Marvel Studios has seen better days.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” might make only half a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. Or it might not even get there. Jonathan Majors, who plays Kang in the movie, seemingly the next big bad villain who justifies the assembling of a new team of Avengers, is now dealing with personal and legal matters that cloud his date with superhero movie history. Victoria Alonso, one of Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige’s most heralded lieutenants who also happens to be one of the most powerful Latinas in Hollywood, was reportedly fired due to her involvement in helping produce “Argentina, 1985.”
Then there’s the CGI — special effects that, according to the screams of the internet, have been anything but muy especial, causing some to say Marvel Studios is spreading itself too thin between theatrical releases and multiple series on Disney Plus.
Mainstream critical acclaim will always be a crapshoot for a superhero movie. Marvel Studios has eaten good over the last decade and a half on the buzz that it gives an adoring fan base. But as of late, there have been just as many groans as cheers from even the most loyal of fans. Couple that with movie critics who are always ready to pounce with a one-star review on anything with superpowers, and you’ve got the first true signs of doubt for the Marvel Cinematic Universe since its inception in 2008.
Are we entering the first dark ages of Marvel Studios? Absolutely. Are things as bad as they seem after “Quantumania?” No. Marvel has a dedicated adult fan base that grew up without these movies for a long time and isn’t ready to say goodbye to them just yet, if ever.
Alonso won’t be easy to replace. And at some point, the Majors situation, and his pending roles in so many other Marvel projects, will have to be addressed. But no one person is ever going to be bigger than the potential stories Marvel Studios has the ability to tell on-screen, powered by a world-class vault of comics with over eight decades of adaptable inspiration.
[Actor Jonathan Majors arrested on assault charges]
Every Marvel Studios movie shouldn’t be expected to be “Avengers: Endgame” in terms of the stakes in the story and the earnings at the box office. An individual superhero film such as “Quantumania” not making a billion dollars (to date the film has grossed $473 million worldwide) shouldn’t bring about the headlines of superhero fatigue and the fall of a Hollywood giant that we’ve been seeing. The business model for over a decade at Marvel Studios has been: Solo superhero movies will try to approach $500 million or more worldwide, and only Avengers movies or Avengers-esque movies such as “Captain America: Civil War” are the behemoths going for a billion.
Assembling Avengers is a card you only want to play every few years so that those moments remain special. Not all of these movies can have three Spider-Men in them. And Bad Bunny’s superhero suit is locked up at Sony. His “El Muerto” movie won’t be any help here.
How these movies have looked as of late is another matter. I’m no special effects snob. If a movie looks better than Dolph Lundgren’s 1987 masterpiece, “Masters of the Universe,” I consider that progress. But rumors of “Wakanda Forever” getting more attention in postproduction than “Quantumania” hold up when you consider how bad M.O.D.O.K. looked without his mask on in the third “Ant-Man” film. It might be time for Disney and Marvel Studios to invest in their own in-house special effects team instead of outsourcing so many projects to various companies that have been screaming burnout. Industrial Light and Magic can’t do everything and is quite busy with Disney Plus’s streaming, shiny and expanding Star Wars universe. Using a puppet works great with Grogu. Captain Marvel? Not so much.
[Jonathan Majors is ready for his Marvel Studios ‘big bad’ moment]
Then there is the unexpected challenger to Marvel Studios’ throne. DC is once again a contender, led by James Gunn, who along with Peter Safran is now the co-head of DC Studios. Whatever box office success and goodwill come from this May’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” which Gunn directed just before exiting Marvel’s door, highlights the fact that he is about to do big things at DC. His arrival could tip the balance of power and make the company the mightiest superhero movie maker in town. That’s not something Warner Bros. Discovery is hoping for. That’s something it expects to happen. Competition is something superhero cinema has lacked and desperately needs. And it’s something that should make Marvel Studios strive to be even better.
With Gunn recently announcing his new DC universe will have a new Superman, Batman and Robin, many concluded that DC on film in 2023 isn’t a part of his plan. But don’t count out the superheroes who remain just yet. “Shazam: Fury of the Gods” may not have struck lightning twice (although I can admit I thought the movie was just fine as a fan of the comics), but “The Flash” and “Blue Beetle” will be here this summer. One of those movies has Michael Keaton returning as Batman. The other features DC’s first superhero movie with a Latino actor in the titular role (“Cobra Kai’s” Xolo Maridueña). Both films have released fun and buzz-creating trailers online. It’s entirely possible DC could win this calendar year in superhero cinema with movies many thought had no shot of being a part of Gunn’s bright future. The last time DC had that kind of victory over Marvel at the movies, Christian Bale was Batman.
But this is not the end of the republic. Marvel Studios just needs to reload, not reinvent. Right on time, Samuel L. Jackson, the glue of the MCU, is starring in his own shape-shifting Skrull-thriller “Secret Invasion” on Disney Plus in June, getting the solo outing his Nick Fury character always deserved. The series looks to have a “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” vibe, which is a good thing because that’s still pound for pound the best Marvel Studios movie ever in my book. Another season of “Loki” is expected this year. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine will soon be punching Ryan Reynolds’s Deadpool in the face under Feige’s watch for the first time, in 2024′s “Deadpool 3.” And 2026’s “Avengers: Secret Wars” could be the biggest Avengers movie of all-time given the comic book source material.
Staying at the top is never easy. And it shouldn’t be. Even if you’re Marvel Studios.