As I waited for the IMAX screening of Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania the other night, I was filled with a feeling, not of anticipation, but of tedium. After a Phase Four full of mysteries (Eternals), misfires (Thor Love and Thunder) and tragic rewrites (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) going to an MCU premiere has become a task, not an event. The reviews for AMATWQ seem to back that up…and it seems that perhaps MCU mastermind Kevin Feige is aware of this.
In his big interview for the project, at Entertainment Weekly (memba that?!?) Feige continually comments on the passing of the years, and the sands through the hourglass: running the MCU has taken up nearly HALF his life; Marvel has been around 80 years; it’s been 23 years since Hugh Jackman tested for Wolverine; there have been 31 (!!!!!) MCU films; and oh, did you see that SNL skit about how there are so many cable shows?
Along the way he drops many hints for ongoing Phase Five projects, but for me, the key passage was this, an acknowledgement that it might not just be audiences that are blasé about endless multiverses; the folks who makes them might be too.
I do think one of the powerful aspects of being at Marvel Studios is having these films and shows hit the zeitgeist. It is harder to hit the zeitgeist when there’s so much product out there — and so much “content,” as they say, which is a word that I hate. [Laughs] But we want Marvel Studios and the MCU projects to really stand out and stand above. So, people will see that as we get further into Phase 5 and 6. The pace at which we’re putting out the Disney+ shows will change so they can each get a chance to shine.
Yep – it didn’t take a genius to see that MCU production was slowing down, or that it needed to. As we sat in the theater waiting for Quantumania to begin, my fellow Beat journalist Taimur Dar and I ran down the MCU projects coming out in ’23, and few were anything we could drum up much enthusiasm for.
Now don’t get me wrong. The MCU’s TV slate launched smack in the middle of the pandemic, with WandaVision in January ’21, and in those dark slogging days, having something to look forward to from Marvel was a welcome distraction. Especially as the first 15 minutes of Avengers: Endgame, the part with the whales and the empty Citi Field, became part of our actual lives, and not just a movie.
All that said, I don’t think anything on Disney+ ever surpassed Dancing Zemo in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. And that was two years ago.
I enjoyed Loki and Hawkeye, but kept falling asleep during Moon Knight (sorry Oscar) and will have to binge She-Hulk and Ms Marvel before the baseball season begins just to stay current.
That said Marvel’s TV slate is far from sparse. On TV, 2023 will see:
- Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur – just premiered
- Secret Invasion – premieres “early ’23”
- What if Season 2: premieres “early ’23”
- Loki Season 2: premieres mid-’23
- Ironheart: premieres….maybe late ’23?
- Daredevil: Born Again – TBA
- Agatha Coven of Chaos: – TBA
- Echo: Rumored to be delayed
…ad then there’s Wonder Man and other stuff, but…this is already a lot!
As for films, once again, Shang-Chi, Eternals, Multiverse of Madness, even Thor and Wakanda Forever were benchmarks of the pandemic, every screening a sign that things were becoming more and more normal. (And of course there was the ultimate blockbuster crowd pleaser, Spider-Man: No Way Home.)
After shoving everything out so the trains could get back on schedule, the ’23 slate is relatively leaner:
- Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania – opens Friday
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 – May 5, 2023
- Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse – June 2, 2023 (OKAY CAN’T WAIT FOR THIS!)
- The Marvels – July 28, 2023
On the anticipation scale in my household, I’d say GotG 3 is an 8 and Spider-Verse 2 is an 11 – the first animated Miles Morales movie was truly one of the top five superhero movies ever, and a daring masterpiece of technology and emotion.
Which is a phrase no one has ever used about a mainline MCU film, except maybe Thor: Ragnarok.
After 31 films, the MCU is as comfy as sweatpants, but you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. A puzzler like The Eternals that really did look and feel different left people disappointed. But a lifeless concoction like Quantumania isn’t going to please too many people either.
Anyway, Kevin Feige is too smart to be unaware of the trouble with over familiarity. So what’s he going to do about it? Here are some takeaways from the interview:
- More episodic tv, as with Daredevil. That’s right what’s old is new again! “Nowadays, so many TV producers and showrunners like to pitch their shows as “eight-hour movies,” but I think you’re right: There’s something special about a really great self-contained episode of television,” says Feige.
- Kang will be the big bad through man different stories and settings. Jonathan Majors is the best thing about Quantumania, and unlike the CGI Thanos he brings a lot of explosive physicality to the role.
- Ms Marvel is primed to be a star in whatever phases may come. “The great thing about Kamala in her show, and now in this movie, is that she’s not unlike Tom Holland’s Peter Parker in Civil War. She can’t believe she’s with these other heroes, and can’t believe that she finds herself in these places. And that’s fun because we want to be that. I want to be that.”
- Speaking of Spider-Man, the script for Tom Holland 4 is just getting under way.
- The troubled Blade production, which lost director Bassam Tariq (Mogul Mowgli) and was rumored to have script problems, will finally start shooting in the next 10 weeks or so, under helmer Yann Demange (White Boy Rick). Mahershala Ali stars.
- Thunderbolts is a movie that piques my interest if only for the cast of MCU regulars – David Harbour, Florence Pugh, Sebastian Stan. As many have noted, they all play kind of the same character (lovable morally ambiguous super-something in a flight-suit) – so gotta watch out for that. Filming will start “relatively soon” says Feige who enthuses “You’ve got David Harbour and Florence Pugh and these people who are at the top of their game and popping in everything they’re doing. They’re already here and established in the MCU, and we get to build the movie around them.”
- Captain America: First World Order with Anthony Mackie as Cap also starts shooting soon and probably includes an expanded role for professional President, Harrison Ford, who takes over the Thaddeus Ross role. Even normally unflappable Feige was star struck by the Indiana Jones star. “I’m sure anyone you’ve ever talked with about Harrison Ford says this, but it’s unbelievable that we get to meet and talk with him and that he’s embracing this role.”
- The Fantastic Four is coming and it will be big when it arrives. “Fantastic Four is the foundation for everything that came after in the comics….We plan on that being a big pillar of the MCU going forward, just the way they’ve been in the comics for 50 or 60 years.”
Well, damn he’s done it again – got us waiting for more MCU all the way from cradle to grave.
But this quote from Feige is almost chilling. “That’s why the comics have been around for 80-plus years, and I want Marvel Studios to be around that long, if not longer.” Can he do it? Will Marvel still be turning out the same kind of films when most of the people reading these words are retirement age? I doubt Stan Lee, getting a nepo baby job at Timely, would have thought those characters would be around 80 years. Jack Kirby – he knew though, and maybe Stan caught on.
Whether the MCU will last that long depends on the degree to which superhero fatigue is real. Everyone agrees that some form of it has begun to set in, 25 years in. The golden age of the Western genre lasted about 20 years (from the 40s and 50s) but gradually petered out in the 60s. Superheroes could have a similar trajectory.
Or maybe we just have …MCU fatigue. Watching Quantumania I couldn’t help but wish for a truly new vision and not the typical adequate but pedestrian work from Marvel’s pre-viz and VFX unit.
We’ll soon(ish) be getting a whole new take on the superhero genre, as Warner Bros rolls out its pandemic-delayed slate, and then the Gunn-i-verse arrives. WB movies are typically known for having more independent visions, and a more impressive art department, and I think the audience is hungry for that. The reaction to the Flash trailer, which is merely a different version of No Way Home with Batman instead of Spiderman, showed that.
Who knows, given the timing, at this moment, James Gunn may just be the luckiest man alive.