Are you excited about seeing The Marvels, the mega-budget sequel to 2019’s billion-dollar grossing Captain Marvel? Judging by the advance box office predictions, not very many of you are. Current tracking has the film opening at around between $50 and $75 million on its first weekend. For most non-superhero franchise pictures, this would be excellent, but for a film that was budgeted at between $220 and $280 million, depending on whom you talk to, it has all the hallmarks of a colossal flop, capping off what has been a truly terrible year for Marvel Studios.
It was never supposed to be this way. From the first Iron Man film in 2008, Marvel, under the iron fist of the all-powerful Kevin Feige, had a simple strategy: hire great actors and interesting filmmakers, keep budgets realistic and ensure a mixture of excellent reviews and even better box offices. The masterstroke, of course, was to ensure that all the disparate pictures all fed into one another, concluding with a series of enormously successful Avengers films that even, in the case of 2019’s Endgame, briefly became the highest-grossing movie of all time. It seemed as if Marvel, like Pixar a couple of decades before, could do no wrong; hit after hit saw their films utterly dominate the cinematic landscape.
It is too easy to suggest that it was the pandemic that started to cause difficulties, but certainly since then, Marvel’s once-certain hitmaking machine has begun to unravel. 2021’s Eternals was a critical and commercial flop, despite being directed by the Oscar-winning Chloé Zhao, and promptly put an end to what was hoped to be a rival franchise to the canonical Avengers. Thor: Love and Thunder was arch and rubbish. The Black Panther sequel made $859 million at the box office, which would have been impressive if the first hadn’t grossed $1.35 billion. The movie sorely missed its lead actor Chadwick Boseman, who died tragically young at forty-three of colon cancer. Guardians of the Galaxy 3 did well, showing the fondness that audiences have for the characters, but the third Ant-Man film, the catchily titled Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, was another critical and commercial flop, attracting particular criticism for visual effects that were widely regarded as rushed and unfinished: the result of a post-production schedule that saw the film released before it was ready.
There have been other problems and disasters, many that have nothing to do with Marvel, but all coming together to give the impression of a rapidly sinking ship. It was probably not a great idea for Avengers: Endgame director Jonathan Russo to put a video on TikTok suggesting that Martin Scorsese — a known critic of Marvel films — might have critical kudos, but his films made considerably more money, all via the medium of Schnauzer dogs. It’s even more embarrassing than it sounds. It is deeply unfortunate that Jonathan Majors, who Marvel have cast as their next ongoing antagonist Kang the Conqueror (where do they get their character names?) is about to go on trial on charges of domestic violence. And the much-ballyhooed streaming series are often not connecting with audiences any longer; the brutal truth is that nobody cared about the likes of Secret Invasion or She-Hulk: Attorney At Law.
Of course, not everything Marvel is involved with flops. The second series of Loki has been relatively well received, albeit not with the enthusiasm of the first, and it would be astonishing if Deadpool 3 was not a hit, even if the SAG strike-necessitated hiatus in filming means that its projected May 2024 release date is looking less and less attainable. But the reality is that audiences who once thrilled to the adventures of Black Widow, Iron Man et al are beginning to lose patience with the unwieldy, over-complicated behemoth that is increasingly incomprehensible unless you have watched every single film, TV show and one-off short that all squat under the Marvel banner.
After The Marvels flops — and it will — Feige and his cohorts should announce that the entire brand is taking a sabbatical until it can return to thrill and delight audiences once more. Of course, it won’t, but in the meantime all we can expect is more mediocrity, which will be punished with continual financial failure, until someone, somewhere learns their lesson. And that might take a considerable time.