Content warning: The following article includes spoilers about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Marvel universe has been a longstanding source of entertainment for many people worldwide ever since the comics were first released. Due to the franchise ending its most recent plot arc by killing off several beloved characters and introducing new characters, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s direction in phase four has disenchanted fans, which has led to a diminished fervor and increased hesitance in the fanbase.
Marvel divides its cinematic universe into phases in order to easily organize the franchise. Phase one includes the first six Marvel movies starting with “Iron Man” in 2008 and ending with Marvel’s “The Avengers” in 2012. Phase two covers the next six movies, beginning with “Iron Man 3” in 2013 and closing with “Ant-Man” in 2015. Phase three covers eleven movies, from “Captain America: Civil War” in 2016 through “Spider-Man: Far From Home” in 2019. Phase four, the phase that Marvel is currently in, is set to include at least nineteen movies, as well as several television shows beginning with “WandaVision” in 2021 and most likely concluding with “Blade” in 2023, though the exact releases for 2023 have not been confirmed.
The first three phases are often combined into what is deemed the Infinity Saga, and phase four begins the stories of new heroes (such as Kate Bishop’s Hawkeye) outside of those originally focused on in phase one (such as Tony Stark’s Iron Man). While there is excitement surrounding the fourth phase, the way that Marvel decided to end the Infinity Saga in “Avengers: Endgame” has left many fans questioning Marvel and becoming disappointed with the overall direction that Marvel is heading in.
For example, many fans were upset with the way that Marvel handled the deaths of Natasha Romanoff (the Black Widow) and Tony Stark (Iron Man), as well as the end of the character arc for Steve Rogers (Captain America).
When asked about the Marvel Cinematic Universe after “Avengers: Endgame,” Alexi Kerey, a senior sociology major in the elementary education program, said, “I kind of gave up after Tony Stark died because he is my favorite.”
Similar ideas were expressed by fans over the idea that these characters were thrown away, dismissing character development that they had had up until that point, simply to achieve the easiest resolution of the plot and transition into a new phase with new characters.
“Phase four has not killed off characters with wasted potential so far,” said freshman Garrett Hennessey. “The concept of multiverse allows for different variations of characters returning [and] therefore opportunity to save characters.”
The first real glance at the future of Marvel was dependent on the release of “Black Widow,” which had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When “Black Widow,” the first movie in phase four, was finally released, the film significantly underperformed in the box office, according to Statista, becoming one of the Marvel movies with the lowest box office revenues.
This underperformance of revenue was influenced by the pandemic delaying its release and its availability on Disney+. Even with these factors impacting the commotion surrounding the film, the overall hype that the film received from fans was underwhelming, especially compared to the attention “Captain Marvel,” another Marvel movie focusing on a heroine, received around its release.
The unexpected lack of box office viewership “Black Widow” received indicated a negative sentiment from Marvel fans. However, its performance statistics were most likely influenced by factors such as COVID-19 and the Disney+ release, since fans have shown their consistent, unrelenting support as the Universe expands.
For example, the television shows that have been released as a part of phase four have performed well in their viewership statistics, according to Fiction Horizon. Although this is the case, some fans critique how the shows diverge from or contradict plots (such as the time travel in the show “Loki” and in the movie “Avengers: Endgame”) with the rest of the movies, but others don’t seem to mind this occurrence.
“I really enjoy the addition of TV series in the [Marvel Cinematic Universe],” said freshman Ben Schwartz. “They have more screen time than the movies allowing us to learn about the characters. The episode format also allows for different stories that the movies could not tell in their format.”
Despite fans’ overall hesitance towards Marvel’s released films in phase four, not everything that has been released so far has been a disappointment, so some fans hold out hope that Marvel will redeem itself.
“My fear is that there will be an oversaturation of new heroes and not enough competent villains to pose actual threats,” said Hennessey. “I wonder with the sheer amount of heroes will the writers write themselves into a corner?”
Although there are concerns about the sheer abundance of superheroes being introduced into the franchise, “Stan Lee said that the Marvel Universe is a reflection of our own world, so it’s great to include characters that anyone can look up to,” Hennessey said.
Aiyanna Bartley, a senior sociology major, said that while she’s “sad that phase three is over, [she’s] excited to see what phase four will look like and if it will integrate the X-Men.”
The inclusion of the X-Men into the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been put off so far, as there were film ownership rights issues due to the X-Men not being under the same film production company as the rest of Marvel.
One reason that the opinion on Marvel seems to be shifting is that Marvel is not doing enough to entice new fans into engaging with their content as their current fan base ages.
Looking at fan demographics, Generation Z has shown less interest in the Marvel franchise than their Millennial predecessors, who currently make up the majority of Marvel fans. This indicates that Marvel needs to pay increased attention to how they portray the characters and plot lines throughout phase four in order to keep up the engagement seen in the past.
With a fanbase that is getting progressively older and expressing discontent towards the major plot choices that Marvel is making, there will have to be a shift in the way that Marvel continues the franchise. While fans still love the characters and want to hold true to their devotion to Marvel, if they continue to feel betrayed by the choices that Marvel makes (such as killing Tony Stark), that loyalty will likely fade away.
Norah Walsh contributed to reporting for this article.