It’s a good time to take a breath and establish where Marvel’s cinematic universe is at. Marvel Studios currently has three live-action series (WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Solder, and Loki) with deep MCU ties available to stream on Disney+ and more on the way. Plus, Black Widow recently brought the MCU back to theaters — sort of if you ask Scarlett Johansson.
Forbes turned to superhero film and TV expert Brandon Davis of ComicBook.com, who’s interviewed an impressive list of actors and directors from the superhero genre, to help us analyze the state of the MCU and where it’s headed. Davis — whose early Hall H announcements from San Diego Comic Con had fans dubbing his reporting as “the fastest updates in the West” — also provides news and hot takes on the Phase Zero podcast.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead if you’re not caught up with MCU storylines.
Expectations were very high for WandaVision, the first MCU series, and I think it still delivered on a lot of levels but fans wanted Mephisto and it didn’t happen. Does Marvel have a fan theory problem now where fans are coming up with better reveals and characters to introduce than the writers?
I think Marvel is going to have to learn how to navigate the week-to-week format. I talked to Malcolm Spellman who wrote The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and the way he described it … he had to explain to [Marvel] how TV works. You have an overarching story, but then you have to take it vertically and break it down that way.
There’s got to be room to grow and room to learn because WandaVision… part of that also came from the press tours where Paul Bettany was saying there’s a big cameo and there’s all these… they made jokes to the cast, but the audience was also taking that seriously.
So I guess both sides do have to learn about it. The Marvel Studios side, there’s an expectation they’re going to have to start setting and learn what to say and what not to say; but the audience is also going to have to learn, just because you built up this fantasy and this kind of head canon about what may or may not happen, if that doesn’t play out, you have to accept what does and that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to like it.
It also becomes whether you’re in it just for the characters, which is what these stories are about, or if you’re in it for the crossovers and the gimmicks and things like that, which Marvel has really never committed to. They’ve always put the characters first, I think.
Of course, moments in (Avengers:) Endgame were fan service but I think that you have to accept these are character-driven shows and I think each of the shows so far has done a lot to enhance the characters even if it didn’t deliver on the world building and MCU front that you hope for.
Elizabeth Olsen comparing WandaVision’s big cameo to The Mandalorian’s (Luke Skywalker) didn’t help temper expectations…
We haven’t really seen that happen again since WandaVision (fan theories spawned by actor promise). In Elizabeth Olsen’s defense, there were rumors from scoopers that Dr. Strange was going to be in the show and we have expectations of Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire possibly returning because of rumors. And I think there would have been a version of WandaVision, if not for Covid, that would have had Dr. Strange in it if plans didn’t change.
I don’t know that for a fact, but Kevin Feige (Marvel Studios president) has said there were plans to include him at one point and they removed him from it. It’s that question of can you accept these are character-driven shows because WandaVision was so fulfilling on a character front.
It was so fulfilling for Wanda’s story, for Vision’s story and for their arc individually, but it didn’t give you those big cameos or multiverse ties, which personally, I admit I got frustrated with the multiverse bait, that pissed me off, but overall it didn’t take away from the show front for me.
When you have a movie called Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness on the horizon and you have Kevin Feige saying WandaVision leads into Spider-Man 3 and Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and there are already rumors surrounding those properties about actors from different properties that previously were not Marvel Studios’ properties, which attach a nostalgia and excitement inherently…
I think that bringing in Evan Peters who was part of the Fox X-Men world to play a version of the character he played in the Fox X-Men world only to not play that character in the end and become that Ralph Boner joke, it frustrated a lot of people.
They thought they were getting this really kind of… they were wrapping their arms around the parts of the X-Men world they liked and were embracing it and they just weren’t, at least not yet.
How does Marvel top Endgame? Will a potential Spider-Man multiverse flick or introducing the X-Men or Wolverine be able to pull it off?
That is a very common expectation and I thought you have to bring Wolverine in, he’s such a popular character, how do you not? If you look at what they’ve done with the Spider-Man franchise so far, Spider-Man has the most iconic villains and the earlier Spider-Man has propelled characters like Dr. Octopus and Green Goblin to mainstream non-comic book reader fandom.
You didn’t have to be spending time at comic book shops or reading books to know who those characters were and the actors that played them because those movies were huge. X-Men did the same with Wolverine. If you’re a comic book fan, Spider-Man’s villains went way beyond that and we’re seeing now, Marvel is choosing to do new stuff.
They brought in Vulture and they brought in Mysterio who are characters that comic book fans and animated show fans obviously know very well but mainstream audiences weren’t very familiar with them prior to Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home, so I wouldn’t be shocked if when X-Men comes along, they start bringing in other characters and give some due to Bishop and Storm and the larger catalogue of characters, make Cyclops a leader.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be Wolverine and Jean Grey and Professor X and Magneto again, even though there would certainly be a feeling of a void if it’s not, but just because we didn’t get Doc Ock or Green Goblin in two Spider-Man movies that hasn’t hurt my experience with Tom Holland and Jon Watts’ version of those tales.
I agree, but you still have Spider-Man in those movies though, versus not having Wolverine, you still have Spider-Man to bring those villains in.
I say that, and I try to imagine an X-Men movie where you don’t have Wolverine and Cyclops and Jean Grey and Storm and this roster that has become the main roster, but you can pull a lot of characters who didn’t get their due in any of the live action X-Men movies from comics and from the animated series. You can give them much more fulfilling stories and you can do that as a way to build to that.
You don’t have to necessarily start with Wolverine. I think they proved that to us; I mean, they made Ant-Man a popular character and a household name. They made Rocket Raccoon and Groot super popular. Those weren’t the original Guardians (of the Galaxy) characters, that wasn’t the original Guardians roster in the comics.
