We’ve already gone over all the many reasons why Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe might end up going on to become the Golden Age of all comic book movies – and, indeed, that remains a very likely possibility.
However, there’s also the chance that the 10(!) movies Marvel plans on releasing over the next three years might end up having the exact opposite effect, that of sabotaging the longevity of the MCU, specifically, or undermining the superhero film’s time in the spotlight, generally. Yes, even the mighty, hitherto-undefeatable Marvel Studios can extend its reach too far.
Care to see just what the future may have in store for the self-proclaimed House of Ideas and its most ambitious film slate yet? Let’s count down the 10 Reasons Marvel’s Phase 3 Might Disappoint Fans.
10. Too many films
Whereas both Phases 1 and 2 were comprised of six films, Phase 3 nearly doubles that to a whopping 10. Even more, Marvel will be compressing this potentially unwieldly number into a comparatively short timeframe – Phase 3 will use the same general length of time as Phase 1 (that’s four years, for all those playing along at home), despite the huge increase in its constituent parts.
To accommodate this aggressive timetable, Marvel will be once again expanding its roster of productions, this time from two annual releases to three (typically in the months of May, July, and November). This, of course, cannot help but raise the age-old question of quantity over quality; with so many around-the-clock productions, will the still-fledgling movie studio be stretching itself too thin? There were already some rather high-profile fights with its Phase 2 filmmakers, from Ant-Man’s last-minute writer and director replacements to Joss Whedon’s near-constant haggling with the studio over the exact narrative contents of Avengers: Age of Ultron. This just might become the norm, especially if quality control gets moved (unwittingly) to the back burner.
And all of this doesn’t even begin to address the specter of a movie-going public getting burnt out on the nearly-nonstop releases, a situation which will in no way be improved by the expansions of the DC and X-Men universes from other studios.
9. Too many characters
Too many films, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg; it’s all the characters that populate that wide cinematic landscape that pose an even bigger threat.
Take Age of Ultron as a good, for instance. That movie had to juggle a well-established group of protagonists – ranging from Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) – as well as a whole slew of both returning and new characters, including Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and the titular Ultron (James Spader). All told, 17 characters (most of them pre-established entities) had to be serviced.
That’s quite the number of balls to juggle simultaneously, and Phase 3 looks to expand on this front at an almost exponential level. This spring’s Captain America: Civil War is a prime example, cramming in nearly every single superhero yet established in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (only Thor and Hulk are sitting this one out), and even adding in two new ones (Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man), to boot. Just imagine what the cast list is going to look like for the two-part Avengers: Infinity War.
This presents a problem for both audiences and the filmmakers that has, perhaps, never before been faced in Hollywood: as these still-relatively-new shared universes start to get long in the tooth, they need to continue narrative development while also remaining accessible to viewers, particularly the newer ones.
8. Too daunting to newcomers
By the time The Avengers: Infinity Wars, Part I comes out, the original Iron Man – the film that kicked the MCU off – will be a decade old, and it will have been joined by two dozen additional entries, ranging from movies to television shows to Blu-ray-only short films, each just as valid in filling out the common cinematic world as Downey, Jr.’s inaugural outing.
The key to Marvel Studios’s ongoing success, of course, is in its ability to court new viewers and expand upon the box offices of each successive round of films; that first Iron Man, after all, only drew in $585 million, but the last film in the trilogy made $1.2 billion. Remaining within the demographic that has been with the Marvel Cinematic Universe from day one would never allow the enterprise to keep on going, let alone to expand to such mega-crossovers as Civil War or to include such off-kilter properties as Guardians of the Galaxy. Just how long, however, until these movie series become as unwieldy and inaccessible to newbies as the comic universe they’re based on? And is there anything Marvel can do to off-set this?
7. Too much tinkering
Within the past year, as Marvel’s two most recent films raked in nearly $2 billion in the global box office all by themselves, success manifested itself in an unexpected way: as the studios’s external offerings continued to multiply, its internal structure got streamlined.
Ike Perlmutter, the CEO of Marvel Entertainment (that’s the parent company that oversees the comics, film, television, internet, and consumer goods divisions), was removed from the filmmaking process this past September, allowing Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige to report only to the Disney brass. By allowing the comic-book-loving Feige to have total creative control of the movie slate, and by removing Perlmutter’s hands from Marvel’s purse strings, it was argued at the time that budgets would get bigger and the stories would get more ambitious.
There’s something to be said for conflict, however, and the compromise that is necessary to breach diametrically opposed sides, particularly in the confines of the creative process; less, sometimes, is considerably more, particularly when it sparks ingenuity. Keeping budgets low (relatively low, that is) has been one of the main keys to Marvel Studios’ success, allowing even the comparatively lower-earning Ant-Man (which “only” made $519 million worldwide) to become lucrative enough to warrant a sequel.
6. Too much competition
All of the reasons considered thus far have been squarely within Marvel’s control, but what could end up being one of the biggest challenges to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s dominance has absolutely nothing to do with internal developments.
Up until this year, Marvel has had a remarkably free hand to shape its collective film series as it sees fit, but this March’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice will, at long last, see the arrival of a competing movie universe (apart from the X-Men series, which has been slow to adapt to the “shared universe” mold). It’s also, perhaps, the only one that could give the MCU a true run for its money: DC Comics. Of course, DC has been around for even longer than Marvel, and it has a pantheon of superheroes and villains that are, arguably, even more iconic than the likes of the Avengers and Spider-Man.
