While the MCU was in no way the first cinematic universe, starting out there was something genuinely innovative about the way it told an interconnected story through multiple films and a (mostly tangential) series of TV shows. This also made its flaws easier to swallow, from the often drab color grading to the way that the MCU’s films ostensibly occupy different genres yet tend to feel more or less the same. By the time its Infinity Saga culminated with “Endgame,” it was a perfect opportunity for Marvel Studios to take a long break and figure out how to fully evolve the franchise going forward … which, as we all know, didn’t happen.
The “why” of what went wrong is no mystery. With Disney’s desire to keep its shareholders happy only intensified by the effects of COVID-19, there was a glut of MCU releases at a time when Marvel Studios should have been recharging its batteries and allowing viewers to grow nostalgic for the property. But it wasn’t just that. The lack of clear, careful planning showed in Phase 4, which felt directionless in a way that previous phases hadn’t. The rush to develop so many shows and films in so little time also took its toll creatively on individual projects, resulting in shooting scripts that needed substantial revisions, massive reshoots that projects never recovered from, and Marvel’s mistreated VFX artists having to prioritize certain projects over others just to keep up with the demand. All the while, Marvel was churning out TV series without the fundamental components of successful television (like, you know, showrunners).
What’s frustrating is how avoidable these issues were, even when accounting for COVID-19’s unprecedented impact. But at the same time, that’s also why there’s reason to remain hopeful the MCU may yet course-correct.