I’ve been a fan of Marvel for a long time. I watched The Avengers in the cinema like seemingly everyone else in the world at the time, and felt that sense of wonder seeing these heroes together on screen for the first time. From that point I enjoyed almost every movie that followed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, sure there were some bumps along the way, but the magic never let up. Those feelings reached their peak with Avengers: Endgame, as the Infinity Saga hit its climax and concluded the stories of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.
From that point, it’s been downhill for me. This isn’t exactly an uncommon or unpopular opinion, but the more time has passed, the stronger I start to feel it. There have been some parts that I’ve enjoyed, but the good is dragged down by a whole bunch of bad. The problems have been growing, and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania may just be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Despite a respectable opening box office, critics and audiences are beginning to express their concerns. Marvel built their brand on impressive, high quality superhero movies, but it seems like the world’s heroes are starting to lose their might.
The issues can be broken down into three main groups: what we’re hearing, what we’re seeing, and what we’re experiencing as a whole. We’ll start with what we’re hearing, and that’s the writing. Over the past couple of years, an increasing trend has emerged on social media sites of making fun of Marvel’s dialogue. Scrolling through TikTok or Twitter, it’s not uncommon to find memes parodying the cartoonish humor that Marvel movies have relied on.
Audiences have become increasingly more aware of cliché one-liners, with “so, that just happened!” or the cringe-inducing “he’s right behind me isn’t he?” being the punchline to many Marvel-mocking memes. By themselves, these lines aren’t particularly offensive. The goofy dialogue and humor has worked really well in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man. As time goes on though, the humor hasn’t evolved. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania continues the now tired trend, with a complete lack of awareness about the audience’s dwindling interest in this type of humor.
Marvel’s attempt at comedy is also wearing down the critics. Scrolling through Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania‘s lacklustre 48% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, reviews can be seen pointing out “childish jokes”, and the dialog and screenplay being “some of the worst” Marvel has to offer. This point is perhaps described most succinctly by Rendy Jones of Rendy Reviews, saying of the movie “I get older, and they stay the same.” Collectively we’ve all evolved over the last decade, but Marvel’s writing has largely stayed the same. This isn’t to say that superhero movies need to be boring or serious. James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad was very whacky and funny, but didn’t resort to only clichés and constant quips to amuse the audience
The writing is one issue, but what we’re seeing on screen is another thing entirely. Marvel has been criticized by some more snobbish filmgoers since the beginning for its explosions and high action scenes. I think they’re awesome. It’s easy viewing, and Marvel had a lot of stunning environments and set pieces in the past. As has been discussed at length in the trades though, the CGI and the artists behind it are starting to struggle.
Visual effects artists have had breakdowns following seven-day work weeks, and it’s starting to show in Marvel’s projects. The examples of bad VFX make for a lengthy list at this point, such as the 3D model of She-Hulk featured in the show or Thor’s bizarre animated helmet in Thor: Love and Thunder. Even while writing this article, more anonymous sources have spoken to Vulture about how dire working conditions have gotten over at Marvel, and how it is affecting their work.
Marvel have also increasingly used The Volume, a visual effects tool that replaces the green screen in immersing characters in fantastical worlds. This technology was first used to great success in The Mandalorian, with the computer-generated environment wrapping around the characters in a realistic way, thanks in part also to the camera team and lighting set-up. The Volume hasn’t been used anywhere near as effectively by Marvel, creating scenes that can feel pretty flat and unrealistic. As the MCU increasingly veers off into cosmic threats and quantum realms, the VFX aren’t keeping up to match the settings. It only takes one look at what was achieved with Avatar: The Way of Water to see that it’s still possible to have mind-blowing effects; it just takes effort and time.
This brings us to the last point about why Marvel is losing what made it special, and that’s the mass of content in such a short amount of time. The poor writing or the weak VFX can damage an individual movie or show, but a consistent lack of quality across swathes of projects can damage a brand entirely. Marvel hit the ground running post-Endgame with WandaVision, a show with fantastic writing that carries it right through to the end. Things slowly started to tumble from that point but Marvel didn’t let up, in fact, they were making more than ever before.
Phase Three of the MCU gave us 11 movies in four years, from Captain America: Civil War in 2016 to Spider-Man: Far From Home in 2019. Phase Four however gave us seven movies, nine streaming series and two Special Presentations – 18 projects total – in just two years! From Black Widow in 2021 to The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special in 2022, Marvel has given us eighteen entirely different projects to watch.
Just having options to view things isn’t strictly bad by itself, but the issue comes from how they all add more to the universe that just remains completely unresolved. The concept of the Multiverse was introduced three separate times in Phase Four, in Loki, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. In all three of them, the reasons for multiversal travel are completely different. We have so much to work with, but it all lacks a solid tie-in like we had throughout the entire Infinity Saga. We can keep waiting for the movies to give us a reason for their continued existence, but after the entire Phase Four failed to give us any answers, I think I’ve given up hoping.
That doesn’t mean your hope has to be given up though! Kevin Feige recently announced a bunch of delays to Marvel projects, with The Marvels being pushed all the way back from this summer to November, and many series have been shifted too. Making breathing room for all these projects is a good idea, especially if that time is going to be used to work on the scripts and visual effects. Having more time to sit with a Marvel project, and more time between seeing them, might also make the viewing experience more refreshing when those times come around again.
The original run of the MCU broke cinematic boundaries, establishing one of the longest-running continuing stories in the history of film, and introducing audiences to well-made crossover movie events. After things peaked with Endgame, Marvel has thrown everything they can at the wall to see what sticks, but all it’s making is a mess. As Phase Five begins and shows little sign of improvement besides some delays, it might be time to accept that our cinematic heroes aren’t so mighty anymore.