It’s A Universe In Need Of Major Rethinking. And Then Some.

For as invested as I may be in certain forms of entertainment, there are a few I simply don’t have the time, patience or bandwidth to immerse myself in long enough to be a true fan.  When it comes to comic books, my pecking order as a kid was 1) DC 2) Archie (when I was old enough to appreciate Betty and Veronica at least and 3) Marvel.  In that order.  And even at 12 cents a pop, there’s only a certain amount of time and effort I was willing to put into prioritizing my education of the world that Stan Lee took from relative obscurity in what has evolved into arguably the world’s most valuable IP franchise.

But I know enough folks who are MCU fanbois and gals, and I know darn well how much value the modern genesis of it brought to Disney during the halycon days that followed the IRON MAN movie 15 years ago that cemented the name Kevin Fighe into the pantheons of genius and mogul.   And Disney was more than willing to stake a great deal of its future on expanding it still further.  The most coveted pieces of its $71B purchase of the FOX entertainment assets were the rights to X-MEN and THE FANTASTIC FOUR which, along with SPIDER-MAN, were the missing links to total control of the MCU.  And I knew enough from my involvement with the SPIDER-VERSE to know how much that character and the 932 identified spinoffs are to Sony, so I’m more than able to appreciate exactly how much Marvel and Fighe’s master plan mean to Disney.

Which is why I actually sympathize to an extent with those that are losing their minds at how in the last few months so many missteps and misfortunes have fallen upon that empire, so much so that per an extensive VARIETY! piece penned by Tatiana Siegel several weeks ago that all but foreshadowed the double whammy that came to pass in the past few days, with the massive underperforming of box office expectations from THE MARVELS and the tepid and angst-inducing impact that LOKI’s Season 2 finale had when it dropped onto Disney+ last week.

As Siegel explained it, a September retreat in Palm Springs that in past years was a celebration was this year effectively an intervention:

(E)veryone at Marvel was reeling from a series of disappointments on-screen, a legal scandal involving one of its biggest stars and questions about the viability of the studio’s ambitious strategy to extend the brand beyond movies into streaming.

There was concern even then about the many problems THE MARVELS had:

(T)he brain trust at Marvel is also grappling with the November release of “The Marvels,” a sequel to 2019’s blockbuster “Captain Marvel” that has been plagued with lengthy reshoots and now appears likely to underwhelm at the box office.  

The sobering news that Siegel’s colleague Rebecca Rubin broke Sunday morning confirmed their worst fears:

The Marvels” misfired with $47 million in its opening weekend to land the worst debut in MCU history. Initial tracking was closer to $75 million to $80 million, but those projections shrank dramatically in recent weeks to $60 million to $65 million. With bad buzz and actors like Brie Larson unable to promote the film due to the SAG strike (which finally ended on Friday), “The Marvels” didn’t even match those disappointing estimates.

On top of this, the Loki plot line was effectively a teeing up of the expansion of the influence that one Jonathan Majors had on Marvel’s winter blockbuster, which Siegel explained now has repercussions that even a superhero, especially one without a JD degree, would have trouble dealing with:

Majors was already a big presence in the MCU, including as the scene-stealing antagonist in February’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” And he has been positioned as the franchise’s next big thing in this season of “Loki” — particularly in the finale, which airs on Nov. 9 and sets up Kang as the titular star of a fifth “Avengers” film in 2026.  (But) the actor…instead is headed to a high-profile trial in New York later this month on domestic violence charges. The actor insists he is the victim, but the damage to his reputation and the chance he could lose the case has forced Marvel to reconsider its plans to center the next phase of its interlocking slate of sequels, spinoffs and series around Majors’ villainous character, Kang the Conqueror.

That finale, which effectively changes the trajectory and the character of Loki moving forward, so much so that in his hastily scheduled TONIGHT SHOW appearance Friday night star Tom Hiddleston was telegraphing the end of his run with the character, received mixed reviews from uber fans, who seems to have been the only audience that cared about this chain of events, which, as Brian Lowry of CNN explained, were to the MCU more than mildly significant:

Majors… appeared during the latest six-episode season in the guise of Victor Timely, a benign variant of his MCU villain Kang the Conqueror, as well as the seemingly all-knowing He Who Remains. That included a faceoff in the finale episode with Loki… who was forced to essentially become the protector of time – a role steeped in Norse mythology – to save the sacred timeline, having exhausted all other options.

But as THE WRAP’s Lucas Manfredi reported yesterday, even all of that was essentially preaching to the choir, for even the Disney spin-meisters struggled for a narrative:

The highly-anticipated finale of “Loki” Season 2 nabbed 11.2 million global views on Disney+ in its first three days, a 3% increase from the premiere episode, according to data provided by the streaming platform.  The Marvel series’ second installment…had the second most viewed finale on the streaming platform this year — only behind the Season 3 finale of “The Mandalorian,” which aired in April.  Loki’s popularity held steady throughout the season, with every episode racking up over 11 million views during their premiere weeks.

To me, that’s more low-key than Loki.

A 3% build is barely statistically significant.  And 11 million global views in a universe of reportedly 150 million subscribers translates to (assuming no duplicated viewing, not a given with complex and rewatchable IP) about a 7.5% reach.   In today’s world, a “rating” like that isn’t inconsequential.  But that also means that at least 92.5% of those who subscribe to Disney+ could have cared less.  And for a service grabbling with price increases and a co-mingling with Hulu ahead of it, for an investment community that judges streaming success on subscriber growth and retention, that’s not the most encouraging result a finale as creatively impactful as this was hoping to achieve.

