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The Marvels: The new Avengers and the MCU’s ‘Kang’-sized problem

The Marvel Cinematic Universe returns with its 33rd film this weekend amidst an air of uncertainty surrounding the much debated ‘superhero fatigue’

The Marvels: The new Avengers and the MCU’s ‘Kang’-sized problem

Last Updated: 02.11 PM, Nov 08, 2023


After more than a decade of box-office dominance, Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is facing its first potential crisis. Disney CEO Bob Iger has involuntarily become the face of ‘evil Hollywood machinery’ that has garnered the wrath of striking actors of SAG-AFTRA. Recent box office trends suggest the ‘superhero fatigue’ may have finally set in among audiences, and for the first time since 2008, Marvel Studios are in uncharted territory where their major big-budget release could potentially open to an underwhelming response at the box office. While none of their recent releases have technically ‘flopped’, the recent films and even TV shows, apart from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, have failed to meet expectations both in terms of approval and revenue.


An argument could be made that a vast majority of Marvel films have limited artistic value, a view that resonates with legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s description of them as little more than ‘theme park movies.’ While this jab may have certainly enraged the Marvel fandom, Scorsese’s statement is not entirely far-fetched considering MCU films have unabashedly leaned on commercial viability rather than pluralistic content. For more than a decade, this formula of templatised filmmaking reaped unprecedented revenue for Disney, eventually turning the MCU into the most profitable film franchise of all time surpassing even Disney’s Star Wars. But it now appears that films such as Barbie, Oppenheimer, and Top Gun: Maverick may have derailed the MCU’s once unstoppable money-making juggernaut.

The chinks appearing in the MCU’s near-impenetrable armour were only a matter of when and not if, considering the ever-evolving medium of film and television. However, some of Marvel’s recent struggles can be attributed to its TV shows. The studio expected a vast majority of its casual audience to be updated with the latest Marvel TV shows by subscribing to Disney+. In other words, Disney overreached and overestimated its influence on the general population. Expecting general moviegoers to watch TV shows such as What if…? and WandaVision before Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness or Ms. Marvel before The Marvels is naivety. The studio may also be reading a little too much into the success of the 2019 film Captain Marvel. The Brie Larson film, which offers very little in terms of cinematic value, was released between Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel Avengers: Endgame – two of the top 5 most successful films of all time. It would be irrational to even consider that Captain Marvel did not piggyback on the MCU film that followed it – Avengers: Endgame, which grossed a whopping $2.7 billion. Moviegoers flocked to the theatres to watch Captain Marvel in 2019 in the fear of missing out on some major plotlines for Avengers: Endgame.

Captain Marvel’s sequel, The Marvels, is releasing at a time when actors are barred by SAG-AFTRA to promote films. It is one of the reasons why Warner Bros postponed Dune: Part II to 2024. Whether this has impacted the ticket sales for The Marvels remains to be seen. However, the film and the MCU face bigger issues with the continuity of the Multiverse Saga and its primary antagonist Kang the Conqueror, played by Jonathan Majors. In many ways Majors slipping into the role of Kang, a near-omniscient being with infinite power to travel across time and reality, is the perfect major villain to replace the void left by Josh Brolin’s Thanos. While the character could’ve been better written in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, there is no denying that Majors as Kang has the potential to become one of the greatest fictional villains of all time. Kevin Feige and Marvel rightfully invested in the character and charted out MCU Phases Five and Six around Kang, with the Multiverse saga concluding with Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars. But it appears those plans are in serious jeopardy after several women have come forward accusing Majors of domestic abuse.

Recent reports have indicated that Marvel is planning to move on from Kang and introduce the fan-favourite villain from the comics, Doctor Doom. If it does indeed pan out, it will be a major shift in the MCU, and its first major deviation from a planned storyline – which could affect several future releases. While Majors does reprise his role in Loki Season 2, if the controversies surrounding his personal life continue to create news, Feige might pull the plug on Kang. It is also baffling as to why the recently reacquired X-Men IP have not been integrated into the MCU considering big-hitters like Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America have left the franchise. If the management at Marvel Studios is hoping to propel a lesser-known comic book character to global stardom, as they did with Iron Man, it is an unnecessary cross to bear. The studio invested in Iron Man in 2008 because they did not own the film rights to their most popular characters such as Spider-Man, X-Men, and The Fantastic Four at the time. While a Fantastic Four MCU film is in development, the major X-Men characters would’ve been the ideal characters to carry the MCU forward in the post-Avengers: Endgame era.

Kevin Feige appears to have put his faith in lesser-known young female characters to be the face of the new Avengers. The assassin and Black Widow’s (Scarlet Johansson) sister Yelena Bolova, played Florence Pugh, Hailee Steinfeld’s archer Kate Bishop, Iman Vellani as Ms Marvel, the dimension-hopping America Chavez played Xochitl Gomez, Iron Man’s successor Ironheart aka Riri Williams essayed by Dominique Thorne, and possibly even Echo played by Alaqua Cox and Emilia Clarke’s G’iah have been rumoured to be part of the new Avengers led by Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers. Of course, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, Anthony Mackie as the new Captain America, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk remain part of the Avengers in some capacity. But for the first time in its history, MCU remains in a creative limbo. Of course, The Marvels featuring Captain Marvel, Ms Marvel, and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) could manage to tie all the loose ends or even course-correct the MCU. The film is directed by Nia DaCosta and it will feature Zawe Ashton as the villainous Kree revolutionary warrior Dar-Benn. It remains to be seen if Dar-Benn will have a larger role to play in the multiverse saga.

The Marvels releases in theatres on November 10.

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