A recent Variety story sheds light on why Marvel’s Phase Four movies suffered from an identity crisis – not to be confused with the 1998 Spider-Man print storyline. It boils down to MarvelDisney’s desire to maximize profits by releasing as many movies and shows as possible, a strategy that has exposed the chinks in the studio’s previously impenetrable armor. Spider-Man: No Way Home was an unnecessary origin story that screams of studio interference despite its fan service. Wanda Maximoff’s turn to villainy in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness makes no sense for viewers who didn’t tune into WandaVision. Black Widow’s solo movie was released directly to streaming and came only after the character’s “permanent” demise, and the less said about Thor: Love and Thunder the better. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania – technically Phase Five though it doesn’t feel like it – was rushed to release with unfinished effects so The Marvels could get in a month of reshoots. The Marvels had a second delay while filmmakers struggled to form a more cohesive whole, but initial reactions and pre-release buzz are still mixed. While that can be partly explained by the automatic response of incels and fanboys to 3 powerful women on the screen, recent Marvel releases give genuine cause for doubt. I’m a huge fan of Ms. Marvel, but it doesn’t help that 2 of the 3 stars have only appeared on Disney+ series.Blade’s production has been a nightmare involving 5 writers, 2 directors, and Mahershala Ali threatening to bail on the project without a better script.

Then there’s the Kang debacle. Marvel’s latest Big Bad had just made his first appearance when the first allegations of Jonathan Majors abusing his partner emerged. Accusations by other women followed; the most recent report came from an ex-girlfriend also working on Loki’s second season in London during the time one of the assaults occurred. There are reports Marvel is scrambling to replace him after Quantumania and Loki’s finale. A recast seems like the simplest solution, particularly since “because the multiverse” became their answer to numerous plot holes. There are also rumors that Marvel is considering a switch to Dr. Doom as the next villain to unite the MCU’s heroes, rather than giving its characters room to breathe. There’s even talk of reviving Scarlett Johannsen’s Natasha Romanov and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark despite Avengers: Endgame’s insistence that their deaths were permanent.

On the other hand, Insomniac Games gets Spider-Man. Everyone’s favorite neighborhood hero has enjoyed several successes under the Insomniac banner, beginning in 2018 with Marvel’s Spider-Man. In 2020, Insomniac brought Playstation owners Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales in a game nearly as captivating as the Spider-Verse movies. And October’s release of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 brought Insomniac universal acclaim for its gameplay, visual effects, story, and heart. This was a game that understood where both Spider-Men, Peter Parker and Miles Morales, come from. Who they are as characters, their fears and hopes, and their generational differences. As a result, it feels as though Marvel could learn a thing or two from its licensed game developer.

Each entry is a unique take on the familiar Spider-Man themes of responsibility and sacrifice. In the first, a plague sweeps through NYC while Peter battles criminals and villains emboldened by the Kingpin’s incarceration before being forced to make an impossible choice. Miles Morales sees the young hero in spandex for the first time while coming to terms with a devastating loss. A new tech-based gang is in town, battling a Musk-like entrepreneur who pretends to have the city’s best interest at heart. The latest release reunites Peter with his best friend, Harry Osborne after the terminally ill young billionaire spent years in secluded treatment. Their happiness is cut short by the sudden appearance of Kraven the Hunter and a certain alien symbiote with its own plans for the city. Miles, meanwhile, is an experienced hero struggling to write a college entrance essay and tell the girl he likes how he feels. Each interaction is well-plotted and makes sense. The stories are cohesive. No one makes a dumb decision merely to move the plot forward, and it doesn’t take a multiverse event to gather supervillains and allies. One of the best moments in Spider-Man occurs when Miles as Spider-Man sits on a park bench with an old, lost widower and listens to the story of how he first met his wife. It’s touching without being cloying, a moment of peace in the constant chaos that is a Spider’s life. If No Way Home is about Peter’s obsession with making sure his family is safe and his mistakes are rectified, then Spider-Man 2 is about coming to terms with past mistakes, misjudgments of character, and growing up. “Let go of the things that don’t serve you,” Rio Morales tells her son when Miles faces a crisis of conscience. It’s advice he takes to heart. And it works.

I’m not mad at Marvel; I’m just disappointed. If I’m hard on Marvel it’s only because they used to be so good at what they did and could be again, if the Echo preview is anything to go by. The original Iron Man, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Black Panther, and Shang-Chi are wonderful films with effects that still hold up. Homecoming and the first Ant-Man proved Marvel could make an entertaining film without larger consequences for the cinematic universe. Disney+ series embraced lesser-known characters like Kamala Khan, Jennifer Walters, and Steven Grant/Marc Spector. The shows were a breath of fresh air with time to explore their heroes’ lives. But their reliance on one another makes finding an entry point difficult for casual fans, and lackluster CGI effects push viewers away. It culminated in Secret Invasion, a dull and incomprehensible mess I forgot existed until TK mentioned it in chat. It doesn’t have to be this way. Until Rocksteady Studios released the Batman-based Arkham series, most video games based on comic book characters were awful and, apart from Spider-Man, it’s a trend that continues. Insomniac proved it didn’t have to be that way, much like James Mangold did for Wolverine movies with Logan. Which makes the news Insomniac is tackling a Wolverine game next so exciting. It’s been 2 years since the original announcement and updates are scarce, but Marvel’s Wolverine is still in production. In the meantime, I hope everything from the strikes to Joanna Robinson’s NYT Bestselling MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios and Variety’s report helps Marvel take a step back and reassess just where they’ve gone wrong in recent years. And if you have a PlayStation 5, treat yourself to all 3 Spider-Man games. You deserve nice things.

 A recent Variety story sheds light on why Marvel’s Phase Four movies suffered from an identity crisis – not to be confused with the 1998 Spider-Man print storyline. It boils down to MarvelDisney’s desire to maximize profits by releasing as…  Read More