Marvel Studios, known for its unprecedented success in reshaping the entertainment industry with its superhero franchises, found itself facing a series of challenges and uncertainties at its annual retreat this past September. Industry insiders gathered in Palm Springs, with an air of angst that was quite unusual for the typically confident and ambitious Marvel team.
The primary concern that dominated discussions during the retreat was the future of Jonathan Majors, an actor poised to carry the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Majors, who was set to play the villainous character Kang the Conqueror, now faces a high-profile trial on domestic violence charges in New York. Despite his claims of innocence, the potential damage to his reputation has forced Marvel to reconsider its plans to center its future slate of sequels, spinoffs, and series around his character.
Executives at Marvel discussed backup plans, including the possibility of pivoting to another comic book adversary, such as Dr. Doom. However, Majors’ significant presence in the MCU, particularly his role in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” and his positioning in the upcoming “Loki” series finale left Marvel in a challenging position.
“The Marvel machine was pumping out a lot of content. Did it get to the point where there was just too much, and they were burning people out on superheroes? It’s possible,” noted Wall Street analyst Eric Handler. He suggested that the studio’s ambitious strategy to produce a continuous stream of interconnected content may have resulted in viewer fatigue.
One of the immediate concerns for Marvel is the November release of “The Marvels,” a sequel to the blockbuster “Captain Marvel” from 2019. The movie has faced lengthy reshoots and is now expected to underperform at the box office. This is an unexpected turn of events for a studio that has enjoyed an uninterrupted string of hits since its independent production debut with “Iron Man” in 2008.
Marvel’s difficulties can be traced back to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which led to a mandate to produce a constant stream of interconnected content for Disney+, Disney’s streaming platform. The resulting flood of superhero content strained the Marvel apparatus and created a convoluted narrative across various shows, movies, and platforms.
This situation has led to mixed results with new characters like Shang-Chi and Eternals, who were introduced in Marvel’s expanded lineup. As a result, the studio has faced challenges maintaining the level of quality that fans have come to expect.
“The Marvels,” a highly anticipated movie with a $250 million budget, is now projected to have a modest box office opening, far below the standards set by previous Marvel films. Reshoots and a convoluted storyline have added to the film’s troubles.
In addition to these challenges, the studio has faced issues with visual effects (VFX) in its productions. Notably, the world premiere of “Quantumania” in February shocked audiences with shoddy CGI in some scenes. This incident led Marvel VFX workers to vote unanimously to unionize in September, sparking an industry-wide trend.
Former Marvel Studios VFX assistant coordinator Anna George testified about the studio’s challenging deadlines and working conditions before the Congressional Labor Caucus. Disney’s top leadership, including CEO Bob Iger, expressed displeasure with Marvel’s VFX troubles and subsequently parted ways with Victoria Alonso, who oversaw physical production, postproduction, VFX, and animation.
While some insiders suggest Alonso was a scapegoat, others believe that the issues go deeper, including a lack of oversight on script development. For example, the original script for “She-Hulk” necessitated significant changes after Marvel’s brain trust reviewed footage, causing additional work for the VFX team.
Marvel’s financial situation has also been strained, with some episodes costing as much as $25 million. The quality of the content has been questioned, with some noting that Marvel’s once-reliable brand is now associated with projects that feel undercooked.
Marvel President Kevin Feige has recognized these issues and is taking steps to address them by canceling projects and scripts that aren’t working. The “Blade” reboot, initially set for a 2023 release, has gone through multiple scriptwriters, directors, and even a shutdown. The project is now slated for 2025 with a smaller budget, a departure from Marvel’s previous big-spending approach.
With Disney CEO Bob Iger acknowledging the dilution of focus and attention due to Marvel’s extensive TV content, discussions have arisen about a possible return of the original Avengers lineup in an upcoming film. This could involve resurrecting characters like Iron Man and Black Widow, although it would come at a significant cost.
One of Marvel’s biggest challenges lies in its handling of the legal issues involving Jonathan Majors. His trial on domestic violence charges, combined with the underperformance of “Quantumania,” has left Marvel with uncertainties regarding its future plans for the character Kang the Conqueror.
Despite these setbacks, Marvel Studios continues to look to the future, with the acquisition of characters like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Fans eagerly anticipate upcoming projects like “Deadpool 3” and a “Fantastic Four” reboot, offering new opportunities for Marvel to reinvigorate its brand.
As Marvel recalibrates and addresses its ongoing challenges, industry observers remain hopeful that the studio’s best days are not behind it, given its track record of success under the leadership of Kevin Feige.