It’s “Endgame”: Commentary

Why new Marvel movies are disappoining the general audiences and critics alike

by Zoe Kelton, Staff

Warning: spoilers ahead for some of the more recent Marvel releases. 

I’ve loved superheroes since I can remember. I read the comics, I went to movie theaters dressed up as the characters, and I fervidly discussed the artful depth of these action movies with any of my friends who would listen. Sadly, Marvel’s newer movies have really disappointed me– and I’m not the only one. 

A superhero comic-turned-movie franchise, Marvel releases movies in phases over time. Phase Four movies released between 2021-2022 have made far less money than their predecessors. According to The Wall Street Journal, the six films Marvel’s produced since 2021 have made roughly half as much as the previous six movies. Money isn’t the only indicator of these box office flops, though. A poll by Forbes found both general audiences and self-identified Marvel fans enjoyed superhero movies less than last November. The film review website Rotten Tomatoes reports that recent Marvel movie approval ratings are worse than average by 13.5 percent. 

After decades of fantastic movies, why is Marvel going downhill? A lot of people have a lot of different complaints. Some call “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” a stale and forgettable story dressed up with bad CGI (Computer-generated Graphics), but bad CGI has never seriously hindered Marvel movies before; “Avengers: Infinity War” had its fair share of awkward visuals. My real disappointment regarding this movie is the content, not the set dressing. 

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” lacks a clear message. The main character doesn’t have a clear motivation, and the leading metaphor about balance is confusing at best. Not only that, but the movie has a foundation in racist source material, that redresses racist tropes rather than combating them. Take, for example, the cute animal sidekick to the main cast, a mythical creature appropriated into a tour guide. 

This isn’t the only new Marvel movie that’s lost the plot. “Black Widow” sidelined what was originally a poignant message about the atrocity of disregarding human autonomy. Instead, audiences received another boring spy movie, albeit with more women characters. “Thor: Love and Thunder” completely missed the mark on what was meant to be an emotional narrative about love and death. It was hard to be immersed in the real tragedy each character faced– Jane Foster’s cancer diagnosis, the antagonist’s loss of his daughter– when every other line was an overused quip.

Audiences are used to complex and challenging ideas in superpowered packages. It’s hard to find a more interesting exploration of the humanity within these superpowered people than in their early movies. But, in attempting to be watchable to every audience imaginable, Marvel has alienated many of their original viewers. What used to be purposeful metaphors has been replaced by computer-animated explosions. That may be entertainment, but I wouldn’t call it art.