Loki premieres on Disney Plus next week, and I'm not exactly thrilled at the prospect. In fact, I’m simultaneously excited and nervous about the impending launch of the third Marvel original TV series on the streaming platform.
I’ve previously raved about WandaVision, so it’s not that I have any problems with the MCU being delivered in a small screen format. It’s more that after I found Falcon and Winter Soldier to be extremely lackluster that I find myself starting to feel a little burnt out on the interconnected comic-book universe.
Of course, Marvel fatigue is is not exactly new — it's a phenomena that's been around for over a decade. Some of the franchise’s most vocal critics were decrying that multiple movies a year was too much even before the first Avengers movie debuted. But recently it’s starting to feel like Disney is terrified of letting the MCU breath.
Loki arrives next week, then Black Widow finally hits theaters (And Disney Plus Premier Access) in July. Then we get the animated series What If? in August, followed by Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings — also in August, The Eternals arrive in November, and Spider-Man: No Way Home closes out the year in December.
And don't forget Disney Plus shows Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel are also slated for 2021 — and will likely find a way to the schedule soon. It’s an awful lot of content, and unlike with some juggernaut franchises like Star Wars, where it feels easier to consume some chapters (like Solo) piecemeal, the MCU has always been mostly an all-or-nothing commitment.
Marvel execs could really do with pumping the brakes because I can’t be the only one who feels a little exhausted looking at that upcoming schedule, can I?
Feeling the burn
At the start of the year, I was feeling pretty content with the state of the MCU. Due to the pandemic, 2020 ended up being a forced fallow year for Marvel without a single movie or original streaming series set within the universe releasing for an entire twelve months.
That meant I was naturally anticipating my first dose of Marvel goodness, which ultimately came in the form of WandaVision in January. The MCU's first foray into streaming was a brilliant original series absolutely stuffed full of water-cooler moments. Though the ending was a little anti-climatic.
That was quickly followed up by The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, where my fatigue settled in. I didn’t finish the series until three weeks after the final episode arrived, and it wasn't out of being busy. I simply felt little motivation to actually see the series through. Ultimately, only doing so out of a sense of duty to stay caught up rather than because of any actual desire to see how things played out.
In the span of a couple of weeks, I went from “give me all the MCU content possible this instant” to already wishing the franchise would take another break like the year before.
It’s not even that Falcon and Winter Soldier was especially bad. It just felt routine. Like something I’d already seen before but done significantly better in the Captain America solo films.
I get the same feeling when I see the trailers for Black Widow, which has been running trailers that I've seen dozens and dozens, after so many release date pushbacks. Yes, this first MCU feature in years looks fun, but it doesn’t appear to be anything we’ve not already experienced (admittedly, Florence Pugh is great in everything, so she may elevate the film).
Several of the upcoming MCU films and series look like pieces in a franchise that is just going through the motions. Even the recent Eternals trailer left me pretty cold, though the direction from Chloé Zhao looks spectacular.
At least shows like What If…?, which rifts on hypothetical non-canon scenarios, seems refreshing. And the Loki series doesn't look that bad. The Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson banter already interests me, and it looks off-the-wall enough to possibly offer something completely new.
Overall though, the problem is that MCU products should seem genuinely inspired.
Instead, they're stacked on top of each other so much that it looks as if they're exiting a factory line engineered to avoid any gaps in the schedule. During the MCU's golden period (2016 to 2019, if you ask me) I felt genuinely hyped whenever I saw that “Marvel Studios” splash screen before watching something, recently it’s not quite instilled the same reaction.
Recapturing the magic
An important lesson that I hope Marvel execs learn soon is that sometimes less really is more. We don’t need a fresh slice of the MCU every single month, it’s okay to give audience members time to start craving more before giving us another hit.
Back in the Disney Plus-less days, we used to get three, maybe four, MCU features a year. That release schedule allowed anticipation to grow among the fandom over a period of months, and also gave plenty of time for online debate and discussion to rage as the latest piece of MCU content was digested.
Of course, it would be unfair of me to not point out that the pandemic has had a serious impact on Disney’s entire release schedule, so there’s every possibility that such a glut of MCU content being squeezed out over a handful of months wasn’t necessarily the original plan.
I’ll also be the first to admit that despite my reservations, I’ll be seeing Black Widow as soon as humanly possible, and the same is true of the rest of the MCU’s slate. I’m already two dozen films deep, plus a couple of television series to boot, I’m too invested to abandon ship now.
So, with Loki due out in less than a week, I’m a little disappointed to be feeling burnt out in a period when the MCU is expanding further than ever before. Nevertheless on balance, and having watched a couple of trailers for the series, my curiosity is just about overcoming my sense of fatigue for that particular series.
Perhaps I’ll never rediscover the childlike sense of giddiness I had for the MCU around the time Avengers: Infinity War released, where I was practically begging for any scrap of Marvel-related content I could consume, but if unique-looking content like Loki becomes the focus (and bland stuff like Falcon and Winter Soldier is nixed) then I’m sure my Marvel fatigue will quickly become a problem of the past.