once these films had to be watched to survive in some kind of pop culture-related conversation, they now have consistent criticism pointed their way by people who were even once their staunchest defenders.
Maybe we’re just bored. Maybe audiences now look fine at the CGI and bright colors of a Marvel movie and won’t ask for anything more. But just because we are getting less in our entertainment doesn’t mean we should settle for it. With critical ratings plummeting and many not interested in the future of Marvel’s projects, it is clear that we are a long way from the love fans had for the Infinity Saga. But there may be a way for Marvel to restore its former glory if it acknowledges its biggest mistake with its latest films.
Looking at the success of the Infinity Saga and the false start the Kang Dynasty story got off to, it seems that there has been one consistent problem with the post-Endgame era, and that problem is a lack of focus on characters. Instead of a slow build that introduces us to the key players of the upcoming saga, we have instead been rushed straight into endless multiverse setups littered with cheap nostalgia cameos. This leaves our heroes without any focus, and they merely serve as set pieces to get us into the next action scene or set up the next “big event” in the universe.
Of course things have to change with the times and we can’t spend 11 years on every major Marvel arc, but recently it felt like we were watching movies with no personality, where they act as one long, credits sequence desperately trying to get us to care about the new villain because not only does he blow up one universe, he can destroy 10, or a million.
It never really mattered that Thanos could snap his fingers and commit genocide, it mattered that the people trying to stop him were the ones we had come to care about and like. There is no character cultivation in the more recent films, and now more than ever it feels like our heroes and villains are there just to serve a purpose, instead of being people with real personalities and goals beyond being good or bad. The movies struggle to cram so much setup for their grand, overarching plot that they forget to put in the things people really care about.
This is not true of every recent Marvel project, but the ones that people mark as the best are actually shows and movies with characters at their heart. WandaVision, for example, is proud to show us how the Scarlet Witch deals (or doesn’t) with her grief after she is resurrected, but finds out that Vision is indeed dead. The same goes for Loki, which has the TVA’s plot and introduces Kang, but at its core focuses heavily on the titular character and Sylvie.
Looking to the future of Marvel, it’s hard to care about many of the new prospects and even the familiar faces because it feels like we have no idea who these people are or that they haven’t developed much since we saw them in Endgame. With the consistent focus on cheap nostalgia pops as well, it’s hard to imagine a future where once again every Marvel project is considered mandatory viewing. But if the films build up a core cast of characters, people we really know and can get attached to, then it may make those inevitable big team-ups feel more earned and less forced to sell action figures, t-shirts and everything else Disney is trying to push now.