The moment Tony Stark snapped his fingers to defeat Thanos, it was all over. The culmination of 11 years of a perfected formula consisting of creating likeable characters portrayed by charismatic actors, easily understandable plots, a dominant insistence on all stories being part of a shared universe, ‘humour’ every 20 minutes or less so the audience doesn’t lose its interest and unleashing the Disney marketing machine with full force. But the formula worked. Worked so well that others tried to emulate it and failed. Yet everything’s changed now. Even if you have the God of Thunder on your team, lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place in real life.
WE ARE NOT IN THE ENDGAME ANYMORE
The MCU formula consisted of releasing 2-3 movies a year with a big cross over event every 2-3 years or so. In the meantime, Fox tried to recreate the same with their rebooted X-Men movies and Warner Bros was in the midst creating their DC universe. Though Marvel remained the most recognizable and financially successful, things would be different after Endgame, DC particularly was catching up.
The MCU depended on their years of creating brand recognition, big CGI battles, intermittent humour and viral marketing (which may or may not include biased film journalists) for their success. But look at what DC did with a good actor and just 65 million dollars with Joker. Not only did Joker earn a billion dollars but showed that the world is open to adult-rated comic book movies now. DC with their Watchmen show and success of Birds of Prey is carving a new path in a saturated market.
EXCITEMENT v MONOTONY: DAWN OF STREAMING
Another major reason why MCU formula cannot succeed like before is the dawn of streaming services as opposed to the traditional theatrical model. The COVID pandemic has only enforced this new truth. Disney realized this beforehand and launched their Disney+ service which was supposed to be the platform to end all platforms. Netflix was gonna lose and HBO Max was going to die a premature death according to many. However, other than the Mandalorian, Disney hasn’t been able to do anything eye-catching.
Although, Kevin Feige has announced a slew of hotly-demanded new shows like She-Hulk and Wandavision in phase 4 along with exciting movie projects like Shang-Chi and Eternals. In case the sarcasm wasn’t apparent no one demanded these shows or movies and although they could be good, She-Hulk isn’t as recognizable a brand as say Thor (who will be showing up in Thor 4 probably to be slowly replaced by Jane as Lady Thor or whatever).
But let’s face it, even if they somehow manage to cram in a Tony Stark cameo in a Hawkeye series, it won’t generate even half the excitement as Zack Snyder’s Justice League coming to HBO Max in 2021. The once secretive Snyder Cut is now being finished by Snyder himself and potentially released as a mini-series on Warner Media’s HBO Max streaming service. Add to the fact that, creators like JJ Abrams and Matt Reeves are slated to create more DC property shows for HBO Max, it looks like Warner Bros & DC has a leg ahead in the streaming game. Disney doesn’t have any Avengers-level event planned and they’re still trying to figure out a way to integrate the already popular Marvel properties like the X-Men and Fantastic Four into the MCU. They’re needing to think about how they can generate more excitement for Disney+ than there has been so far.
Besides, even if the MCU were to bring in the X-Men, they would still suffer from the same tonal paralysis of jokes and quips puncturing every serious situation, mediocre music and no creative trademark of its directors. They would suffer from a homogeneity that could drive away a chunk of the audience looking for more variety. DC has already recognized this problem under Jim Lee and has made the multiverse official. Meaning everything from kids friendly movies like Shazam to operatic Snyder-verse to the campy DC CW TV shows are now cannon. It is offering audiences a buffet of choices.
Although Kevin Feige has talked a lot about the multi-verse, it is of no use if it doesn’t offer anything different than your existing projects.
THE RIGHT DIRECTION
Although it’s difficult for Marvel to emulate DC’s model, they should realize that they have already experimented with a mature tone and been damn good at it. Marvel’s Netflix shows particularly all 3 seasons of Daredevil were some of the best Marvel content that’s ever been put out. These street-level based shows consisting of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Punisher, Iron Fist and Defenders were not dependent on the bigger Avengers characters. These creator-driven shows had some great writing, acting and action sequences not seen anywhere in the MCU.
Not all of them worked well particularly Iron Fist and the second season of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones but overall these series showed Disney that they can experiment with tone and reap benefits. It’s understandable because of their brand image that they don’t want to risks in theatrical releases. But to survive in this cut-throat market they can take those risks on streaming.
In the tradition of bloggers and websites always advising on how to run the DCEU, here’s some advice for the MCU’s future:
- Make a dedicated “Marvel Knights” or whatever mature section in Disney+ for mature Marvel shows.
- Greenlight Daredevil Season 4. Can’t say this enough. Greenlight Daredevil Season 4 not only because the show was fantastic but it has an audience already demanding it.
- Get better writers for the other shows like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, perhaps greenlight a 2nd Defenders miniseries.
- Get Spiderman to show up here and there. He can only be swinging on a web or just showing up in a cameo. Tom Holland’s Spiderman may look like he won’t fit in this mini-verse, but it would allow him to be more serious as Spiderman as the character ages and also give the audiences a chance at seeing him as more than just a kid.
- If you are gonna have a fantastic actor like Mahershala Ali as Blade, there is no point putting him in a PG 13 Vampire Hunter movie. Blade is the PERFECT character to be introduced in this gritty, dark “Marvel Knights” verse. Make a Vampire society Daredevil’s next villains and just have Blade show up. Are you telling me there wouldn’t be an audience for that? More of an audience than there would be for the Eternals.