Franchise Fatigue: Can Marvel Move Forward?

John Ergon Golpe ’24


It’s understandable why Marvel Studios has decided to pull out all the stops for 2021. The start of the pandemic last year forced delays on the productions of their 2020 lineup, with some of their release dates being pushed back by even a year. But all these delays have not preceded Marvel’s biggest issue: franchise fatigue. A fatigue that was brought on by both the project quantity and quality of this year’s lineup.

So far this year, Marvel Studios has pumped out seven studio projects: Black Widow, WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, Shang-Chi, What If…?, Eternals, Hawkeye, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. That leaves a total of nine MCU properties released in 2021. That is three times the number of films Marvel Studios released in 2019, and the exact number of MCU movies that have been released in theatres in the past four years.

As for the critical and audience reception of the projects themselves, people have been mixed regarding the quality of these new superhero stories. Audiences’ concerns first grew when the banal finale of Wandavision failed to maintain the creative streak the rest of the show had. When Falcon and the Winter Soldier aired, people criticized the political messaging regarding the dangers of refugee displacement, racial profiling, and anti-government sentiments that felt backhanded and preachy. Black Widow’s fan reception wasn’t warm, either.

One significant problem fans had with the film was how it expanded on the story of Natasha Romanoff, when her arc had already ended in Avengers: Endgame. To quote Peter Daza’s review in the last issue of The Crusader News, “the film turned out to be another run of the mill superhero movie that was excessive in exposition and action and lacking in any meaningful writing.”

The critical reviews for Eternals are appalling to say the least. On IMDb, reviews have bashed the movie with a 6.8/10. On Rotten Tomatoes, a total of 364 reviewers have given the film a 48% “fresh” rating. These reviews express how the usual MCU staple of engaging action scenes was downplayed in Eternals in favour of overwhelming exposition, inconsistent characterization, and a disjointed and incoherent story.

It is worrisome to witness what could potentially be the beginning of the end for the MCU. The MCU has overcome challenges in the past, having the occasional commercial flop or fan base outrage, but none of those hurdles can compare to this alarming downward trend in critical reception. Hopefully, this franchise fatigue will just be a small setback and will not scare Marvel Studios away from innovating within the superhero genre again.

Photo Credit: Marvel

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