Is the MCU Still Relevant?
In 2008, Marvel Studios released Iron Man, a refreshing new take on the existing comic book superhero, and it was extremely well received. Over the next eleven years, Marvel released twenty-two more films with many other heroes existing in the same universe as Iron Man. This unique franchise of interconnected storylines and characters is known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
The first twenty-three MCU movies are known as the “Infinity Saga” because the underlying conflicts in each film were caused by a set of powerful, ancient objects – the infinity stones. After the conclusion of this saga with Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019), many Marvel fans were unsure what would happen next: would Marvel move on to new franchises? Would they continue the MCU? Or would they stop making films entirely? The third option was a joke, but it took another two years to find the answer, as Covid threw a wrench into all of Marvel’s plans.
The Infinity Saga includes Phases 1, 2, and 3, while Phase 4, beginning in 2021, kicked off the Multiverse Saga of the MCU. In this article, Campus will delve into the main criticisms of the Multiverse Saga, as well as what Edgemont thinks about newer Marvel films.
The first movie of Phase 4 was Black Widow (2021), but at this point three Marvel TV shows had already been released: “WandaVision,” “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” and “Loki.” All three received solid ratings; however, the MCU films of Phases 4 and 5 have had mixed reviews overall, with some claiming the movies take the MCU in interesting new directions and others claiming they are confusing, poorly written cash grabs. In terms of the movies of Phases 4 and 5, they have been pretty disappointing.
When the Edgemont community was asked to rank the five existing Phases of the MCU, 65% said Phase 1, 2, or 3 was the best, with 33% saying that Phase 3 was their favorite. 55% of respondents placed Phases 4 and 5 in the bottom two spots (in any order). From these results, it is clear that Edgemont either doesn’t like or care much about Phases 4 and 5, and it seems the world agrees, too.
Except for a few standouts, like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Marvel has, generally speaking, lost its touch, but why? Campus asked the Edgemont community to give their opinions on this question and compiled the four biggest reasons for the MCU’s decline.
The Big Four Reasons
“Endgame” means the end
One of the biggest complaints about the new Multiverse Saga of the MCU films is that they don’t have a clear direction. Many fans speculate that this is because there was a satisfying conclusion at the end of Phase 3, with Avengers: Endgame. After all, what could “Endgame” possibly mean if not the end?
One anonymous junior explained, “Marvel became a joke with its attempts to capitalize on past sagas that had already received effective closure.” Another anonymous junior put it this way: “Phases 4 and 5 are horrendous compared to the Infinity Saga… in the first three phases it built up to Thanos, [and they] should’ve ended it there.” Both respondents made good points – the first three phases really felt like they were building up to a big finale, but the last two phases couldn’t deliver that sensation, leaving fans wondering why they were still watching.
2. Uninteresting characters
The next reason why the MCU’s popularity has declined is because of the characters. So many Marvel fanatics loved watching the earlier films because the characters were compelling and personable. For example, take the story of Tony Stark, an arrogant billionaire who became a superhero and, eventually, (sorry for the spoiler) sacrificed himself to save the world. Just like him, all of the characters in the Infinity saga are interesting to watch, but when Phase 3 came to an end (after Endgame), many well-known and beloved characters were lost.
Arjun Gupta (‘29) told Campus, “Some of the faces of the franchise have died in the story… and the replacements just aren't the same in terms of humor and style.”
Ava Thomas (‘25) wrote, “It also is really hard to let go of the characters who are iconic to the MCU as a whole, and they have definitely been missed in the multiverse saga so far.” She also said that said characters “haven't really been replaced by many characters with the same likable qualities as the past ones.”
3. Quantity over quality
Another alarming problem with the multiverse saga is that Marvel seems to be trying to pump out as many films (and TV shows) as they can, without taking the time to polish let alone develop them. In 2019, Marvel released three MCU films, and in 2021, they released four, not to mention the five to six (depending on the criteria) Disney Plus miniseries, which are basically stretched out movies.
Last year, in 2022, they released three films and two “almost-films” – The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special and Werewolf by Night – as well as multiple Disney Plus miniseries. As Abdullah Waleed (‘24) explained, “Another reason why more recent Marvel movies and shows may be lacking in terms of quality is because the company is producing so many of them that the overall quality is deteriorating.” An anonymous senior also wrote that “[Marvel] most likely wanted to get as many characters out as possible in the time frame they were given” and noted that other than a few good films, Marvel is mostly producing ‘cash-grab films with poor CGI.’”
4. About the whole “Multiverse” thing…
The final, and possibly most valid, concern about the Multiverse Saga relates to that very name: the “Multiverse.” Many fans enjoyed a clear storyline that connected the individual films in the Infinity Saga, but that aspect of the MCU has been lost in the films of Phases 4 and 5. The concept of a multiverse seems to have destroyed the possibility for a linear plot, which has a level of clarity that most viewers enjoy. This complexity seems to have taken a toll on Edgemont students’ reviews, as many respondents said Phases 4 and 5 have been messy and hard to follow.
The Multiverse also brings up a whole host of concerns, including extreme confusion, gaping plot holes, and a lack of importance. In terms of the last issue, one anonymous eighth-grader said, “The Multiverse makes everything so meaningless; if your favorite character dies, don’t worry! There’s an infinite number of them out there!” The respondent also noted that “some movies do it well, like Spiderman: No way home, but most just induce a headache.”
Overall, it seems as if the Edgemont community has proven an effective sample group, agreeing with Marvel fans and critics worldwide. Both believe the MCU just isn’t the same as it used to be, but among all these detailed, valid criticisms, there is some hope for the future. Many students told Campus they enjoyed Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) and even more said that they loved the non-MCU animated Spider-Verse duology. One senior even went as far as saying, “I think the Spider-Man films will be the only successful Marvel films for the next decade.”
Aside from Spider-Man, many respondents expressed hope for the future of the MCU by looking at the overwhelming success of Phase 5’s most recent release, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, as a good sign for movies to come. Also, after diligently watching the beloved post-credit scenes in recent MCU films, some said that they are expecting another big crossover that will revive the excitement of classic Marvel movies.
So, to finally answer the question posed in the title of this article (is the MCU still relevant?), it seems like a clear yes. Despite lots of disappointing releases, Edgemont students and Marvel fans everywhere still have interesting takes on the MCU, with many criticisms about characters and plot lines. Most importantly, though, all have hope that someday Marvel will listen to their misgivings.