The MCU may be the biggest thing in Hollywood these days, but there's no denying that its overuse of CGI is becoming more and more noticeable. Despite its shortcomings, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven to be a resounding hit with critics and audiences alike. Black Panther's recent theatrical debut marks the 18th entry into the most successful movie franchise of all time, one that had already grossed over $13.5 billion before T'Challa, Killmonger, and the gang stormed into cinemas and started smashing records left and right. The opening weekend for Marvel's latest is set to go down as the fifth-biggest in domestic box office history, and it's already earned over $400 million worldwide. It looks like the billion dollar club could be taking on a new member in the coming weeks.
Unlike certain other franchises, the MCU's commercial success is matched by its critical reception. Now that Black Panther has become the highest rated superhero movie in Rotten Tomatoes history, the 18 MCU movies are averaging a staggering 84% fresh rating on the review consensus site. Year in and year out, the Marvel franchise churns out hit after hit. This shared universe has no shortage of strengths, and for years, one of its biggest was consistently strong CGI.
That's why it's been so surprising to see how shoddy some of the visual effects work has been in Marvel's more recent big screen outings. Don't get us wrong; for the most part, the MCU’s CGI has been great, even spectacular at times. Even at its worst, it’s nowhere near the bottom of the pile in terms of poor special effects in superhero movies. And no single MCU entry has come anywhere close to the awfulness that is Justice League. But when a superhero franchise is pulling in this much money and getting consistently glowing reviews, the bar has to be set high, and several of the MCU's latest offerings just aren't clearing it.
Marvel's Recurring CGI Problems
It's worth noting that the MCU's CGI shortcomings are a relatively recent thing. There's very little to complain about when it comes to the special effects behind their Phase One movies. They all hold up surprising well, in fact, and the same goes for the vast majority of Marvel's Phase Two films. There's a few dicey moments in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but it wasn't really until Captain America: Civil War kicked off Phase Three that any negative attention was paid to the MCU's effects work.
That film's big airport brawl was billed as the highlight of the movie, and sure, it's a hell of a lot of fun. But you never really get the sense that any of the actors are anywhere other than on a soundstage. The green screen work is obvious and more than a bit distracting, with Black Widow and the floating head of Robert Downey Jr. standing out in particular. Oh, and speaking of RDJ -- have you noticed that his Iron Man armor just seems to be getting less and less realistic as time passes? The photo above shows the hero in 2012's Avengers on the left, while the right side shows him in this summer's Avengers: Infinity War. Granted, the latter is a screengrab from a trailer sporting special effects that probably haven't been completed yet, but yikes. Here's hoping he looks decidedly less video game-y when Thanos comes to town in May.
The MCU Spidey suit seen in Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming also looks like it'd be more at home on a game console than the big screen in certain scenes. He looks far more tethered to reality in others, however, which brings us to our real complaint about the MCU's CGI work: it's more of a matter of (seemingly) unnecessary overuse than it is persistently crappy visual effects. There's simply a few too many scenes in modern Marvel movies in which clearly computer generated heroes have replaced the actors for no apparent reason, or that it's painfully obvious that the actors recorded their work on a studio soundstage, when filming on location would've yielded stronger results. We'll explain why the MCU has been leaning more heavily on visual effects and green screen in a bit -- and why the problem won't be going away anytime soon.