Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The MCU Finally Has Focus, But Is It Too Late?

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One of the biggest criticisms levied at Marvel over Phase 4 and 5 of the MCU has been the lack of clear progress or cohesion towards the villain and conflict we knew they had planned. With the drastic expansion of the franchise — shows and movies flying at audiences left and right introducing us to all sorts of new heroes — also comes the struggle of tying all of it together. The MCU has been largely adrift lately, with its constant onslaught of stories largely having nothing to do with each other and even less to do with Kang and the multiverse. Big events have come and gone with no follow-up.

It’s largely been a waste of the multiverse concept, and a failure to follow up on any momentum any new characters could have developed.

Carol Danvers in space from The Marvels

This seems to have changed with the one-two punch of the Loki finale and The Marvels. Both of these stories, while totally disconnected and received quite differently, have one major thing in common; the have rocketed the MCU down the path to Secret Wars. The problem is that they may have come too late to salvage the concept.

On a personal level, the release weekend of The Marvels and the Loki finale was the best one-two punch the MCU has given me in years, and this was greatly helped by the larger implications for the MCU. Loki ends with Loki saving the TVA and the multiverse by taking the place of He Who Remains and opening up the multiverse, which ends the TVA’s mission of pruning everything but the Sacred Timeline and instead transforms the organization into peacekeepers focused on monitoring Kang variants.

Meanwhile, The Marvels has its villain, Dar-Benn, weaken the very fabric of the universe throughout the movie until she finally opens up a massive rift into another universe, which Monica willingly traps herself on the other side of in order to close said rift.

Together, these two incidents seemingly lay out the steps for how the Kangs, or a Kang, can threaten the MCU and bring about the ultimate conflicts of Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars. The TVA will almost certainly be on the chopping block as an early victim of Kang, which will allow them to proliferate throughout the multiverses. Loki’s control over said multiverses will almost certainly end, whether he lives or dies, which will make limiting and stopping Kang’s many variants impossible.

Meanwhile, Dar-Benn at least introduced the idea of weakening the fabric of time and space, allowing for forceful incursions into other universes. Once the TVA is out of the way, the Kangs will be able to forcefully conquer their way through the multiverse.

Even more importantly, this type of persistent weakening is probably how we get to Secret Wars. In the most recent version of this event from 2015, the entire multiverse is at risk of destruction and is salvaged by Doctor Doom to create one universe where he is basically the supreme being in charge. Through Dar-Benn, we have already seen how one person can threaten the very stability of the multiverse (and why we should expect Kang to do the same), and most people believed it would be Kang who ended up in the God Emperor Doom role.

Everything is finally coming together for the Multiverse Saga, but Kang may be doomed anyways.

For one, we have no idea what the future holds for Kang’s place in the MCU. By the time you read this, Jonathan Majors’s trial will probably have started. We don’t know what will come of this, or whether Marvel will stick by Majors through it, or how public pressure will affect things. We don’t know how Marvel will react if it becomes necessary to move on from Majors, either. Will they recast the role? Will they cut Kang entirely? Who knows?

Even if Majors remains in the role, the MCU has done a poor job of building Kang up as a villain, and audiences simply aren’t responding that well to him as a successor to Thanos, or even Loki before that. Quantumania made him look like a bit of a joke, and otherwise we’ve only seen him in Loki. To be fair, Majors has been excellent and the Kang variants in Loki are one of the show’s highlights. It hasn’t been enough to build any real excitement, though.

There are already rumors flying around about Marvel wanting to move on from Kang as a villain. Between the legal troubles facing Majors and the lack of excitement for the character, it’s certainly plausible.

Also, while Kang is far from the biggest factor to blame, there’s no denying that the MCU is at its lowest point. The Marvels is unfortunately looking to be the biggest bomb of the entire franchise. This comes after Secret Invasion was easily the worst received of the Disney+ shows. Quantumania was a flop. Critical and box office reception has increasingly dwindled since Endgame. Even the biggest Marvel fans can’t deny the bad spot the franchise is currently trying to move past.

It may not matter in the slightest that Loki and The Marvels gave the multiverse plot purpose and direction because audiences have already tuned out. The audiences for Marvel’s big turnarounds are too small to make a difference.

Probably the easiest way to immediately inject a sense of excitement and must-see quality to the MCU would be to fast track the introduction of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, which would naturally include villains like Doom, Galactus, and Magneto that Marvel and Disney know will bring box office success.

I don’t think the MCU will pivot that hard, but Kang Dynasty is already in flux, and Marvel is rethinking their current MCU strategy, while letting certain projects seemingly release with little fanfare to certain failure. Right now, we don’t know what direction the MCU will take. Most likely, they will stick with the Kang strategy for now, but one more bomb might make them desperate.

I mean, let’s be real, is anyone going to care more about Kang than the X-Men and Doom? Absolutely not.

So we’re just going to have to see how their 2024 projects perform. Right now, Deadpool looks like the only release next year with any obvious multiverse impact. Maybe X-Men ‘97 will have some connection. Otherwise, the narrative momentum that could exist with Loki and The Marvels is likely to just die off. If X-Men ‘97 is successful enough, it may provide further motivation to just rush mutants into the MCU.

It’s easy to see a scenario where Marvel panics and switches gears. And that would be a shame if it happened right when they seemingly found the direction they needed. Season 2 of Loki was the best thing Marvel has put out, streaming or in theaters, in years. The Marvels addressed many of the complaints people have about the MCU lately. And unfortunately, people just may not care at all.

Images Courtesy of Marvel Studios

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