The MCU’s Behind the Scenes Drama Is More Interesting Than the Movies

Jan 13, 2023

It’s incredible how much popular media culture has radically changed since the release of The Avengers a decade ago. Comic book films had certainly been popular before Joss Whedon’s comic book crossover event, as the Spider-Man, X-Men, and The Dark Knight franchises had all been cultural events and box office sensations. However, it seemed like with The Avengers, Marvel Studios had done the impossible. The dream of seeing characters come together for a “splash cover” crossover event that worked on its own terms was like seeing everyone’s childhood dream brought to life. Marvel had somehow enlisted great actors and filmmakers to treat Stan Lee’s material like modern mythology.

The success of Phase Two and Phase Three was again built on a seemingly impossible conceit; Marvel Studios was building anticipation for their upcoming projects and laying the seeds for an ultimate, conclusive event, but they were still allowing individual filmmakers to bring their auteur personalities to their films. Iron Man 3 was Shane Black’s buddy cop dark comedy, Guardians of the Galaxy was James Gunn’s wonderfully weird family comedy, Spider-Man: Homecoming was Jon Watts’ modern coming-of-age comedy, Thor: Ragnarok was Taika Waititi’s campy space opera, and Black Panther was Ryan Coogler’s timely political thriller. While not every film was equal in quality, the consistent output was rather stunning; as Fox’s X-Men franchise and Warner Brothers’ DCEU continued to produce mixed results, Marvel Studios appeared to be leagues ahead of their competitors.

Related: All the Times Marvel and DC Referenced Each Other in Their Movies

With the success of Infinity War and Endgame (which briefly landed the honor of being the #1 highest-grossing film of all-time before Avatar won back the prize), it seemed like Marvel had peaked, and unfortunately, that assessment has been correct. The question going into Phase Four was an obvious one: Where do you go next? As the franchise continues to double down on crossovers and produce more content than ever before, the results have been messier, the quality has been inconsistent, and the overarching story has become impenetrable to casual viewers. Amid these creative lows, the real interesting narrative of the MCU is how it treats its filmmakers, and how the franchise has changed Hollywood forever.

A Bit Too Big?

Image via Marvel Studios

Phase Four was met with one crisis that no one could have predicted — the shuttering of movie theaters as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, this forced every studio in the industry to begin questioning their future, which was a hard pill to swallow for Marvel. Kevin Feige had been praised by industry insiders and fans for his ability to plan years ahead, mapping out every step of the story. However, the less reliable box office, the advent of Disney+ as a streaming venture, and a less enthusiastic audience seemingly forced him to make some clumsy adjustments.

Marvel Studios started off Phase Four with a few signs that they had taken their stars and talent for granted. The general attitude toward the Black Widow standalone film is that it was simply several years too late, and felt like a half-hearted apology to Scarlett Johansson and the fans for the constant mistreatment of Natasha Romanoff (as her storyline in Age of Ultron in particular invoked controversy). This was further complicated by the pay disputes with Johansson as a result of the film’s simultaneous release pattern. Moreover, marketing techniques seemed to paint Johansson as the villain, a particularly disturbing message to send in an industry where women are constantly underpaid. There was another blunder that invoked the attention of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings star Simu Liu when Disney CEO Bob Chapek referred to the film’s release as an “experiment.” Was this critical moment of Asian representation nothing more than a way for a conglomerate to test out a release pattern?

It was also clear from the 2021 output that Marvel was no longer building a universe where casual fans could simply “opt in” for whichever project interested them. You wouldn’t be able to understand the upcoming Doctor Strange sequel if you hadn’t already watched WandaVision, and the “big bad” for the “Multiverse Saga” was revealed until the end of the Loki series. It raised interesting questions about the role that studios had over fans: Would they be willing to watch movies and shows that didn’t interest them simply in order to keep up? Reviews for the Disney+ shows and Phase Four films were mixed, with Eternals earning the studio its first real critical bomb.

Sticking to the Formula

Image via Marvel Studios

At the same time, it seemed like the universe was getting so big that adjustments had to be made at the last minute, and the studio couldn’t handle all the changes. COVID-19 forced The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to rework its storyline, and elements of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness seemed out of line with Wanda’s (Elizabeth Olsen) character arc in WandaVision. It’s no surprise that thus far, the most acclaimed project in Phase Four was Spider-Man: No Way Home, a film that simply coasts on nostalgia and tells a self-contained story.

As the creative blunders raised questions about the studios’ commitment to the fans, there’s been an increasing issue of directors being replaced or disrespected for not falling in line with Marvel’s marching orders. The signs of this had briefly cropped up in Phase Two, but considering Edgar Wright had been developing Ant-Man before the MCU was forming and Patty Jenkins’ idea for Thor: The Dark World needed some work, these “creative differences” were somewhat understandable.

However, the idea that Marvel was nothing without its corporate overlords was highlighted when James Gunn was briefly fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 over controversial comments, which had been resurrected on social media by a right-wing conspirator. Additionally, Marvel seemed averse to letting directors make any more bold risks that would divulge too far from formula. After all, Scott Derikson had initially promised Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness would be the first “scary” MCU film, and then left the project for mysterious “creative differences.” The most shocking change came recently when Yann Demange was brought in to direct Blade after its previous director, Bassam Tariq, mysteriously “stepped away” shortly before filming was scheduled to begin.

How the MCU Changed the Industry

Image via Marvel Studios

It’s no wonder that Marvel Studios’ cultural domination has invoked the concern of some of the industry’s all-time greatest filmmakers. In the decade since the release of The Avengers, every studio has seemingly adopted the same “multimedia crossover” approach, and attempted to replicate its success. While Hollywood has always had its eyes turned toward sequels, we’ve seen franchises like DC, Star Wars, Star Trek, Ghostbusters, Dark Universe, Monsterverse, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones all attempt to adopt the same model to mixed results. At a time when everyone is chasing Marvel, the originator of these industry trends is experiencing more setbacks than ever.

It’s getting harder to keep up with Marvel’s output, as the sheer volume of content can perhaps only be consumed by true die-hard fans that will accept any faults in the system in order to have the complete experience. However, the unraveling behind-the-scenes drama is a far more fascinating story, and one that may indicate where the entertainment industry is going in the future.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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