Variety had a new report yesterday about the many challenges facing the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From new Marvel villain Jonathan Majors’ significant legal issues to the overworked and recently organized VFX teams, the piece is a fascinating look at what happens when a company focuses too much on the business of making entertainment and not on the entertainment itself. It’s clear the studio is losing the trust of audiences, but its latest move to regain it seems to be less about fixing the problems and more about assigning blame to others. The latest scapegoat is The Marvels, the franchise’s next big superhero movie. And that has me confused, because the majority of the big issues with The Marvels are not, as Variety’s story implies, the fault of the filmmakers or unique to that film. They’re the end state of Disney’s grand Marvel design.
Ostensibly, the messaging for The Marvels should be easy, right? The Marvels is a sequel to the 2019 blockbuster Captain Marvel. That film broke loads of box-office records, including at one point being the 23rd highest grossing film of all time. It stars Oscar winner Brie Larson, who is currently also enjoying success in the Apple TV romance drama Lessons in Chemistry. She’s joined by Teyonah Parris, one of the breakout stars of 2021’s WandaVision, and Iman Vellani, who anchored 2022’s Ms. Marvel with a heroic level of infectious enthusiasm.
It’s directed by Nia DaCosta, who grabbed everyone’s attention with 2021’s Candyman (produced by Jordan Peele) and is currently shooting Hedda with Tessa Thompson. Contrary to most films, The Marvels is also apparently going to be a breezy 105 minutes — just what people have been begging for! And it’s going to be a comedy about three heroines coming together to form a team — which many women, myself included, have been wishing for since this whole universe kicked off 15 years ago.
But the buzz coming out of Disney around The Marvels is so bleak, I’ve been left wondering why the company even wants to release the film because it sure doesn’t seem to have much confidence in it. Some of the biggest bad buzz is around the news that DaCosta moved onto her next project, Hedda, while The Marvels was still in postproduction. It can be a very bad sign if a director leaves a film’s production while it’s still being made, but it can also be a good thing. Steven Spielberg shot Schindler’s List while Jurassic Park was in post, and Wong Kar-wai did the same with Chungking Express while Ashes of Time was in post. Moreover, and I really want to stress this part, this is how movies and TV shows are made at Marvel. Some filmmakers even refuse to work with the studio because it holds so much creative power over the finished project.
That’s why I was so surprised to see DaCosta get any of the blame here. Particularly when the larger problem — the one that has necessitated major reshoots and delays for the film — sounds like it’s a scripting one. According to Variety’s reporting and previous rumors, the original script didn’t account for properly introducing the film’s many characters — presuming the audience already knew them from WandaVision and Ms. Marvel. That’s led to a lot of confusion and the four weeks of reshoots. And if the filmmakers had had the time to sit with the script, the reshoots (and oddly pointed bad buzz) might not have been necessary. (It might have also saved a lot of other Marvel films and TV shows. Almost every recent series and film has had some degree of similar reshoots.)
But the bad buzz isn’t just coming from within the Mouse’s House. It’s also coming from analysts. According to Variety’s sources, it’s on track to open at $75 to $80 million. That’s less than its prequel, which was one of Marvel’s rare good films of the last few years. That’s also less than the absolute stinker Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which opened at $185 million and which I’d argue was where Disney really went off the rails into making truly awful films we’re expected to see because we all love a “shared universe.”
And that’s the bigger issue here. Disney’s been making garbage, which makes people less inclined to watch new stuff on the off chance it’s garbage, too. Films like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Thor: Love and Thunder have occasionally cool moments in them, pasted together by increasingly shoddy CGI and far too much focus on reminding us of the bigger cinematic universe instead of giving us the well-made adventure films that were the engine of the MCU’s success for a very long time.
I don’t want to put on rose-colored glasses and say every early Marvel film was better than what’s coming out today. I sat through all of Iron Man 2 in the theaters. I remember Avengers: Age of Ultron, too. But as the MCU has become more and more successful, it’s become a victim of its own hubris. It started to imitate the comic industry that inspired it: shoddily putting together solo projects that always feed into some big crossover event and that usually require you to catch up with a bunch of other solo projects regardless of whether you want to, all while being pretty devoid of well-thought-out or consistent characterizations.
The studio has also let projects balloon in budget with the understanding that it can be “fixed in post.” “Kevin’s real superpower, his genius, has always been in postproduction and getting his hands on movies and making sure that they finished strongly,” one source told Variety. They were referring to Marvel superproducer Kevin Feige and blamed the fact that “he’s spread thin” for some of Marvel’s decline in quality.
That may be true — but that was always a terrible way to make a movie. Fixing it in post is what you do because you didn’t plan things well enough — or didn’t have a strong enough vision from the outset. It can save a picture, but more often than not, it’s putting rouge on a pig.
And this year, it finally seemed to break Marvel Studios. One of the reasons, according to the Variety piece, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’s graphics look like they came out of a ’90s syndicated fantasy show is because the film’s release date was switched with The Marvels’, and the already overworked VFX team had to push its postproduction schedule by four and a half months. If your whole philosophy is fixing it in post, then axing any of that time is going to make for a worse film a lot of us have to sit through.
Unfortunately, while Disney has recognized this problem, it hasn’t actually changed much of how it makes movies. Instead, earlier this year, the company fired Victoria Alonso, who oversaw Marvel’s physical production, postproduction, VFX, and animation. While there are arguments to be made that she deserved to be ousted given the state of Marvel’s postproduction, she’s also not Kevin Feige, the guy who apparently fixes every Marvel project in post. Variety even acknowledged she may have been a scapegoat and pointed to the issues with She-Hulk, another Marvel project with a great cast and distractingly abysmal VFX.
“Those issues should be addressed in preproduction,” one source told Variety. Citing the lack of time with the scripts as the reason the VFX was so awful, “the timeline is not allowing the Marvel executives to sit with the material.”
And right now, it doesn’t look like Marvel Studios entirely understands the problem. It might have put one movie — Blade — on the back burner after the film fell apart in preproduction, but for the most part, it’s spending its energies putting the blame on others (almost all of whom have thus far been women), moving things around on the schedule and inexplicably brainstorming ways to bring back the original cast of The Avengers, including the very expensive Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson.
I don’t doubt that stunt casting could make Marvel a lot of money, but it isn’t going to solve the core issue. Marvel’s too focused right now on putting content out, when it needs to be focused on making stuff people actually want to watch. Because the real reason people aren’t excited for The Marvels has nothing to do with the director or the cast — it’s because they already sat through much worse from Marvel, and they’re losing trust.