The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) stands as one of the most ambitious and successful franchises in the history of cinema. Launched in 2008 with the release of Iron Man (2008), the MCU has since evolved into a sprawling interconnected universe that spans movies, television series, and various forms of media. It has captivated audiences worldwide with its blend of superhero action, intricate storytelling, and a rich tapestry of characters.

At its core, the MCU is a franchise built upon the characters and stories from Marvel Comics. These characters, ranging from iconic heroes like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor to lesser-known figures, have been brought to life on the big screen in spectacular fashion. The MCU’s approach of weaving individual character narratives into a larger, overarching storyline has been a key factor in its success.

Credit: Marvel Studios

The MCU is divided into distinct phases, each containing a series of interconnected films and TV shows that contribute to a broader narrative. The first three phases, collectively known as the Infinity Saga, revolved around the buildup to and aftermath of the climactic battle against the cosmic villain Thanos. This saga culminated in Avengers: Endgame (2019), a film that marked a turning point in the franchise and left a lasting impact on popular culture.

With the launch of Phase 4, the MCU has continued to expand and innovate, but that has been met with plenty of controversy along the way. New characters have been introduced, and the scope of the universe has expanded to include multiverses, alternate realities, and diverse genres. The Disney+ streaming platform has played a significant role in this expansion, offering fans a more in-depth exploration of characters and storylines through series like WandaVision (2021), The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021), and Loki (2021).

Throughout Phases 4 and 5, the MCU has experienced a mix of successful blockbusters and underwhelming offerings. This stands in stark contrast to the Infinity Saga, during which the majority of films were highly regarded.

Credit: Marvel Studios

Certain projects like Thor: Love and Thunder (2022), She-Hulk (2022), and Eternals (2021) have faced a barrage of criticism, while others like Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023), and Loki have garnered significant acclaim.

Following the conclusion of Disney+’s Secret Invasion, Marvel Studios has now amassed three projects that critics on Rotten Tomatoes have designated as “Rotten,” according to reports from The Direct. Out of Marvel Studios’ 42 released projects thus far–comprising 32 movies and 10 shows–only three have earned the “Rotten” label. These are: Eternals – 47%, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania – 46%, and Secret Invasion – 55%.

Secret Invasion stands as Marvel Studios’ first Disney+ series to receive a “Rotten” rating, also constituting the fourth Marvel series to achieve this rating. The latest MCU Disney+ series attained a 55% score from critics and 53% from audiences, marking the first MCU project to receive a “Rotten” rating from both camps. Fans voiced various criticisms of the series, including slow pacing for a six-episode show, limited narrative progression, and a considerable reduction in scope from the expansive Marvel storyline it drew inspiration from.

Credit: Marvel Studios

Expectations ran high for Eternals, with director Chlo? Zhao’s inaugural Marvel Studios venture even generating Oscar buzz before its release. Nonetheless, Eternals became the first MCU project to be designated “Rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes, garnering a 47% score from critics, in contrast to a more favorable 77% from audiences. The ensemble blockbuster faced criticism for its lengthy runtime of 2 hours and 37 minutes, the introduction of a substantial 10 new characters, unremarkable Deviant villains, and a forgettable overall narrative and action.

It bodes the question: Has Disney abandoned what used to work for the Marvel Cinematic Universe? When you look at the overall body of work, it certainly seems like it.

Though Disney and Marvel President Kevin Feige have tried to introduce new superheroes and characters to the MCU, fans have consistently returned to the familiar. While there have been a handful of characters outside of the “mainstream light” to become popular MCU icons, the truth is that fans have overwhelmingly voted in favor of seeing their favorite personas- Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, and others- on the big screen and on streaming platforms, rather than the lesser-known superheroes.

Credit: Marvel Studios

Just as a test, if Disney announced that it was bringing back Robert Downey Jr. to play the role of Iron Man along with his Avengers counterparts, who would say no? The truth is that the overwhelming majority of the fanbase would pay to see the movie in theaters, and it would easily eclipse the $1 billion mark, just as all the other Avengers movies did. However, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has abandoned these characters, essentially shutting the door on their return after the events that unfolded in Avengers: Endgame (2019), and it seems it may be hurting them at both the box office and streaming charts.

Could this revelation lead to a change in what we see in the MCU Phase 6? Could we see Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 4 after all? Would Bob Iger and Kevin Feige consider bringing back some of the more familiar faces who haven’t been on the big screen since 2019? Most likely not, but this abandonment still gives a clear picture of why the studio is imploding.

What do you want to see from the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Let Inside the Magic know in the comments!

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