What Killed THE MARVELS?

Image collage via Marvel Studios, Individual Media Outlets and Free Use

Come on in. Mind the police tape. The body is right over there. Yep, The Marvels. It came into this world with all the hopes and dreams a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie could have, only to get cut down before it even really got started. $47 Million dollars in its opening weekend. The lowest opening weekend of any MCU film. Lower than Ant-Man. Lower than Incredible Hulk. It was dead on arrival. But what killed it? That’s what I aim to find out. Let’s round up the usual suspects and see if we can find a culprit–or culprits–that did The Marvels in.

The Variety Hit-Piece

A little more than a week before The Marvels opened, Variety ran a cover story asking if Marvel is in troubleThe Marvels were a big part of the article. It detailed the behind-the-scenes chaos surrounding the film, noting that the film needed four weeks of reshoots to “bring coherence to a tangled storyline” but “that extra time didn’t necessarily help” because test screening audiences “gave the film middling reviews.”

The article got play far and wide outside the film industry. We covered it here. And if you were one to take the Variety piece at face value, then the message you would receive would be “Stay away.” I mean. almost every film undergoes reshoots these days to help its story, but Variety framed it as something unique to The Marvels and a bad thing as well. It’s as if Variety had a vested interest in seeing the film fail.

Now, pointing the blame at Variety for reporting that the film would be bad wouldn’t seem right if the film was bad. About that…

The Film Wasn’t Good Enough

The Marvels
Image via Marvel Studios.

The film currently stands, as this writing, at 61% Fresh over at Rotten Tomatoes. Not the best percentage, and paltry compared to most of the MCU output, but still considered “Fresh” by the site and recommended by them. The Tomatometer score is only 2% off from Thor: Love and Thunder, which opened at $144 million last year and way better than this year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which opened at $106 million and only received 46% fresh reviews. I liked the film. So, did Rich.

It might not make sense to you, but bad reviews do not always doom a film nowadays and good reviews do not necessarily make for a hit. Could the good, yet not stellar reviews kept audiences away? Only if you take something else into consideration…

Marvel Fatigue

When film pundits talk about “Marvel Fatigue” they mean that audiences have started to get sick and tired of Marvel films. This theory is blown out of the water by the success of this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, a film that audiences were so tired of they spent $845 million worldwide seeing it. However, “Marvel Fatigue” could apply if you change what it refers to.

First, the fatigue could be used to describe the feeling fans get with the amount of homework they now have to do to fully enjoy any new Marvel product. The films have come to a problem that the comic books they are based on have been dealing with for while now–that there is years and years of backstory you need to know to understand what is going on.

At a bare minimum, to get the most out of The Marvels you should have watched Ms. Marvel (6 50 minute-ish episodes), Captain Marvel (2 hours and 4 minutes of film) and WandaVision (9 episodes ranging from 31 minutes to 51 minutes). If you wanted to know more about Nick Fury and S.A.B.E.R, add Spider-Man: Far From Home (2 hours, 9 minutes) and Secret Invasion (6 more episodes, ranging from 38 minutes to an hour, give or take) to the list. That’s about 20 hours of background going back four years. Not bad if you are a hardcore fan and have seen them all already, but the casual viewer might be lost if they haven’t seen all of them, and just the couple sentence recaps of all those shows and films in The Marvels might not be enough to bring them up to speed.

Image via Marvel Studios

Then there’s the second type of fatigue. Marvel Studios have gotten tired, sloppy and lazy with their MCU output.  The quality of the films has gone down over the years.  You get the impression that Marvel Studios thought they were invulnerable, that they had built up such a loyal and addicted fanbase that they coast on their good feelings alone. Feige and Marvel Studios ditched the Marvel Creative Committee in 2015, rankling under their notes and suggestions, but the films have suffered since. Right before Avengers: Endgame, one of the last movies the Creative Committee would have had any input on, most of the MCU were in the 85% to 96% range of at Rottem Tomatoes. Since then, most of the MCU output have been in the 60% to 80% range, and lower.

They went from a studio where they put out films of consistent quality to one where films that are more than 90% fresh are few and far between. Audiences have picked up on this, so when Variety says The Marvels is a mess, they believe them.

But if there is fatigue involved anywhere, it isn’t exclusively at Marvel…

Comic Book Movie Fatigue

2023 has been a bad year for comic book films. Warners/DC Films has put out three films this year, all three have bombed. It doesn’t matter if the film is good or not. Blue Beetle got fairly good reviews and ended up being a box office bomb. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem did well enough to get a sequel but didn’t hit the “three times its budget” plateau that is the yardstick for success nowadays. The only two films that could be considered unabashed successes are Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3, which also happen to be the two best comic book films of the year.

Years and years of substandard comic book film content, mainly from DC, has created a poison pool which seems to have sucked the Marvel Studios films in. It’s not that audiences are tired of comic book films. It’s that they are tired of bad comic book movies and have become more discerning on how they spend their money. Of course, we have to discuss another way that audiences are spending their money…

The Pandemic Has Changed the Way We Go to the Movies

Movies studios, as a mass, are stupid. The executives and producers and powers-that-be think they are geniuses, but they are all, on whole, quite dumb. These are the people that thought that actors would accept a contract that allowed them to be replaced by AI, thought a concert film starring a global phenom would make no money, and also think that shortening the time a films hits streaming after its theatrical release wouldn’t affect box office grosses.

Ms Marvel
Image via Marvel Studios

The pandemic trained audiences that watching a film in the comfort of their own homes can be just as satisfying as watching it in a theater. And with the Coronavirus still being an ongoing concern, although one that is thankfully managed well, people don’t feel the desire to pack shoulder to shoulder into a theater to see the big releases anymore, especially since the film will be hitting streaming in a matter of a few months.

Back before the pandemic, a film with mixed reviews like The Marvels might have a big weekend from people afraid of missing out. But that FOMO has been replaced by a fear of getting sick. And you have to have a special film to get the people out to theaters on opening weekend, or at all.

“Female Films Don’t Sell”

There are a whole lot of members of the He-Man Women Haters Club, the all too vocal minority who want their genre films to be starring men, have those men be straight, and preferably be white, who are doing a happy dance over The Marvels‘ failure. These people have come out of the woodwork saying that The Marvels failed because it was written, directed and starred women. That the film was bad because women were involved in it, pure and simple. And they  are doing a victory lap over the film tanking like it somehow proves their twisted worldview.

This is easy to discredit. The number one film of the year is Barbie. When the year is over, it still will be Barbie. This is a “female film” that sold, even after those misogynistic haters did everything they could do to stop it. The idea that somehow people stayed away from The Marvels because it was female driven but went to Barbie in spite of it is absurd.

And the killer is?

Picking just one reason why The Marvels failed will get you nowhere. It was a mix of reasons. In my opinion, the bad press before the release and the mixed reviews had a major part of doing the film in. But it might have found a bigger audience if the diminishing returns of the recent MCU films didn’t encourage fans to believe that bad press and made the film one they were unwilling to risk seeing opening weekend.

Is this a problem Marvel Studios can fix? Yes.

Will they? We’ll see.

 

Avatar für Bill Gatevackes
About Bill Gatevackes 2040 Articles
William is cursed with the shared love of comic books and of films. Luckily, this is a great time for him to be alive. His writing has been featured on Broken Frontier.com, PopMatters.com and in Comics Foundry magazine.
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