We’re getting three Spider-Mans in No Way Home, right?
That’s another one of those situations where if they’re not, because of the internet speculation, poor Jon Watts and Tom Holland for pouring everything they have into that movie, I’m sure they did. People are going to end up leaving that movie with that disappointment because of everything surrounding it…
But, I don’t think people are going to be disappointed, I do think that you’re going to get the cameos and the appearances of the legacy characters that people want to see. I think that, insider information aside, this isn’t me saying something that I know, I just think that’s going to play out; it’s going to happen.
Alfred Molina (Dr. Octopus) did say he was in it…
Yeah, well there was the moment Jamie Foxx posted and deleted an Instagram and confirmed he’s back as Electro. You have Alfred Molina who said more than I think anybody is supposed to say about being in a Marvel movie. I think it’s just becoming more and more clear that some of the other Spider-Man actors are involved with Spider-Man: No Way Home.
When Marvel does introduce the X-Men into the MCU, they know to follow the animated series blueprint, right?
That’s what set Marvel apart from everyone else, their leadership not only creates environments where creative people feel comfortable, but are given the opportunity to thrive and I say that because you see top Hollywood talent in front of and behind the camera and they just keep going back. You just don’t see that anywhere else.
But also, that same leadership is a leadership that truly cares because they are fans. From what I can tell, all signs point to Kevin Feige — who knows the ins and outs with this — and he puts people in positions to make those decisions who know the ins and outs of this stuff.
If you’re going to do X-Men, the animated series… I have so many friends who still have that as their ringtone, the opening credits. But like we’re seeing in Loki, they love to take stories that work in comics or in animation before this and then remix it with another story or remove a part of it to mislead you because if they do exactly what we saw before it becomes predictable.
I think for the most part, not with perfection, but for the most part, they’ve done a good job of kind of intertwining a bunch of stories and making amalgamations of characters and storylines, Iron Man 3 though, that was…
Is there any chance we see a Marvel/DC crossover film down the road?
I can’t imagine something like that getting done. It’s merely impossible coming to imagine something like that actually coming to fruition, because you have Disney owning Marvel and Disney is kind of like the merchandise king of the world; they own everything they distribute now and then you have Warner Bros. owning DC.
So the thought of Warner Bros. and Marvel and Disney and DC all going to one table and having a conversation where you can come out and both sides are satisfied with the piece of that movie that they’re going to get… Marvel is obviously going to come to the table and say, ‘Look at market share on superhero films, people are going to go see this because of us.’ And then DC is going to go in and say, ‘Well, we have Batman, people are going to go see it because of us, we have Superman, Wonder Woman, some of the most iconic characters in comic book history.’
Money will keep that apart, I think. It’s really hard to imagine that working, but I would say, never say never because the X-Men are back at Marvel, Sony and Marvel Studios worked something out (with Spider-Man), but that one (Marvel/DC crossover) seems a little bit more difficult to imagine than Sony letting Disney borrow Spider-Man again.
It was probably tough enough for Marvel Studios to get a bunch of A-list actors happy with their screen time, can’t imagine managing that with a Marvel/DC crossover…
Even if you get past the licensing and the rights and all, Endgame is no different than combining DC and Marvel. They’ve got the managing talent [down]. They got Robert Downey Jr. for ten years, Chris Evans for 10 years, Chris Hemsworth is going into his fourth Thor movie and the DC side obviously has to treat people better. Look at what Ray Fisher and Gal Gadot went through on Justice League.
You can’t have an environment like that if you want to have actors come back and work for you. I can’t even wrap my head around how [a Marvel/DC crossover] would be possible to pull off because before it even begins it seems like just getting to that stage is nearly impossible to imagine.
(Brandon changed his tune slightly after director James Gunn, a director of both MCU and DC films, told Fox Chicago he pitched a crossover movie to both studios this week.)
Perhaps a bit more likely than I originally thought after the pitch he described in the interview with Chicago’s Jake Hamilton, but still just a series of inconceivable rights hoops to jump through.
Could The Flash end up being DC’s Endgame in terms of box office success and fan reception?
I think The Flash could end up being DC’s biggest movie yet. I mean, Aquaman was a billion-dollar movie but I think The Flash has the potential to cover both the nostalgic audience that loves Michael Keaton’s Batman and the new audience that loves Ben Affleck’s Batman and all the people who fall into both.
There are people who appreciate both of those. … There are so many characters that fit into a Justice League story mold that are a part of The Flash story, but you have a portion of the audience that was a part of the “Release the Snyder Cut” movement and they want to see Zach Snyder’s story restored and after Zach Snyder’s Justice League turned out to be so good, they have a leg to stand on.
I think there are people who before The Flash even comes out are going to be frustrated that it’s not a continuation of Zach Snyder’s story but I think that the mainstream audience, most people at movie theaters, will be unaware of that to begin with. So I think you market that as multiple Batmans, the most popular comic book character of all time, the Flash, everybody knows the Flash, and this time travel story… But will it be Endgame? I think it can’t get there this quickly.
I think that Endgame was the culmination of ten years of constantly new content and actors and characters who fans responded to for ten years and felt connected to and had conversations about. You could be riding in the back of an Uber and talk to your Uber driver and chances are they saw a Marvel movie and you can have a conversation about it.
You can go to dinner and talk to your kids or your parents about a Marvel movie. DC, some movies have that, some don’t.
So I think the momentum leading into Endgame is different than the momentum leading into The Flash; where Marvel just had a title wave of content that people mostly liked and DC has had a lot of divisive productions and movies dropping in theaters.