What should happen if audiences suddenly find themselves liking the darker, more somber approach of the DC Extended Universe more? What if viewers respond better to having all the related television shows be extra-but-optional mythology expansions instead of required world-building or backstory? This could really heighten the deficiencies already visible with Marvel’s wares (such as its villain problem) – and reveal even more problems that were never before apparent.
The spectacular Spider-Man is easily one of the most popular superheroes of all time, but, it transpires, he’s also the most cursed. Three film series in the span of 14 years, with the previous two crashing after only two or three outings, does not paint a pretty picture for his future.
Indeed, it just may be that audiences don’t much care for the character or his mythos itself rather than the various approaches that various directors and writers have taken over the past decade-and-a-half; it just may be that the still-untitled Spider-Man movie that Marvel Studios has been hired to supervise (and integrate into the rest of the MCU) will be the company’s first failure since The Incredible Hulk, all the way back in 2008.
The real rub here lies in the simple fact that, even should Marvel pull off the first long-term-successful filmic iteration of Spidey (which, odds are, it probably will), it doesn’t have the final say on either the character or his movies. It’s Sony that owns the film rights to Peter Parker, and it’s Sony that’s footing the bill for his continued solo outings – which means Marvel doesn’t get the final say on what ends up happening with the flagship character/franchise.
4. Too many minor characters
Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Spider-Man. Black Panther. Captain Marvel. (And, later on, in Phase 4, the Inhumans.) With the one already-explored example, these are all characters that most, if not all, of the average movie-going public has never heard of before – but they form nearly half of Phase 3’s roster (and Phase 4’s opening salvo). Is it a stroke of genius for Marvel to attempt to transform these C-listers into the next big series of superstars, or is it a time bomb waiting to go off in the company’s face?
The funny thing is that we can’t entirely be sure, even if we use Phase 2’s entries as our pool of evidence. The Guardians of the Galaxy, including a gun-toting raccoon and a talking (kinda) tree, proved to be a huge hit with audiences in 2014, especially given their comedic tone and space-opera bent. But Ant-Man just last year proved to be less succesful, making only two-thirds of Guardians’ take, even though it was a similarly comedic outing in a little-utilized (sub) genre. Audiences may be hesitant on investing in even more superheroes, particularly ones that could be considered to not hold a candle to the likes of Iron Man or Batman.
3. Too few familiar faces
It’s likely by this point that Robert Downey, Jr. is done playing Tony Stark in the solo Iron Man movies, and both Chris Evans (who plays Captain America) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) are unsure which direction they’re going to go once their own contracts expire by the end of Phase 3 (which isn’t to mention the likes of Sam Jackson and a whole score of others). And even if most of these actors take the Downey route of agreeing to reprise their characters in other people’s movies, such as the upcoming Civil War, there is the slight-but-very-real possibility that, within just a few short years, the original roster of faces that audiences fell in love with will be largely gone from the big screen.
This is a considerable problem in and of itself – and yet another hurdle that the shared universe model will have to clear as it continues to mature – but it’s vastly compounded if audiences don’t end up buying into all those new superheroes that we just spoke about. It may not matter how amazingly told or dazzlingly inventive, say, Doctor Strange is – if audiences just don’t connect with the good doctor as seamlessly as they did with Tony, and if Stark is (largely) nowhere to be seen, it won’t matter how many more films the studio already has lined up down the road.
2. Diminishing returns
The oft-cited Ant-Man may not be the best of examples, given how off-beat the character is (and, some contend, how lacking Marvel/Disney’s marketing was in integrating him with the rest of the Avengers canon), but its comparatively paltry box office haul is enough to cause concern for the Marvel brand – it made $125 million less than the previous last-place Phase 2 finisher, Thor: The Dark World.
But then there’s the little case of Avengers: Age of Ultron, which made less than its predecessor ($1.4 billion to the original’s $1.5 billion) – something which some professionals in the industry consider to be a concern, given the far bigger Marvel-viewing audience after three additional years of releases. What does this foretell for Infinity War, especially considering that it’ll be broken up into two different parts? And, more pertinently, what happens if the two new films continue the downward trend? Although the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the biggest franchise in Hollywood history, all stories come to an end, usually abruptly and without time for the studio in question to wrap up all the narrative loose threads.
1. More continuity
What is the single most exciting element for the die-hard Marvel fans is, ironically enough, also the biggest danger hovering over the studio’s head: with greater longevity comes greater continuity, which, in turn, leads to a far higher barrier of entry for any new viewers.
Forget the staggering array of characters that we discussed before; just take one quick step back and look at the giant Marvel canvas as a whole. Twelve films, seven (announced) television series, and five short films (for now – they may end up coming back soon) is a lot of content to consume, let alone analyze and integrate into one overarching narrative framework. As The Avengers: Infinity War looks to possibly combine all these different strands into one cohesive story, it may prove to be an insurmountable obstacle to wide-ranging success, potentially dooming it to a niche.
What happens when a shared universe becomes, essentially, a full-time job for audiences to follow? If Marvel can’t find a good answer, it’ll end up losing everything it’s worked so hard to assemble in no time flat.
Bummed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s prospects? Think we missed a salient point? Let us know in the comments below.
And be sure to check out our sister article for a consideration of how Phase 3 may, in fact, end up being a net positive for Marvel.
Captain America: Civil War hits theaters on May 6, 2016, followed by Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man – July 28, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans – July 12, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on May 1, July 10 and November 6, 2020.