Disney is on the cusp of making one hell of a purchase. If everything goes their way, Disney will gain every intellectual property under 20th Century Fox. While many (rightfully) fear what will happen to franchises like Predator and Alien, what I keep wondering is where are they going to fit all their Marvel characters? Can The MCU sustain an aggressive release rate?
Years ago Marvel was in dire straits. The comic publisher, facing bankruptcy, sold off the movie and television rights to many of its most notable characters. Sony got Spider-Man, Punisher and Daredevil while Fox grabbed the X-Men, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four. Many of these properties returned to Marvel over the past 20 years, but the big ones remained out of reach.
Disney has already entered a deal with Sony to co-finance and produce Spider-Man movies, tying the hero to the MCU proper, but Sony continues to make Spider-adjacent content. These movies, like the upcoming Venom and just-announced Morbius, will have little, if anything, to do with the MCU. Sony still has films in the genre directly competing with Disney/Marvel’s content.
The X-Men and Fantastic Four movies are, naturally, competition to the MCU as well. Although never attempting a same-weekend release, many of the entries end up in spitting distance of each other. I haven’t even touched on DC or the other random “indie” label efforts (think RIPD, Cowboys and Aliens and The Kingsman – only one of which I have any confidence anyone even remembers). There are just too many comic-book movies, even as a fan. It gets even worse when you have to follow all of the continuities.
All-New, All-Different MCU
Over the years studios have done their part to diversify their releases. Sony’s anti-hero Venom film seems to be a darker perspective, New Mutants is apparently a horror film, and Suicide Squad was an extended music video with some lousy dialogue thrown in. The last thing anybody at Sony, Fox or Disney want is to ruin their cash cows by making them too similar. Keeping things fresh is paramount for the longevity of any of these properties. Hell, Kevin Feige has a vision board that extends well into 2025.
Every set of characters has their market. Just like the comics, not everyone who loves Wonder Woman equally loves Aquaman (foreshadowing). That’s the beauty of so many studios making so many movies. Dark and gritty has a place beside goofy and fourth-wall-breaking. These pieces don’t have to fit together; they intend to be as different as possible. Once a large chunk of these characters are under one roof, can that same diversity even be maintained? How far is Disney willing to compete with itself?
Too Much Of A Good Thing
Marvel Studios already pumps them out consistently. Every year we get three releases from the MCU, again not accounting for any Fox stuff. Kevin Feige has sound reasoning for it as well. While the idea of adding one additional release yearly seems doable, there’s enough reason for the studio to worry.
The largest concern is the competition that’s still out there. WB is ramping up their efforts with their DC characters, despite the shared-universe attempt kind of flopping. Valiant Comics is teaming with Sony for a few upcoming projects. Todd MacFarlane has Spawn, Mark Millar and his Millarverse, another Hellboy – this list goes on. The general audience isn’t super aware that there is a difference. Someone out there found it disappointing that Wonder Woman didn’t high-five Captain America to officially end WWII for sure.
The second concern is fatigue within the MCU itself. Even for superfans seeing a movie every three months may wear thin. Even if you only go to the theatre for half of the releases, I would bet that eventually, you run into a story thread you can’t figure out. Now it’s either see every MCU movie in the theatre or try and juggle that and the home releases in quick succession. The greatest battle won’t be between hero and villain, but wallet and endurance.
One Bad Apple
Remember the time when the internet was used for the sharing of ideas and tracking the coffee pot? For many, the internet is nothing if not a sounding board to complain about everything. Yes, there’s praise in here as well, but negativity speaks the loudest. All it takes for these franchises to crumble is one commercial flop.
The recently-released Solo was a franchise low-point for Star Wars. The blame can either be the troubled production or releasing too soon after The Last Jedi, both factors that can similarly derail the MCU. When Thanos is defeated after the long build-up to Avengers 4, a small but significant group will move on to something new. With interconnected storytelling, all it takes is for one failing entry to crumble the empire for those who stick around. People put more weight on hating something than loving it. There’s no need to convince me to see Ant-Man And The Wasp, but I’m unlikely to spend money seeing anything besides Wonder Woman 1984 in the DCEU. Unenjoyable installments completely ruined my excitement to see where those storylines go. When a franchise entry doesn’t meet expectation the likelihood of getting someone back in theatres drops, especially if it’s going to be three months later.
Long Road Ahead
We won’t actually see any of this for a good while. Even if Fox and Disney reach an agreement on the 10th, there’s a whole lot of things that have to happen. Plans in motion will have to be adjusted, schedules made, budgets set out and talent signed. As a fan anticipating the culmination of Phase 3 [note: each “Phase” ends with an Avengers film] with next year’s Avengers 4 I can’t imagine any substantial additions until Phase 5. Yeah, they’ll build up in Phase 4 for sure, hints and possible cameos, however, don’t anticipate a full-fledged intro to unstable molecules or the mutant gene until closer to 2021.