Secret Invasion came to an end this week with a finale that introduced the strongest character in the MCU yet: G’iah. A Skrull who gained the powers of almost all of the Avengers, including that of Captain Marvel. How they will incorporate her in the future remains to be seen, but her mere existence poses the same problem Marvel has been running into for quite some time now. This shared universe is now becoming so big it will eventually collapse on itself.
Ever since Avengers: Endgame Marvel has been on a rocky road. Saying goodbye to fan favorite characters and taking over from there is a big challenge upon itself. Count in a pandemic and the streaming wars and flawlessly continuing the MCU after Endgame is next to impossible. Phase Four of the MCU lacks a culminating Avengers movie and therefor all of the movies in this Phase tend to feel random. Black Widow is even a prequel to the entire MCU.
In hindsight only Spider-Man: No Way Home was memorable movie and a true success, with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness coming in second. But the rest of the bunch have been interchangeable movies that have little to no lasting impact. You don’t see many people claiming they want an Eternals 2.
With the creation of Disney+, Phase Four also consists of 8 TV shows. Though mini-series would be a better term since all of them tend to consist of only 6-9 episodes. Aside from What If…? I watched all of them and while I like most of them none of them is actually great.
These TV shows are interconnected with the movies. At the end of this year Ms. Marvel will make the jump from the small screen to the big screen in The Marvels. A movie that as of now, few people are actually excited for. It has also been mentioned that Secret Invasion will also directly lead into The Marvels so that means that in order to fully grasp The Marvels you will need to have seen all of the previous MCU movies and at least two TV shows.
Even to me that seems a bit cumbersome, but it’s an important contributing factor to the strain the MCU is under at the moment.
When the MCU started 15 years ago they released a maximum of two movies per year. When these movies started to become billion dollar box office successes Disney was quick to swoop in, buy the studio and increase the output. As of 2017 the studio releases three movies per year instead of just one or two.
Since all of the movies are interconnected and would eventually lead into Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame people would go to most movies. Even little known characters now would gross over a billion dollars. A movie like Captain Marvel was strategically released between these two Avengers movies and therefor grossed also over a billion dollars. All because it was telegraphed in the post credits scene of Infinity War that Captain Marvel would play a big part in Endgame. Every Marvel movie is a commercial for the next movie at this point.
Watching three movies per year is doable for most people, but now they’re expecting you to watch all sorts of TV-shows and TV-specials in order to keep up with the who’s who in the MCU. TV-shows that are often mediocre at best. Throw in the fact that we are also dealing with multiverses and different timelines and this all starts to become pretty confusing.
This was different with the Netflix Marvel shows. TV show like Daredevil or Jessica Jones occasionally made a reference to the events in the first Avengers movie, but they were firmly their own thing and their storylines were so personal or small in scope that you would never ask yourself: why doesn’t he or she enlist the help of The Avengers?
Where are the Avengers?
Which brings me to the second big factor of the strain on the MCU: The Avengers themselves. Up until Captain Marvel the folks at Marvel were pretty good keeping the characters into their own surroundings until an event was so big it required a team of heroes. With Captain Marvel being so powerful and her being good friends with Nick Fury the question arose: where was she all this time? It was a throwaway line about her being busy at the other side of the universe doing other world saving stuff that excused her absence. And we just swallowed that excuse because we want to be entertained and questions like these are just buzzkills.
But with Secret Invasion that question is posed again and the excuse is poor.
Quick recap for people who haven’t seen Secret Invasion: Nick Fury discovers that a group of renegade Skrulls have infiltrated all branches of the government and are trying to launch a nuclear war that will wipe out humanity. Since they have no planet of their own and are coincidentally immune to radiation they want to take over Earth this way and make it their new home and become the dominant species.
At one point in episode 5 Fury is asked why he doesn’t enlist the help of the Avengers. A valid question since we are dealing with a shape-shifting race of aliens who have found out a way to gain super powers and are on their way to unleash a global spanning nuclear war. This was his response:
This guy called in the Avengers to stop a previous alien invasion, to destroy a Hydra facility and a robot that is wreaking havoc on a city. And yet, a global threat by shape-shifting aliens with super powers doesn’t require a similar response because “it’s personal”. If this was linear television there would have been a wave of face palms around the world.
