Marvel fatigue is a very big topic of discussion right now, especially among some of my colleagues here at Tom’s Guide — some of which are really struggling to have anything nice to say about recent MCU instalments. While I’ve been a huge Marvel movie fan for decades now, even I'm starting to feel similar symptoms.
I’m not one of the people who will sit on a Reddit forum trashing recent MCU installments at every available opportunity. I’m still watching Marvel content, and generally enjoying it — even Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania, for all its flaws. But I’ve come to realize that I’m not actually excited about upcoming Marvel projects anymore.
This really hit home when I saw The Marvels' first trailer. The film is due to hit theaters this November, and looks absolutely fine. It potentially be a very interesting movie, too. But nothing about it hypes me up to see it. And that feeling isn't unique to The Marvels.
I’m not eagerly anticipating any of the upcoming Marvel projects. Guardians of the Galaxy 3, Secret Invasion, Loki season 2, or any of the other multitude of movies and TV shows that are arriving in the next couple of years. I’m certain that I will watch them all, and will no doubt enjoy a great number of them.
But, to quote Young Justice, I am absolutely whelmed about these projects. No strong feelings one way or the other, as Futurama’s Neutrals would say. I am not excited about them in the way that I was ahead of the likes of 2012’s The Avengers, Avengers Endgame, or Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Marvel’s definitely dropping the ball
There’s no denying the fact that Marvel’s most recent batch of movies haven’t been as good as they likely could have been. Some movies have had a weak plot, a resurgence of Marvel’s crappy villains trope, or the fact the visual effects have been laughably bad — even by Marvel standards.
Marvel movies have never been particularly high-brow, nor have they really tried to be. They are blockbuster action-comedies, designed to keep audiences entertained for a couple of hours. It’s hardly a new concept, but it’s one Marvel Studios seemingly perfected over the better part of a decade.
Except more recently audiences have been dropping away, and movies aren’t making nearly as much at the box office as before. Part of that could be down to the fact the box office has been struggling since the pandemic. The speed at which certain movies, especially those that perform poorly, reach streaming and digital storefronts won’t be doing the box office any favors either. Though some movies have proven successful in spite of this.
Avatar: The Way of Water, Top Gun: Maverick and Spider-Man: No Way Home are obvious examples. Notably they are also movies that, despite their flaws, were positively received by audiences and critics alike. Judging from the box office takings, and online discourse, that isn’t necessarily true of the recent MCU outings — despite what Rotten Tomatoes audience scores may have you believe.
Thor: Love and Thunder is a notable example of a Marvel movie that should have been much better than it was. In fact it always struck me as a movie that could have been much better if it hadn’t been hacked to pieces in the editing room — and if Disney had let the movie go for a harder PG-13 rating instead of the usual goofy Marvel affair. Gorr the God Butcher should have been allowed to live up to his name, at the very least.
MCU Phase 4 feels all over the place
One of the biggest issues I (and others) have had with Marvel movies over the years is when they prioritize what’s coming, rather than the story at hand. It’s why I have a passionate hatred for both Iron Man 2 and the last 20-30 minutes of Avengers: Endgame. If the latter isn't immediately familiar, remember how the film After slows down to near-worthlessness once Thanos's army is defeated.
But that build-up is an essential part of the Marvel formula, building groundwork for everything that’s coming later. That’s one of the reasons why its shared universe succeeded where so many others have failed.
The problem is that the movies following Endgame seem to lack that same level of connective tissue. While characters like Doctor Strange or the Guardians of the Galaxy cross over into other movies, there’s nothing to work towards, aside for the rare tease of multiversal troubles ahead. No climactic crossover and no Avengers-style movie to mark the transition from one Phase to another.
Plus there are movies here that don’t really fit. Black Widow is a prequel that takes place between Civil War and Infinity War. Eternals spans several thousand years and still hasn’t really found a place for itself in the wider MCU. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, if you don't realize, is terribly late. It was originally supposed to arrive three years ago and kick off the post-Endgame MCU.
The closest we’re getting to that in the near future is Thunderbolts, which will close off Phase 5 and feels more like a sequel to Black Widow more than anything else. Then of course there’s Avengers 5 and 6, which will close off Phase 6, but they won’t be arriving until 2025 and 2026, respectively.
The MCU TV shows have the exact opposite problem, with shows putting a lot of emphasis on setting up future projects. To the point where it’s kind of annoying. Falcon and The Winter Soldier was an extended way of setting up Captain America 4, while Hawkeye was laying groundwork for Echo and Daredevil: Born Again — plus future outings for Kate Bishop and Yelena.
Even the more standalone stories, like Loki and What If? are clearly playing the long game, casually explaining various complexities surrounding the multiverse and introducing various characters — Kang being the notable example.
It all feels very aimless, like The Mandalorian season 3. Here’s just hoping that all the pieces come together to form a fairly solid ongoing story, just like The Mandalorian season 3 after the season finale.
Outlook: Maybe it’s just me
The one other thing that has remained constant over the past few years is that I’ve also changed. I’ve grown older, past my 30th birthday, and have certainly got a lot grumpier in the process. Given COVID happened, and everything else that followed, it would be rather strange to see my miserly persona not send me further down the path of becoming Carl from Up.
So it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that I’m generally less excited about upcoming superhero adventures than I was in my 20s. Frankly it’s a wonder I can get excited about anything considering the state of the world over the past three years.
Then again it certainly doesn’t help that it feels like Marvel has been phoning it in since Endgame, and a boost in overall effort and quality definitely wouldn’t go amiss.