The Recent Direction of Marvel (Spoilers)

I’d been considering writing reviews of some individual Marvel movies lately, but with the conclusion of Phase Four of their cinematic universe, and the start of Phase Five, I figured I’d wrap my thoughts up on the journey so far in one post. Lest I end up on the receiving end of any given crowd, I will also state that this post represents my opinion, and my opinion alone. It is obviously not fact, it is merely the view of one meerkat.

Marvel have given themselves a tough act to follow. Whilst not every movie in Phases One-through-Three could be considered cinematic gold, most fans are in agreement that overall, what became known as ‘The Infinity Saga’ worked really well. The planning was long-term and detailed. Most of the movies granted opportunities to explore the characters and develop them. Some movies have become heralded as tremendous works of comic movie art, such as The Avengers, The Winter Soldier, Black Panther, and Endgame. Hitting those heights again has proven to be more difficult with Phase Four, though some allowances need to be made for disrupted production, due to the covid-19 pandemic.

However, there can be only so much in the way of mitigating circumstances. The quality of work in Phase Four has varied quite sharply, and this includes both the stories and the CGI. Some of it has been brilliant (Wandavision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, Hawkeye, Ms Marvel and She-Hulk were all wonderfully entertaining, especially Hawkeye). Some of it has been ropey. In terms of the story, Multiverse of Madness could have been better. Eternals was a beautiful load of nothing. Black Widow wasn’t amazing. Wakanda Forever was full of heart, and it was emotional in places, but sometimes, some of the performances did not feel as sharp as they could have, and Quantumania forgot what made the Antman films so entertaining.

You might note that a lot of what I consider to be the best of Phase Four takes the form of TV shows. I will add that Shang-Chi was a great film, and No Way Home is right up there with the likes of Endgame. However, the films have started to become CGI slog-fests, whereas the TV shows are more character-driven. The shows have incredible budgets for TV shows, but they don’t have the same resources of the movies, and so there is more focus on actual sets, and character work. In the rush to expand the multiverse, the films show Marvel have forgotten how to tell stories, or at least, how to tell them with heart.

Quantumania embodies this problem. The film is set almost entirely within the Quantum Realm, and this strange realm can only be brought to life through extensive and flashy CGI. Half the characters (in fact more than half) are elaborate CGI constructs. They look reasonable enough, but what’s there to make us want to connect with them?

There’s also a lack of stakes. There’s flat acting. There was no sense of urgency or danger in Quantumania. Even after Scott Lang’s daughter is held hostage under threat of death by Kang, Paul Rudd’s facial expressions don’t change. None of the cast seemed particularly into their roles. It was a paint-by-numbers movie, with contrived moments used to overcome seemingly impossible odds. The whole thing felt like a vehicle to help set up future films.

Marvel at its best makes use of each individual film to tell a story about that character or group of characters. When the focus is on the smaller scale, on the detail, you have then built the world into which you can slot a over-arching theme or villain. The Infinity Saga did this, so far, the Multiverse Saga feels directionless. I hope I am proven wrong.

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