My faith in the MCU lies in the hands of Thor: Love and Thunder; will it take me away to that special place, or will I break down and cry?
The Marvel Cinematic Universe was once, rightly, considered audacious. Other franchises dipped their toes into shared worlds – Alien vs. Predator, Freddy vs. Jason, Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse – but here, the tongue was out of the cheek: rather than a wink-wink enterprise, it was a canonical behemoth.
For the studio, it began as a costly experiment. For the everyday moviegoer, the penny didn’t really drop until The Avengers, a groundbreaking blockbuster that connected and furthered movies in a way that felt novel and exhilarating; the payoff came from the outset, not the third act.
Forward-wind 10 years, and somehow, multiversal madness has been tiresome from the get-go. Now, Thor: Love and Thunder is all that stands between renewed love of the MCU and full-blown apathy.
The MCU will never top Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame
Everyone will have their own highlight, but from a financial and cultural perspective, it’s unlikely we’ll see anything on the scale of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame ever again. It was the culmination of a 10-year journey, bringing together Marvel’s toybox of heroes for a finale that not only stuck the landing, but was entirely comprehensive.
It also redefined cinematic euphoria. For Thor, his landing in Wakanda was the runaway water-cooler moment of Infinity War. In Endgame, audiences erupted in hysterics throughout the final battle, whether it was Captain America lifting Mjolnir, all of the portals, or Tony Stark giving his life with the perfect sign-off: “And I… am… Iron Man.”
Both films boasted enthralling set-pieces, but the action wasn’t shallow; we’d been afforded a decade to care about these characters, and everyone was acutely aware of the stakes – i.e. half of all life in the universe being at risk. Not everything along the way was in service of impending doom, either; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Ant-Man, and even Captain America: Civil War are great examples of character-informing, contained stories within the larger saga.
Essentially, Endgame was well-earned, and it still slackened the jaws of the MCU’s most steadfast critics. Alas, in the three years since its release, that tear-jerking finality has been reduced to an earlier chapter, and Marvel’s rampant expansion across screens big and small has done more harm than good.
The lack of finality in the MCU is tiring
Up to and including Endgame, there were 22 films in the franchise, an average of two films per year. Spider-Man: Far From Home followed, and on the other side of global restrictions, we’ve had five movies: Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Thor: Love and Thunder will hit cinemas next week, followed by Black Panther later this year.
We’ve also had seven TV shows on Disney+: WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, What If…?, Hawkeye, Moon Knight, and Ms. Marvel, with I Am Groot, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, a Halloween special and the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special arriving in the coming months.
In two years, we’ll have had 18 separate projects, most of which are longer form. That’s an average of nine per year, and while I’ve really enjoyed some of them (No Way Home made me ascend like everyone else, and Ms. Marvel has been a remarkable step forward in more ways than one), my feelings towards the MCU can be summed up in one scathing statement: it feels like homework.
It’d be different if the shows operated like the previous Netflix era with Daredevil et al., where nothing in the movies really mattered in their worlds, and vice versa. But contrary to Kevin Feige’s past comments, keeping up with the Disney+ content is essential if you want to understand every beat of the movies, be it narrative or emotional. Nothing is ever truly small-scale, because interconnectivity is always in play.
Imagine you hadn’t watched WandaVision before Doctor Strange, or Loki before Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania next year, or The Falcon and the Winter Soldier before the inevitable Captain America 4? There’s simply too much of it.
Thor: Love and Thunder needs to stand out in the MCU
Beyond that burdening sense of compulsion to watch it all, I just don’t care about the overarching multiverse; it’s fun in the same way that I used to play with all my toys in the bath, but it doesn’t make for emotionally-rich storytelling. Instead, the MCU expects its congregation to clap like seals. It wants to have everything, everywhere, all at once.
No Way Home was an extraordinary blockbuster, but that joy mostly stemmed from the triumvirate of Spideys. Doctor Strange 2 was a big nothing, and perhaps the greatest victim of Marvel’s serialised storytelling; its whole schtick was tied to what came before and what will come later – an inbetweener, in other words.
Thor: Love and Thunder could be a watershed moment, then. It’s the fourth big-screen solo outing for a mainline Avenger, and it appears to unfold without all the multiverse hoohah. It’ll either remind me of the MCU as a warm safe place, or I’ll pray for the thunder and the rain to quietly pass me by.
Thor: Love and Thunder hits UK cinemas on July 7, before releasing in the US on July 8.