Is the Marvel Cinematic Universe showing cracks?

Written by: Don Cabuhat

Features | May 15, 2017

Marvel Marvel Cinematic Universe Marvel Studios

A month ago, the internet went into a panicked frenzy as Amy Pascal, former Chairperson of Sony, said that Tom Holland's Spider-Man might exit the Marvel Cinematic Universe after the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming.

A few weeks before that, news broke out that Chris Evans (who plays Captain America) might retire the shield after the next two Avengers movies, citing reasons such as the rigors of getting into shape for the role and the amount of time that these movies take to get made.

Everyone knows that Robert Downey Jr. already re-signed with Marvel, but his contract only includes the remaining two Avengers films (his appearances in Captain America: Civil War and Spiderman: Homecoming were negotiated separately).

I would imagine that Chris Hemsworth's contract will be over after Avengers: Infinity War as well. This is assuming his contract is structured the same way as Chris Evans' six picture deal.

Even Kevin Feige, Marvel's big kahuna and the architect of this interconnected universe, has also made known that his contract is only until phase three. So yeah, dark clouds are brewing.

But despite all these caveats, Marvel is still the top dog in terms of superhero movies and churns out high quality products and insane box office returns. But as I look into these things a bit more, one can't help but think if the MCU is in trouble.

A world without heroes

The abundance of talent on screen has been a source of great pride for Marvel. A lot of these actors have become synonymous with their MCU roles. Can you imagine an Avengers film without Hulk, Cap, or Iron Man? Neither can I.

Is it still an Avengers film without the original Avengers?

You can argue that the comic books have been changing their rosters since forever but that argument is flawed. The comic book universe was built to have rotating characters. It is imperative to change it up every once in a while, otherwise the stories would become stale and repetitive. The medium allows years of character development and allows audiences to ease into the changes. Examples of this are the decisions in having a new female Thor or have Sam Wilson be the new Captain America.

As talented as Anthony Mackie is as an actor, can you really see him filling Chris Evans' shoes? I shouldn't compare an essentially different iteration but I can't help feeling that you wouldn't want this either. Seeing someone other than Chris Evans portray Captain America wouldn't feel right.

Now you're probably thinking that if they can't be replaced then Marvel should just kill them off. Well, that's still arguable.

We all know what Tony Stark brings to the table. If you remove him from the equation, can anyone really fill his shoes? Even with the abundance of talent left on the table, you're now staring at a huge hole left by Robert Downey Jr. Now imagine losing Hulk, Cap, and Thor too. That's an incredibly huge void.

The next generation

If and when the original Avengers retire, the burden of the Marvel Cinematic Universe would fall on the newcomers. Stand-alone franchises such as Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Captain Marvel will be taking center stage once phase three ends. Now, the Avengers roster changes have never been a problem in the comics. And while I would still pay top dollar to see the characters I mentioned become the new super team, I can't see these guys carrying the Avengers name for the mainstream audience.

One of the main reasons why The Avengers was such a hit was because of the unique dynamic and chemistry that was in play. Credits to Joss Whedon here since he created the primary building blocks of what would be the backbone of the MCU. Whedon knew that putting all these characters together on the big screen wasn't enough and had to make these characters relatable as well. That meant maximizing each character's uniqueness and making those traits integral to the formation of the Avengers as a whole.

Imagine the MCU as a ship and the original Avengers would be the keel. It acts as the backbone of the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe and if you change it, it would be a totally different ship.

I have no doubt that the quality of actors and actresses will have no problem moving the MCU forward. The problem isn't with the talent but the characters that they are portraying. Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel couldn't shoulder the MCU. They're just not those types of characters. And with Sony chomping to get Spider-Man back to themselves, the MCU might potentially lose their most popular solo character among the new guns.

The universe has gotten too big and too small

Back in 2012, Marvel pulled off the impossible and delivered The Avengers, proving that not only can a shared cinematic universe work but that it can be an insane moneymaker. Fast forward to the present day and we've got every studio clamoring to have their own shared cinematic universe.

Granted, the Marvel movies are done so well that they can mostly shrug off inconsistencies in their narrative (mostly). But you can't argue that the amount of annoying nuances are piling up. This problem is mostly apparent when considering the interconnected MCU movies and the MCU TV series.

I don't care what part of New York they live in; there's just no way that Daredevil and Spider-Man haven't met yet. Granted, the timeline for the Defenders isn't established except for the fact that it happens after the events of The Avengers, but unless all the Defenders die in the upcoming series, then there's no way that Nick Fury can just ignore the amount of enhanced individuals creating commotion in the most popular city in the world. Neither can Doctor Strange ignore the fact that K'un Lun and the Iron Fist are in play there. Not to mention the other crap the Agents of Shield deal with on a weekly basis.

The movies are consciously ignoring the TV side of the MCU for logistical reasons, but as the universe grows, you can't ignore that it's obviously going to cripple the movies as well.

Case and point: the upcoming Marvel series of the Inhumans which was slated for a feature release in 2020 but got pulled and relegated to network TV. The big problem here is that the Inhumans play a huge role in the Marvel universe. Never mind replacing the X-Men, but the Inhumans are led by a royal family with ties to every element in the Marvel universe, ranging from the Earth to the cosmos. These aren't people that the movie side of the universe can ignore. Doing so would result in Marvel losing credibility in their universe and lead to even more inconsistencies.

In the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos is going to mess everything up. That's a threat that requires all hands on deck. Are you going to tell me that at an extinction-level event, people like Luke Cage and Iron Fist wouldn't help out? That's just dumb.

It seems the whole MCU is getting too big for the narratives to keep up.

Even with all this, the scale of the MCU's scope can be misleading. With storylines reaching the vastness of space, the MCU is littered with individuals that are too unique. Now normally that wouldn't be a negative but with an eventual roster overhaul, the MCU backed itself into a corner for not having backups. This is where not having the X-Men and Fantastic Four properties hurt, along with the reality that the MCU hasn't expanded itself enough to be able to remove any of its main players without consequence.

In the comic book universe, Tony Stark isn't the most brilliant mind on Earth. Mr. Fantastic, Hank McCoy (Beast), and a myriad of other scientists and geniuses are there to cover for Tony's absence. Thor hasn't been an active Avenger for such a long time that even before Jane Foster became the female Thor, characters like Hercules, Helios, and even the Sentry could replace him. I'm not saying these characters aren't unique and their presence won't be missed, but the Marvel Comics universe is so big that changes like these are common occurrences.

The MCU has no such luxury. At this point, they don't even have a character that could replace Black Widow, let alone Tony Stark. The reality of the situation is that there is no precedence with what Marvel has done with its cinematic universe. We all know at some point this superhero boom is going to end. It's only a matter of time.

Marvel has done more than enough to strengthen my belief that they can pull off anything. These cracks as they are may seem like nothing more than mere bleeps on the radar, but they need to be addressed soon. With the end of phase 3 a mere two years away, one can't help but feel that Marvel is reaching a crossroads where choices must be made; choices where a whole universe hangs in the balance.

About the author: Don Cabuhat

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