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The Shaker Bison

The Student News Site of Shaker High School

The Shaker Bison

The Student News Site of Shaker High School

The Shaker Bison

A Closer Look At Marvel’s Downfall


MCU’s newest film, The Marvels, premiered in Las Vegas on November 7th, 2023, and the reviews are far from flattering. The film has polarized the movie critic community; some see it as “breezy fun,” and others view it as an “abject misery.” Given Marvel’s appalling track record in recent years, it wouldn’t be presumptuous to say that the new film is a flop.


The Marvel Cinematic Universe has gone into a tailspin since Avengers: Endgame in 2019. Endgame became the second highest-grossing film ever, after Avatar. The movie was the perfect culmination of over a decade of blockbuster filmmaking. The storyline, cinematography, and acting were immaculate (to say the least). Most importantly, it gave the MCU a new beginning, a chance to establish a pivotal legacy. Yet somehow, the “new beginning” has fallen short in all possible ways. 


Marvel’s Phase Four launched with the series WandaVision, which premiered in January 2021. It’s widely accepted that WandaVision set a high standard for the MCU’s Phase Four. The show, the MCU’s first television series, was a hit; it was nominated for twenty-three Emmys and won three Creative Arts Emmy Awards. While the first two episodes were drab, the plot developed tastefully in the later episodes, blending superheroes and sitcoms into a compelling story of grief, motherhood, and, of course, the Scarlet Witch. WandaVision was followed by The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which premiered in March 2021, and Loki, which premiered in June 2021. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was politically charged at times, but did little to support Captain America’s legacy. Suffice it to say that the show was mediocre. Loki’s Season One, however, presented a stark contrast with an enthralling plot that followed Loki’s evolution from a classic villain to a lovable hero. Tom Hiddleston’s performance was nuanced, taking the audience through his time-traveling journey. 


To contrast, Phase Four’s first film, Black Widow, released in July 2021, was pretty prosaic. Although David Harbour’s comedic bits and the chemistry between Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh were entertaining, the movie left many Black Widow fans unsatisfied. Johansson’s acting felt underwhelming, and the plot was predictable. At the same time, it’s hard to ignore how Johansson saved Black Widow from being reduced to a sexist stereotype. The question is, why so late? Iron Man 2 introduced Natasha Romanoff as the first female Avenger in the MCU, yet somehow, Marvel only deemed it suitable to give her an origin story more than a decade later. 


After Black Widow’s not-so-successful launch, the release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in September 2021 was a breath of fresh air. Shang-Chi was a box office success that introduced the MCU’s first Asian superhero. While the film had its slip-ups here and there, Simu Liu’s charisma and Awkwafina’s whimsical performance gave Marvel a chance at redemption. However, the release of the film Eternals was a disappointment, to put it mildly. The movie tells the story of the Eternals, a race of immortal individuals with superhuman powers, as they reunite to fend off the Deviants, a race of near-immortal beings. While the plot had potential, it was poorly executed, and the range of characters and lengthy backstories were dull and confusing– not to mention Harry Styles’ questionable appearance as “Starfox” in the post-credits scene.

The bitter aftertaste from the Eternals was prolonged with the shows Hawkeye (November 2021) and Moon Knight (March 2022). Although the dynamic between Clint Barton and Kate Bishop was enjoyable, Hawkeye felt more like a Hallmark Christmas special than a Marvel show. It appealed to some Marvel viewers, but ultimately fell short of giving Hawkeye his long-awaited spotlight. Moon Knight was initially refreshing in its unfamiliarity but became increasingly complex to follow as the show progressed. While it has been regarded as one of the better MCU series, it was “okay.” 


A glimmer of hope for the MCU came in the form of Spider-Man: No Way Home, released in December 2021. The film was an instant blockbuster that became the sixth highest-grossing film of all time. To say that the movie was a success is an understatement (slightly biased opinion from a Spider-Man devotee). It seamlessly merged the Spider-Man franchises’ storylines and had memorable cameos that kept the audience on the edge of their seats. The plot allowed for tremendous character development in Tom Holland’s Peter Parker as he navigated his identity as Spider-Man. The action-packed sequences highlighted the capabilities and powers of every character, from Electro to Ned Leeds. The film and its success were a testament to the long-standing popularity of the Spider-Man franchise. It offered Marvel a chance to bounce back from its more-or-less underwhelming output since Endgame. 


Unfortunately, MCU’s Phase Four only went downhill from there on out. The release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in May 2022 was dreadful. The film was choppy and confusing; the plot was shallow; and as it progressed, the film bore more resemblance to director Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies than Marvel. Moreover, the release of Thor: Love and Thunder in July 2022 was characterized by unappealing visual effects, shoddy acting, cheap humor, and a tedious plot. The highly-anticipated films were poorly received, to say the least. Furthermore, the shows Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk: Attorney At Law, which premiered in June 2022 and August 2022, respectively, were fun watches but sloppy in their own ways, but ultimately failed to deliver the kind of Marvel energy audiences sought. Phase Four’s last movie, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, was an emotional sequel tasked with carrying Chadwick Boseman’s legacy. The cinematography, acting, and music score were impressive– Angela Bassett and Letitia Wright delivered powerful scenes that struck a chord with many viewers. It was undoubtedly one of the better movies of Phase Four. However, it could not surpass the first Black Panther movie, which is understandable, given Chadwick Boseman’s monumental legacy. 


As the MCU has moved into Phase Five, its sour streak has continued. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (February 2023) was a box-office disappointment, a “guaranteed flop,” and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (May 2023) was not up to par compared to the first two Guardians movies. Secret Invasion (June 2023) became the lowest-rated Marvel series, and though it had potential, it delivered a lackluster viewing experience. Many hoped for Loki Season Two (October 2023) to save the MCU from atrophy, but it is not nearly as captivating as the first season. Some critics call it “the best thing to come out of the MCU,” and others “too confusing.” 

The degeneration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Endgame is undeniable. Watching a Marvel movie used to be a highly-anticipated event. Now, it feels more like a chore, an obligation to Marvel out of loyalty. The decline of the MCU can be attributed to a series of factors. The loss of Marvel’s “A-Team” destabilized the franchise, and adding various new characters has done little to stabilize it. The slew of shows in a short period is unsustainable and has left fans bored and confused. The multitude of time-travel undertakings is too exhausting for viewers to decipher. The characters are bland, and there is no clear direction. The MCU is at its tipping point, and despite our sincere hopes, it is uncertain whether the franchise can recover. Marvel’s chaotic downfall begs the question: Is Marvel at the end of an era?

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About the Contributor
Samya Madhukar, Writer
Samya Madhukar (she/her), a sophomore at Shaker, is serving her second year as a staff writer for the Bison. She is on the varsity swim team and is a member of Model UN. When not lost in the writings of Anthony Doerr, Dan Brown, and Jane Austen, Samya enjoys listening to music and binge-watching Gilmore Girls with her mom. She likes to read, learn, and write about world politics and international affairs.

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