Posted on June 19th, 2023
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is unraveling, and it started with their Phase Four slate.
I liked Black Widow quite a bit. It wasn't a perfect film, but it was good entertainment. I loved Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It added a new layer to super-heroics and made things feel fresh. Eternals was a big convoluted mess of a film, but I grew to appreciate it after a couple more viewings. Had they just focused on a smaller set of the more interesting characters (and killed off Sprite in the opening five minutes) it could have been a really good flick. Spider-Man: No Way Home was fan service from start to finish, but it was darn good fan service and a step up from the previous Spider film. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was just okay. It did Wanda dirty and kinda spun its wheels in ways that were tedious, but Doctor Strange is one of my favorite Marvel characters, so I made allowances. Thor: Love and Thunder got panned, but I actually liked it well enough. Yes, it went off-the-rails silly and Taika should have been reigned in, but it was still fun to watch. Then we get to the only movie in Phase Four that completely knocked it out of the park: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. As impossible as it was to imagine a Black Panther movie without Black Panther, Ryan Coogler just completely nailed why we are invested in Wakanda and the characters who inhabit it.
And then we got to Phase Five.
Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania was a barely good movie that squandered the characters in a way that I don't understand at all. What made the first two so great is the fact that Ant-Man is a tiny hero in a big world is exploited for fantastic action, cool scenarios, and genuine laughs. By shoving him to "The Quantum Realm," every bit of that is lost. There's no scale for anything. Laughs are driven by just being weird instead of being funny. The action went wider in scope, which actually felt more confined. It was C+ entertainment that had me mad at the missed opportunity of a much, much better film.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3 was a complete 180° (mostly in a good way, though it definitely had some major problems) and, when paired with Shang-Chi and Wakanda Forever, was what Phase Four should have been. Films which were orchestrated with, intent, purpose, and quality that made Phases One through Three the benchmark for comic book movies. But instead Marvel did was Marvel used to never do... make films which are only good because of their context within a bigger universe. They don't really stand on their own and aren't really all that entertaining on their own. Quantumania was a vehicle to introduce Kang, and they didn't care how they had to force the movie to go to do that.
And don't get me started on the Marvel Shows for Disney+. With the sole exception of Hawkeye, which was better than many Marvel movies as of late, everything had its problems and is pretty forgettable to me. Secret Invasion starts Wednesday and looks promising. After that it's Loki 2 and, heaven help us, Echo. From there it's more static until Daredevil: Born Again arrives next year.
I understand what Marvel/Disney was trying to do with their Disney+ shows... extend the franchise with stories which need more room than a movie or wouldn't work as a movie... provide content for the streaming service... and give people something Marvel to watch in-between the films. But most importantly, it introduced us to characters like Moon Knight, She-Hulk, and (soon to be) Wonder Man who can pop up in the next Big Thing: Secret Wars (now delayed until... 2026?!?).
Industry pundits are saying that the decline in attention to Marvel's films is due to "super-hero fatigue." And while that's certainly a part of it... the simple fact is that Marvel isn't churning out as good as content as they used to. Which is a shame, because these are among my favorite films of all time.
Fortunately I can always go back and revisit those incredible early flicks any time I want.