Marvel needs to break from its repetitive formula

Fans grow dissatisfied and bored with Marvel’s half-hearted releases


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Marvel Studios’ movies seem to be more and more repetitive.

Ben Wilcox, Staff Writer

 It might be time to admit Marvel Studios has hit a bit of a snag as of late. Fans of the uber-popular franchise have been left wanting more in the years post- “Avengers: Endgame”. The seeming lack of direction has left many of the newer movies and television shows feeling unfocused and meandering, instead of the concise and quippy style they’ve based their brand around for the last 14 years. The copy-and-paste approach that seems to have characterized Marvel’s latest films and TV shows has fans like myself feeling dissatisfied. I am going to break down why I think that the Marvel formula has felt a little stale and concerning for the largest studio in film. 

It is my belief that the decline in quality that people have started to notice may have started in between the releases of their two largest movies ever, “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame”. In 2019, the first movie released after “Avengers: Infinity War” was “Captain Marvel”. This film was just fine. Instead of discussing the ins and outs of the movie and its pros and cons, I’ll say it’s just a project released by Marvel to tell general audiences, “Hey, pay attention! Captain Marvel is here and she will be one of the faces of our franchise for the next decade!” The movie lacked any real substance and had the stereotypical weak Marvel Cinematic Universe villain and milquetoast humor that has plagued the MCU as of late. 

The next film after “Captain Marvel” was “Ant-Man and the Wasp”, which had very similar issues. However, lots of people went out to see it because the Marvel Studios machine kept reassuring us, “Go see this movie, you might not care about these heroes like any of the original Avengers, but we promise there’s something in here really, really important to the plot of ‘Avengers: Endgame!’” That’s how Marvel successfully made the second installment of the “Ant-Man” films into a higher grosser than the original, despite a pretty sharp decrease in quality. 

Pretty much every iteration of a Marvel release post-“Endgame” has used this same trick to try and get general audiences excited about less popular characters taking the reins of their franchise. “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was going to reignite the new-look MCU by teasing the multiverse in trailers, only to make it one of Mysterio’s many lies. “Black Widow” was going to give us one more story from one of our favorite characters and set up Florence Pugh to take over the mantle. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” was going to be the grand union of all three Spider-Men on screen, while “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” would delve deep into the implications of what the multiverse could mean for the MCU. 

If you told me about this plan in 2019, I’d be pretty excited. There’s just one problem though — these movies aren’t any good, and I haven’t even gotten started on their TV series. They’re formulaic with their villains and they are burdened by trying to move forward the plot of the MCU, leaving them with a loss of identity.

One major area of weakness in these phase four projects are their post-credit scenes. I’d honestly prefer if we’d retire them altogether than to feel obligated to reuse the same type of scene every time to tease a follow-up. These films are using one of two formulas in their stingers. They will either take a secondary threat or character from the second act and tease their powerful return in the sequel, or they will introduce our characters to a special celebrity cameo who will be their partner in crime or even adversary in the next film. 

Examples of the former are the return of the Ten-Rings in “Shang-Chi and the Ten-Rings”, Kit Harrington and Maharshala Ali in the second “Eternals” stinger and the return of Zeus in “Thor: Love and Thunder”. Examples of the latter would be Harry Styles in “Eternals”, Charlize Theron in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”, Julia Louis-Dreyfus in “Black Widow” and Brett Goldstein in “Thor: Love and Thunder”.

The reason I’m so critical of this trope is that even though these formulas are copy-and-paste, Marvel themselves have used them well before. The perfect example of the first formula is the “Thor: The Dark World” ending. Although it is not a proper post-credit scene, this is without a doubt where the DNA from which these first examples have come. We are led to believe that Loki has died and Thor leaves Asgard to return to Earth with Jane, until it is revealed that it is Loki disguised as Odin and is now presiding over Asgard. This ending recontextualizes the whole back half of the movie, from Loki’s supposed sacrifice onwards. It leaves the audience on a genuine cliffhanger and has us investing in knowing what happened to Odin and they will go from there. It’s the kind of ending that made you look up when the next Thor movie was coming out. 

And to keep it brief with the second formula, Marvel is clearly trying to recapture the magic of the Thanos scene in “The Avengers”. The Thanos reveal works also because it recontextualizes the movie. We had spent the entirety of the MCU to this point seeing these characters unite to face a larger threat, such as Loki and the Chitauri invasion, only for the reveal to come that they’ve all been working for Thanos, and now people are re-watching the older films for hints at where the Infinity Stones could be. The phase four version of this has been essentially to stunt cast so you care about the character instead of having to rely on making a compelling story. It’s a good sign that Marvel knows what works and what doesn’t, but we have now clearly slid into an unexciting pattern. 

There is a whole other side of matters with how they have struggled to collaborate well with high-quality filmmakers, but I’ll leave that up to Marty Scorsese and the opinion experts. We’ve really seen Marvel build a compelling universe on the backs of some of these concepts, but now all they give us are empty calories.