Marvel has a new film in cinemas this weekend – The Marvels – but anticipation appears to be on the quiet side so far.
There’s an excellent book out now, which tells in great detail the story of how the Marvel Cinematic Universe came to conquer cinema. The book, MCU: The Reign Of Marvel Studios, is by Joanna Robinson, Dave Gonzales and Gavin Edwards, and you can find more about it here.
What you get from it, though, is a colourful and detailed account of how Marvel became the dominant force in modern cinema.
But is it still? While its films are still hugely popular, and while the box office is still the envy of every other studio, the days of regular $1bn movies do seem to be over for now. And this week, we get the release of the first new Marvel movie in six months: The Marvels. Unusually, its release is already feeling strangely muted, given the studio that made it.
Ostensibly a follow-up to the $1.1bn-grossing Captain Marvel, The Marvels has been directed by Nia DaCosta, with Brie Larson in the lead role. Already the running time has raised eyebrows, although count me as someone very much up for the idea of a 105 minute blockbuster. The cost – north of $200m – has also generated headlines, although again, I can’t say I’m paying the bill personally.
What’s notable, though, is that the levels of anticipation do feel on the light side at the moment. It doesn’t help that Disney and Marvel has to promote the film without being able to take star talent on the junket circuit, but the lack of haste in trying to properly solve the actor’s strike means some of that’s very much at Disney’s door.
The knock-on too means that The Marvels isn’t just the first Marvel movie since May, but it’s likely to be the last until next summer. The next film lined up for Marvel’s Phase 5 is Deadpool 3, but the chance of that hitting its 3rd of May 2024 is non-existent, given that filming is on hiatus until the strike is resolved.
The film after, Captain America: Brave New World, is in post-production with a release date of 26th of July 2024 at the moment. However, will Marvel still want to keep the releases in order? What’s the connective tissue between the movies like, and which film needs to come first in the Marvel movie continuity?
That’s before we start to consider what’s going on with TV shows as well, and that clearly also has to piece together. Yet it’s the draw of the big screen movies that’s been in some degree of decline.
It’s a lot to put on the shoulders of The Marvels, reviews for which are due to land over the next day or two. There’s already a sense of expectations being tempered: the box office numbers give little impression that they’re soaring off the back of pre-sales of tickets. Deadline reports that early sales in the US are behind those of Black Adam and The Flash from Warner Bros, which would suggest an opening weekend of somewhere around $40-55m. Again, a lot for some studios, but for Marvel – which was regularly bathing in $1bn grosses just four years ago – it’s some comedown.
Of course, the film itself may turn out to be terrific, and fingers crossed it does. But there’s little argument that as Marvel’s Multiverse-centred fifth phase of movies grapples with how to fully re-engage audiences post-Avengers Endgame, The Marvels has ended up with a bit more pressure on its shoulders than it arguably deserves.
Going back to that MCU book, the segment on Captain Marvel and the ecosystem around its release is both fascinating and a little depressing. Yet the film proved those naysayers wrong – and The Marvels, Marvel will be hoping, will do so again.