In the end he doesn’t even face the threat in the form of the Skrull leader. He sends G’iah, a friendly Skrull who becomes the most overpowered character in the entire MCU in the process. So far for his “it’s personal” remark, but it still poses the question: why doesn’t he call upon more powerful superheroes?
There are several reasons for this. This is his show so it should be about him and overcoming a threat by himself. If every show or movie would use The Avengers as a deus ex machina these movies and TV-shows will become stale very quickly. There’s also the budget that has to be taken into question as well as the schedules of the actors.
With this enormous universe Marvel has created a monster, because questioning where all of the other superheroes are is something that will keep on happening. Especially when it comes to global events. Where were Earth’s mightiest heroes when a celestial tried to come out of the Earth’s core in Eternals? And why is nobody talking about that giant hand still sticking out of the water in the middle of an ocean?
To make matters worse, there is another ticking time-bomb in the MCU: diversity.
I’ll be the first to admit that the MCU roster of heroes so far has been a pretty white male affair. It took them 10 years to release a movie starring a black superhero and another year to release their first movie with a female superhero as the lead. But since Endgame and the start of Disney+ they seem to be overcompensating. Every (almost) retired white male hero is being replaced by a woman and/or a person of color. While I’m not against these changes perse, doing it in such a supercharged fashion feels rather forced and unnatural. Especially when they replace a well established old white male character, with a young black female character who is magically great without any effort or character development.
The reason people hate Rey in Star Wars is not because she’s a woman, it’s because she doesn’t have any character development and is automatically great at stuff it took Luke Skywalker three movies to learn. Disney and Marvel seem to be making the same mistake with at least one of the new characters introduced these past two years.
Here’s a brief overview of old characters that are now being replaced with young, strong women.
- Hawkeye: Kate Bishop a young white girl who will don the same mantle
- Iron Man: Riri Williams a young, super smart black girl who has a similar suit and uses the alias Ironheart
- Ant-Man: aside from The Wasp his daughter is now also super smart and has a similar suit
- Thor: Jane Foster receives Thor’s powers and uses the same name.
- Captain America: while Bucky has the same powers, it’s Anthonie Mackie who will take over the shield in the next movie.
- She-Hulk: the name says it all.
I’m pretty curious whether audiences will embrace all of these new incarnations of old characters. Especially when they all seem to come at the same time. The first cracks already seem to be appearing in Disney’s live action remakes, which also tends to cast every movie color-blind despite the source material. The upcoming Snow White movie stars an actress of Colombian descent. The Little Mermaid gained a lot of hate due to its race swapping of Ariel and the box office was not was Disney was going for. In the end money will talk, even for a studio like Disney.
There are several ways these problems can be fixed. Marvel should scale down the stakes in its movies. Make the problems a protagonist has to face and overcome not bigger than they need to be. Not every movie should place the entire world or universe in danger. If a finale of the movie makes the audience question why the hero doesn’t enlist the help of an Avenger you should go back to the drawing board.
Try to keep movies self-contained and don’t use a movie to set up 5 different other projects. Wakanda Forever already had enough on its plate with the death of Chadwick Boseman. Suri becomes the new Black Panther so you already have a black strong female lead character. You could take Riri Williams/Ironheart out of the movie and it would work just as well, maybe even better. The only reason this character is in this movie is because Disney wants you to watch Ironheart next year on Disney+.
Slow down on the gender/race swapping aspect in each new project. The diversity changes in the Spider-man movies work because its natural for Peter to be surrounded by a diverse cast at a school in New York. Anthony Mackie’s Falcon becoming the new Captain America feels deserved. But introducing female/colored characters who are magically just as good if not even better than their white male counter parts feels forced will no doubt lead to backlash and little to no acceptance from the audience.
Instead go for original diverse characters. Character like Ms Marvel, Blade, Luke Cage and Black Panther. These characters work because they don’t copy an existing character but because they are original characters with their own background and identity.
Secret Invasion creates a pivotal moment in the MCU. Will they continue on this path of churning out movie after movie, TV-show after TV-show or will they take a moment to go back to the drawing board and create more smaller, but good movies? It really depends on The Marvels. Secret Invasion has been panned by critics and viewership seems to rather low as well. The MCU movies have been under-performing for some time now so all eyes are on The Marvels which will be released at the end of this year. If that movie fails to deliver both critically and financially than Marvel and Disney simply have no other option than to overhaul their current strategy.