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The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Marvel’s Cinematic Universe Has Lost Its Spark

A digital graphic showing many of the original Marvel Cinematic Universe characters, including Captain America, Wanda Maximoff and Black Widow. While these characters once inspired joy and anticipation in viewers, those positive feelings have now numbed. (KOMAR)

When I was eight years old, I saw my first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie: “Captain America: The First Avenger.” I quickly became obsessed, watching all the MCU films, the X-Men series, the Spider-Man movies, the Disney+ shows and any spin-offs.

I was a dedicated fan, waiting for movie releases, going to the theater and, obviously, staying seated all the way until the end of credits scene. I still remember sobbing for hours during “Avengers: Endgame,” especially when Black Widow died. I used to eagerly await the news of a new MCU project being in the works. Now, whenever I see a new movie has been released, I sigh with disappointment and forget that it even exists. 

How did this change even occur? How did Marvel movies go from being something I avidly watched as a young child and teen to something I watch only when I feel I have exhausted all other viewing options? I don’t even bother going to the movie theater; I simply wait until it’s on Disney+ or I forget about it. That’s because Marvel has lost its spark. 

What made Marvel movies so appealing in the past wasn’t just their beautifully choreographed fighting sequences, such as Captain America versus Bucky Barnes in “Captain America and the Winter Soldier,” or their intricate and beautiful costumes, most notably seen in “Black Panther.” It’s the layer of raw emotional connections and complexities Marvel movies used to provide that other action and superhero movies don’t. 

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Marvel builds its characters full of flaws. Take Iron Man, for example. The Tony Stark we see in the first “Iron Man” movie is cocky, arrogant, egotistical, full of hubris and unwilling to ever grow out of his “bad-boy” player ways. He is in no way the same, albeit cocky, Iron Man that sacrifices himself at the end of “Avengers: Endgame.” Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow, goes from the cold and closed-off secret spy to someone who is willing to die and sacrifice herself for the Avengers, who she considers her family. 

The character development isn’t rushed; it’s fleshed out. Take one of the most complex characters: Wanda Maximoff. Her character development and the acting prowess Elizabeth Olson brought to the role, starting in the second Avengers movie and all the way to her own miniseries “WandaVision,” made her character a favorite of many. Her emotional range, power growth and transformation from working side by side with Ultron to almost killing America Chavez in order to build her own universe is fascinating to watch. 

Those are just three examples of complex, intricate characters who develop over the course of the different movies, and many more characters exhibit the same traits. The older MCU movies have layers upon layers of emotion and humanity. 

The original six Avengers all complement each other well and, combined with an invigorating plot and complex villain, they make the movies worth watching. The cherry on top? They don’t always win. They have to fight and work harder and even if they do, sometimes the consequences are catastrophic, like in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” or “Avengers: Infinity War.” One sees the heroes not only win but lose everything too. 

The movies also delve into intricate topics and aim to include diverse cultures and important issues. “Black Panther” could be considered one of the most “politically charged” movies released in 2020. It is a movie that discusses “what it means to be Black in both America and Africa—and, more broadly, in the world,” according to Jamil Smith in TIME Magazine

The movie tackles head-on issues affecting modern-day Black life, such as themes of race and identity. “‘Black Panther’ is emblematic of the most productive responses to bigotry: rather than going for hearts and minds of racists, it celebrates what those who choose to prohibit equal representation and rights are ignoring, willfully or not,” Smith adds. It is much more than a fictional movie about an African king with a stock of powerful technology. 

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” does the same. It was inspired by Chinese culture, with much of the dialogue being in Mandarin, and the cast is comprised of some of Asian cinema’s biggest stars, such as Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung, according to NBC. Additionally, the martial arts, the concept of yin and yang and the mythical creatures all build upon providing a holistic representation of Chinese culture. The film has been praised as a major step forward as Hollywood tries to improve the representation of Asians and Asian Americans. 

It was a superhero movie with a purpose deeper than simple entertainment. “This is a pushback for all the Asian hate crimes against us. It’s an answer to all the bigots who have been against us for decades,” British Chinese actor and writer David Tse said in the NBC article. “‘Shang-Chi’ is us reclaiming our culture. It says globally, culturally, this is a new tide of history.” 

The plots, complexities and topics of the MCU used to be, simply put, cool. Thanos was an epic villain, the characters all showed their flaws and strengths and the underlying messages of activism and the seamless connection between the movies always left fans waiting until every credit had been put on the theater screen. But that magic seems to have vanished, just as the original six Avengers did. Sure, Marvel has produced new shows which also include much more diversity and inclusivity than before, but they lack the soul and magic that Marvel once had. 

“Thor: Love and Thunder” seemed to be a measly attempt at recreating the fan-favorite “Thor: Ragnarok.” Even “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” was, arguably, just a movie about Doctor Strange running and using magic while Scarlet Witch chased Strange and Chavez, using more powerful magic, over and over again. I haven’t even seen “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”, but its 6.4/10 rating on IMDb, 47% score on Rotten Tomatoes and 48% score on Metacritic score don’t offer much hope. Just for reference, the previous Ant-Man movie, “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” had a 7/10 on IMDb, an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 70% on Metacritic. Numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they certainly provide a bit of insight. 

The movies aren’t the only MCU projects lacking the spirit they once had. Even the quality of shows have declined steadily. From the masterpieces that created “Loki” and “Moon Knight,” which left viewers in awe and maybe in love with Tom Hiddleston and Oscar Isaac, came “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,” which was boring and uninteresting with underwhelming acting. The show also completely missed the mark on how to portray a strong female lead. She-Hulk was an overpowered superhero who by the first episode had her powers mastered and a complete grip on everything. Marvel just doesn’t seem to know when enough is enough. 

Still, this won’t be the end of Marvel. They have produced some incredible movies. While they aren’t typically predicted to win any Best Actor or Best Actress awards at the Oscars, they provide people with a sense of an action movie with heart. Marvel has it in them to do that, and they’ve proved that they can with the recent release of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” While not the same as it would have been with the late Chadwick Boseman, it was a beautiful, creative and tear-jerking movie. 

Marvel certainly still has the potential to go back to the spark that once flowed through the original Avengers films, and even some subsequent films, like “Eternals” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Phase 5, which has the main intent of following both old and new MCU characters’ adventures after Thanos’ snap, is currently being released and produced, so all they have to do now is to try to get it back to a steady flame of heroism and emotion. Even though I don’t look upon Marvel’s upcoming projects with as much enthusiasm as before, I still do pay attention. I guess I believe that Marvel’s spark hasn’t been fully snuffed out. Only time will tell. 

By Elektra Gea-Sereti

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About the Contributor
Elektra Gea-Sereti, Opinions Editor
Hi my name is Elektra and I am a senior plus the Opinions editor. I have been at Dateline since 9th grade, and my opinion articles range from social media trends to movie reviews. While not being opinionated can be strenuous, I do write the occasional sports, features, and food article. Outside of Dateline, you can find me on the volleyball court, or debating people in Mock Trial. 

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