Dying, dying, dead: Is the MCU still alive?

Trinity students’ take on the state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a series of films that began with the release of “Iron Man” in 2008 and has continued with 30 subsequent entries in the franchise. However, as the universe enters its self-titled phase five, the increase in production has changed fans’ perceptions of and opinions of the franchise. According to many fans, Marvel’s power has dwindled, both financially and socially, ever since “Avengers: Endgame” was released in 2019.

In the past, Marvel films have dominated box office sales — in fact, 10 of the 31 films in the franchise so far have grossed over one billion dollars. The franchise also holds the title for the second-highest-grossing film of all time, “Avengers: Endgame,” which finished with around $2.8 billion in box office sales.

The most recent MCU project, “Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” is one of the worst-reviewed films in the MCU so far, with lower-than-average ratings from both audiences and critics. It also underperformed expectations at the box office, with only $465 million in worldwide ticket sales, which is the eighth-lowest box office take of the MCU, leading many fans to cite this as evidence of Marvel’s downfall.

Still, other recent MCU films have done very well in both box office numbers and ratings. One of the most notable examples is “Spiderman: No Way Home” (2021), the third highest-grossing MCU movie ever with $1.9 million in box office sales. This film also revived a lot of the hype for the franchise as a whole, which fans had not experienced since “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.”

With such inconsistency surrounding the franchise, many Marvel fans are split on the fate of the cinematic universe, including some of those here at Trinity.

The perceived downturn in the quality of films in the universe is largely cited by fans as a direct result of the massive uptick in production following “Avengers: Endgame.” This increase in production means that fans have a lot more content to keep up with, especially since films and TV shows are often connected, meaning that missing one could mean misunderstanding another. Matthew Kimbara, president of the TU Film Club, sees “Avenger: Endgame” as the end of an era.

“After ‘Avengers: Endgame,’ they didn’t know where to go,” Kimbara said. “So they just threw everything out the window, and that led to the downward trend of the MCU.”

There are also risks when content goes too far into creative chaos as Jack Bushnell, secretary of the TU Film Club, points out,

“Originally, after ‘Endgame,’ they made the smart decision to mix it up with each movie,” Bushnell said. “I think that was the right move. But then, the further into it they got, they lost oversight and it’s trying to be creative but it just becomes nonsense.”

Still, the films hold a special place in many people’s hearts as staples of their childhoods. Chris Aldridge, vice president of the TU Film Club, is one such fan.

“My experience with the franchise is very positive. … I grew up watching those movies, and especially in high school when ‘Infinity War’ came out, I remember everyone in class talking about them,” Aldridge said. “I have really positive thoughts about the MCU up to that point. Kind of everything after that, though, I just don’t follow, like I’m just not interested.”

As Aldridge pointed out, the franchise’s big finale in the form of “Infinity War” as well as “Endgame” felt like a turning point for his interest in the franchise, with later films yielding a far less engaged view of their new plotlines and characters.

The debates surrounding the MCU have gone hand in hand with a debate surrounding what gives a film merit. As Marvel films have turned more and more away from a focus on artistry to a focus on entertainment and fan service, many fans have taken it upon themselves to dismiss the MCU as childish movies rather than serious art. As a result, certain fans write off any Marvel film as low-brow, low-quality films regardless of the content of the films themselves. Bushnell called out this stance and urged people to appreciate films and movies for what they are, regardless of the merit others cast upon them.

“We’re declaring what we consider art or not, and we can in our minds, but I think all films, including Marvel should be in the discussion because every film is different … all films are subjective,” Bushnell said.