The Marvel Studios Cinematic Problem

Marvel Studios continuously adding to an ever-expanding cinematic universe


Morgan Fuerstenberg graphic

Have you heard about the newest hit Marvel movie? Despite a specific title not currently offered, the question certainly brought something to mind.

The balance of cinema in our modern world has changed rapidly within the last decade. In place of the guise that superhero films used to provide a simple yet fantastical getaway now stands a convoluted multiverse filled with comic book heroes and villains from every corner, yet whose additions have ultimately begun to appear more as a burden than a collection of captivating stories.

With several spin-offs and nearly 30 interconnected movies, Marvel Studios has created one of the most expansive cinematic universes in history. Though undoubtedly impressive, the seemingly endless layers of story and plot make it difficult for fans to fully appreciate the characters and world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When a new hero is introduced, people no longer expect a charming, self-sustaining story, but instead find themselves asking “how many more movies will this character show up in for the next 10 years?”

This oversaturation takes its toll on old and new fans alike. The modern MCU has made it impossible for a viewer to watch a movie and fully understand everything without also having watched a dozen prior films and TV installments.

When the MCU first began, no one knew just how massive it would become in the years that followed. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly that discussed the first Iron Man movie, one of the founding films of the MCU, director Jon Favreau explained that he and Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr. were both unaware of the scale of the film’s success until the night they went to a screening and saw the initial audience reaction.

The modest scope of Marvel’s universe during its earliest years allowed for it to craft unique cinematic stories that developed each character independently, offering time and space to grow away from a bustling and crammed extended universe. However, modern MCU characters are bound to star in multiple lead roles, spin-offs and cameos, which often stifles effective characterization.

At Disney’s biennial D23 Expo, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige excitedly announced a lineup of future films several phases away from production, yet that often feature characters introduced several  films before.

While exciting in theory, these announcements beg the question of how many other movies would have to be watched before being able to enjoy the releases and their characters to their fullest.

What Marvel Studios has created is undoubtedly remarkable, but one must begin to question the longevity of an ever-expanding, ever-changing universe filled to the brim with cameos and crossovers. For the sake of its fans, whether new or old, perhaps it is best for Marvel to stray away from a completely interconnected cinematic universe and instead focus its energy on independent characters and stories that people can connect to without worrying about missing context from everything that came before.