What Should We Expect from the MCU the Rest of the Year?
I’m surprised to say this, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe has potentially reached an inflection point. After 14 years of MCU movies (some would say 15), Marvel faces the same existential crisis that Pixar has in the past.
Now, Marvel’s new titles must compete against the mystique of previous MCU releases. It’s a tough bar to clear, and it’s led to harsh criticism. So, what should we expect from the MCU for the rest of the year? That’s a challenging question to answer.
The Current Status
Your perception of recent MCU titles may depend a great deal on whether you include Spider-Man: No Way Home on this list.
Now that Tony Stark and Steve Rogers have gone, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker anchors the Avengers. However, he’s technically a Sony character.
Disney earned money from that success, and Kevin Feige did have a hand in the film’s production. We’ll never know how much of one, though.
What we do know is that the pandemic has negatively impacted the MCU across the board. Black Widow was mere weeks away from release but then suffered a high-profile series of delays.
Eventually, Disney chose to release the film on Disney+, which led to a very public spat with the star, Scarlett Johansson. Of course, you all know how that went.
The last two projects are unqualified box office successes relative to pandemic-related expectations. Fan and critic metrics suggest that Shang-Chi is also an excellent movie that more than lives up to the Marvel brand.
Dr. Strange 2’s situation isn’t quite as clear, but it’s already doubled Shang-Chi in global box office. As a result, it appears likely to become Disney’s first post-pandemic billion-dollar blockbuster.
As for Eternals, the polite take is to describe it as a misfire both critically and financially. Its box office take is only double its production budget.
To turn a profit, a movie needs to earn a factor of 3.5 more when it sits on the shelf this long. And its Disney+ performance shows fans have little love for the film.
The Other Part of the Equation
COVID-19 also messed up the grand plan for Disney+. Marvel planned to start with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (TFAWS) as its showstopper debut.
The pandemic shattered those plans, as some elements of the story required reshoots for reasons Marvel denies but are reportedly true.
Oddly, this change worked in the studio’s favor. The first Disney+ project became WandaVision, the standard-bearer for MCU television programs to date.
Meanwhile, the last-minute changes in TFAWS didn’t work in the story’s favor. The general consensus is that it’s solid but nothing special, kinda like an Ant-Man movie. The next three series all performed well with regard to streaming rating metrics.
In fact, Disney recently indicated that Loki is the most popular Marvel series to date, which is even better than the data suggests.
What If…? also earned a solid niche of fans who anticipate season two, and Hawkeye proved the perfect holiday accompaniment.
The MCU’s most recent series, Moon Knight, has proven divisive. That may be a feature, not a bug, though. After WandaVision’s success, Disney warmed to daring projects that would hook audiences into watching new episodes.
In a way, the same logic applies to Loki, which had a strange ending and an even stranger romantic subplot. Not coincidentally, we’re getting a season two.
Overall, I believe that MCU’s pandemic television series have performed more consistently and better overall than the films.
In short, MCU movies are in a bit of a rut and need a hit or two to remind people of their greatness.
Thankfully, this side of the MCU doesn’t take the hit for the dreadful Morbius, whose quality makes Eternals look like Avengers: Endgame. But Marvel still needs a win.
Evaluating the Next Seven Months of MCU Releases
Thankfully, Thor: Love and Thunder lies just around the corner and looks pitch-perfect in tone. Taika Waititi has a gift for storytelling. The next Thor movie will highlight everyone’s worst nightmare, a more prosperous and happier ex.
Jane Foster will take on the mantle of Goddess of Thunder at precisely the wrong time. She becomes a deity just as the self-professed “god butcher” arrives.
Thor’s conflict here works on several levels. He’s jealous of his former girlfriend, threatened by her success, and suddenly aware of a merciless assassin. It’s gonna be great.
Marvel’s other remaining 2022 release causes a bit more confusion.
Even casual Marvel fans know that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s production suffered numerous setbacks.
Disney has worked tirelessly to reduce the number of unsourced rumors out there about the project, but it still causes intrigue.
How troubled was this production, and will that turmoil impact the movie’s quality? Everyone knows how significant this project is.
Black Panther qualifies as a legitimate cultural touchstone. People will be pissed if the sequel breaks their hearts.
My understanding is that Disney’s acutely aware of these concerns and expending all possible resources to improve/perfect the project.
Still, from what I’ve seen and heard, I feel more confident about Thor 4 than Black Panther 2, and that worries me. It upsets me, too.
Chadwick Boseman’s legacy must permeate throughout Wakanda Forever.
Otherwise, I’d rather Disney junk it than release it. I don’t believe I’m alone in that evaluation, either.
Thankfully, I don’t think we’re there yet. However, I’m only expecting a double here, not a home run. Will that be enough to satisfy the first film’s fans?
The TV Side of 2022
No matter what you think about Moon Knight, you should like what you’ve seen of Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk.
Those are the next two projects that will air on Disney+. Ms. Marvel actually debuts next week, while She-Hulk goes live on August 17th.
We’ll also get the second season of What If…? at some point as well. So, those are the big three for the moment.
Disney+ will also air holiday specials for Halloween and Christmas this year, something I hope becomes an annual tradition.
Still, the live-action projects are the ones that matter most to fans. I’m wildly optimistic about Ms. Marvel, but I’m also fangirling mightily.
I loved the comic book series and believe it should translate perfectly as a television show.
However, the very nature of Ms. Marvel could cause it to skew young. Not everyone wants to watch the struggles of a teenager.
Disney has picked this project to indoctrinate a new generation of MCU fans. This strategy should pay long-term dividends. It may not be for everyone, though.
Then, there’s She-Hulk, a project with ardent supporters behind the scenes. I’m told that the scripts are whip-smart and exemplify the best of Marvel.
The problem is that the special effects obviously aren’t ready for primetime yet, and it’s causing plenty of negative buzz. I suspect that people will overlook the issues if the story proves satisfying.
Also, with this cast, people will have a hard time disliking the main characters anyway. As for What If…?, it’ll be more of the same, and I mean that in a good way.
For these reasons, I believe that the TV side of the MCU will finish the year the way that it spent most of 2021.
People will like the shows well enough, but I don’t think there’s a WandaVision here…or even a Loki.
As a Ms. Marvel fan, I hope to be wrong. For that matter, I’ve been an Orphan Black viewer since day one. So, I want Tatiana Maslany to crush her MCU role.
Still, I don’t see and hear enough about these projects to expect them to draw a massive buzz.
That project was Moon Knight, and even its most ardent supporters would acknowledge it got a bit overhyped.
For this reason, the onus falls on Thor 4 and Black Panther 2 to carry the MCU’s reputation for the rest of 2022.
What I expect is that audiences will delight in the shenanigans of Thor: Love and Thunder.
However, Wakanda Forever could cause the MCU to end the year on a down note. I desperately hope that this isn’t the case, though.
Marvel has more than five months to create a final cut that will satisfy loyal Black Panther fans. That’s a long time for an incredibly talented team.
Do magic, folks. The world really needs this win.