Part of the Journey is the End
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is not only the biggest movie franchise of its time but the biggest movie franchise of all time. Even if it might have peaked for some when Avengers: Endgame hit theaters in 2019, there’s little reason to think that its cultural impact in 2022 hasn’t surpassed that. With Disney+ now available, the number of projects being released each year has more than doubled, and Marvel Studios doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon with more than two dozen projects set for release in the next few years alone. But all good things must come to an end and this means that the MCU as we know it should eventually do the same, although on its own terms so as to become something more.
It certainly does not come down to a lack of demand, but that should not be the only metric Marvel Studios should take into account when making franchise-wide decisions. Identifying issues that might be hurting a massive franchise that has passed its 14th anniversary is extremely important, especially if Marvel has its sights set not only on the next few years but, more significantly, on the next couple of decades.
The stories being told are the core of the MCU and issues that prevent them from being as good as can be should be addressed as a top priority. These can be due to several things, but most end up being a consequence of the same core issue: the shared universe.
Due to the intricacy of having so many stories being told through different IPs that either need to come together or stay apart in a way that feels justifiable, it’s perhaps fair to say that both movies and TV shows have had to compromise when it comes to the stories they set out to tell. A character that would have been perfect for a certain situation might not be available due to having a scheduled appearance somewhere else. Or maybe it is felt that its introduction deserves a bigger stage. While choices being made always aim at a better overall franchise, they end up not helping each individual project to be as good as it could be. This problem is only getting bigger and more noticeable as the years go by with the number of storylines, characters, and major events being introduced, especially since earlier storylines didn’t take into account the now real possibility of using a number of previously unavailable characters. While it still seems manageable at the moment, Marvel Studios should now be looking into how to stop while they’re ahead, in order not to hurt the entire brand in a way that might put their past achievements on the line.
Going back to 2019, as Avengers: Endgame was set to premiere, both new and old fans were often gearing up for a complete MCU rewatch as the culmination of 11 years of storytelling was soon approaching. At the time, it only took watching 21 movies, something that while being no small feat, pales in comparison to what is needed to accomplish the same thing today.
As of now, the post-pandemic MCU has not only added 5 new feature films (soon to be 6), but also 6 new TV shows (soon to be 7), something that likely isn’t helping with how new fans approach the franchise as a whole since it is becoming increasingly difficult to go back and experience it in its entirety. This will probably lead to casual fans choosing select projects to watch while feeling daunted by the magnitude of the rest of the franchise, meaning they’ll probably be missing out on the connective tissue between IPs that makes the MCU so special. So, in a way, and considering the previous point regarding storylines, they might be experiencing lackluster stories without the bonus of the shared universe experience. Die-hard fans will have another vision, as living through the interconnectivity between the projects might somewhat help to hide the imperfections needed to get there. But since Marvel Studios should be focused on bringing in new fans, while of course still appeasing old ones, the fact that the MCU has become too big for newcomers should be a cause for concern. A nice jumping-on point would do the trick, since new fans haven’t gotten that yet, not even after Avengers: Endgame.
How it Should All End
So, considering all this, should Marvel Studios just call it a day and shut down? Of course not. As stated above the MCU as we know it should perhaps end, but only for a neo-MCU to rise from its ashes. And as all signs point to the overall storyline being told at the moment leading to a Secret Wars-inspired event, Marvel Studios might just have an ace up its sleeve when it comes to approaching its future beyond the aforementioned event. If they choose to, obviously.
Marvel Studios has been pretty loose when adapting comic events. Age of Ultron, Civil War, and Infinity War are all examples of that. So even if Secret Wars is coming, there is still much room for how it will end up getting translated into live-action. But if the ending somehow stays similar, it may solve just about every issue pointed out above faced by the MCU. At the end of the 2015 comic series, following the collapse of the multiverse and the creation of Battleworld, Earth is restored as Marvel’s Earth-Prime. While not making everything that came before meaningless—in fact, it was everything leading up until then that made this new Earth both a possibility and a reality—this allowed for stories to be retold from a fresh perspective, while also allowing for better integration of all storylines into a single, unified universe. And this is what the MCU will need by the end of its Secret Wars.
Why It Will Be for the Best
For several years, there wasn’t either the budget or the character rights to put the perfect MCU on screen from the start. And nowadays, it has become an issue how to integrate certain characters that should have been a part of it earlier on. Certain storylines were simply avoided due to those constraints while others, even though they worked, had to be adapted in a way that perhaps diminished their appeal and overall impact. Allowing the MCU to scale itself down only to follow that up with a steady-paced growing, aware, and capable franchise that is willing to use all its moving parts/characters/storylines in the best possible way, could only mean good things for this new incarnation of the MCU in the long run.
Several actors could keep playing the same characters, new ones would enter the frame, and even legacy characters would be able to return without making audiences feel cheated in the way they were invested in their previous iterations. It would just be a case of letting go in order to both cherish and appreciate the past but also accept that a brighter future might be ahead. No sacrifice made up until then would have been in vain and it would all still have started in a cave with a box of scraps.
The MCU is dead. Long live the MCU!