Plenty of people who have more informed opinions that I do have their own thoughts on what to do.  VARIETY’s Adam P. Vary dropped his own nuanced take yesterday:

For the past few months, I’ve been talking with some of my friends and colleagues about a radical idea that’s been bouncing around in my head that I haven’t been able to shake: The only way Marvel Studios can save the MCU is to destroy it.

(F)ans have flooded onto social media to debate and dispute when, how, why and whether Marvel lost its way.  This matters, of course, because, for over a decade, Marvel Studios was popular in a way nothing in Hollywood has ever been popular before — and now, suddenly, it isn’t, at least not nearly at the scale it used to be. For some, it feels like a genuine loss. For others, it’s a source of endless fascination and debate. 

And lately, I’d become convinced that Marvel can only right both its creative and financial prospects by nuking the MCU and restarting with a brand-new timeline built around the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, the two beloved Marvel Comics properties that had eluded the MCU until Disney purchased 21st Century Fox in 2019. No, audiences aren’t ready to see new actors as Iron Man or Captain America, but the breathless speculation that Daniel Radcliffe was getting buff to play Wolverine (he wasn’t) tells me that audiences are ready to get excited for a new Storm, a new Prof. X, and a new Magneto. And just ask John Krasinski and Emily Blunt if the public is interested in who will play the new Fantastic Four.

But in the view of someone with a few more writing credits than Vary has, rushes to  judgement in the wake of this dual disappointments from the likes of Vary and his “friends”‘ are seen as–well, let DECIDER’s Radhamely De Leon  tell you:

Stephen King criticized Marvel fans for “gloating” over The Marvels box office performance, saying it reminded him of “adolescent fanboy hate.”

The famed author clarified that his comments were not because he cared much for Marvel films, but because he found the backlash The Marvels has been facing to be “very unpleasant.”

“I don’t go to MCU movies, don’t care for them, but I find this barely masked gloating over the low box office for The Marvels very unpleasant,” King wrote on X on Sunday (Nov. 12), just two days after the film made its theater debut. “Why gloat over failure?”

He added in a separate tweet, “Some of the rejection of The Marvels may be adolescent fanboy hate. You know, ‘Yuck! GIRLS!’”

King may be the only person coming to Marvel’s defense at this point, with everyone from Martin Scorsese to Jeremy Allen White criticizing the studio.

Perhaps a spiritied social media debate between a group that one creator essentially dismisses as incels and another who’s hoping to glean his own share of box office for his period piece at the expense of disillusioned Marvel fans isn’t the most constructive way to deal with the problems that are clearly befalling Fighe and company.

But there’s definitely work and come-to-Jesus moments ahead.  As this anonymous quote that Siegel included in her piece summises:

“Marvel is truly fucked with the whole Kang angle,” says one top dealmaker who has seen the final “Loki” episode.

So maybe the thoughts of someone like Vary should be given more than a passing thought.  And I for relate to one suggestion he offered that would help potentially expand the MCU universe opportunities to someone like me:

As a different TV and comic book writer put it to me recently, “The MCU has become Marvel [comics] in the aughts: Too many books, too many characters. They need to get small. I don’t give a shit about the Kang Dynasty because I don’t care about Kang. Or the multiverse. They haven’t made it emotional.” 

The interconnectivity of the MCU has also grown so tangled, spurred by an insatiable push for Disney+ content, that it has made it particularly vulnerable to disruption.  Marvel has taken some less drastic steps to address these problems recently, but they come off as half measures. The studio recently announced a new “Spotlight” banner for titles that don’t have “larger MCU continuity” — but the Disney+ and Hulu series launching this banner, “Echo,” was created to be a spin-off of “Hawkeye,” which only adds confusion instead of clarity. 

I’m open to sampling almost anything once, so long as I don’t have to work all that hard to do so.  I loved seeing Guardians in the Galaxy in the theatre.  I actually gave Wandavision a chance, but once I got distracted by life, I was lost, and therefore became less attached to the Disney + MCU world.  And perhaps asking people to make a commitment to a series on a platform that seems to be destined to become as diluted and Walmart-like as its competitors may not be the ideal way to preserve a franchise that has made Kevin Feige so crucial to the success of his employ–er. business partner.

And as Vary concludes, ironically given the theme of LOKI, time may be the best ally to attacking these existential issues:

Marvel now only has one feature film set to open in 2024, there are four movies currently slated for 2025.   Two of those films, “Thunderbolts” and “Blade,” have now leapfrogged “Fantastic Four” on Marvel’s slate after initially being scheduled to open before it.  Just about every creative problem Marvel is currently facing could be resolved if its movies didn’t have to service the MCU.

And as Lowry’s CNN piece concludes, the marching orders to attack this issue intelligently can be drawn from the very source of much of the angst surrounding both the movie and series that underperformed:

As Victor Timely, Majors began the finale episode (of LOKI)  by walking into a dangerous situation and quietly saying, “Time to be brave.” As for what that will look like for Marvel, in keeping with “Loki’s” main preoccupation, only time will tell.

Until next (ahem) TIME



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