Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

On the highs, the lows, and the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

With the release of Black Widow, our critics go back through the biggest movie franchise of them all

Clockwise from left: Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow (Photo: Marvel Studios); Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man (Screenshot: Marvel Studios); Chris Evans in Avengers: Endgame (Screenshot: Marvel Studios)
Clockwise from left: Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow (Photo: Marvel Studios); Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man (Screenshot: Marvel Studios); Chris Evans in Avengers: Endgame (Screenshot: Marvel Studios)
Graphic: Baraka Kaseko

Today ends a two-year hiatus for the biggest franchise in movie history. Black Widow, new to theaters and Disney+, is the first Marvel movie to come out since July of 2019, and though a series of television spinoffs have kept the MCU alive in the public imagination, today is the day that this giant blockbuster machine truly lurches back to life. On a brand new episode of Film Club, critics A.A. Dowd and Katie Rife are joined by special guest and fellow A.V. Club staffer Alex McLevy to discuss this ongoing big-screen crossover event—its strengths and weaknesses, its highs and lows, and what the future might hold for Earthiest’s mightiest box-office heroes. And for their thoughts on Black Widow itself, check out this week’s very special bonus episode.

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You can hear the entire conversation in the episode above, or read an excerpt down below.


A.A. Dowd: Are we going to see a huge crossover event again? Is Marvel going to build this thing up again? We get new characters and suddenly we’re moving towards more Avengers movies, or to another large scale event. Or will Marvel for a little while, allow these things to be, at least to some degree, a little more self-contained? I’m genuinely curious. Is Eternals just going to be a set up for future Marvel movies, or is it going to be its own thing?

Alex McLevy: Yeah, it’s a good question. To me, the closest comparison to something like The Eternals would be obviously the Guardians Of The Galaxy, which, even when it first came out, people were thinking it seemed like such a standalone thing. The characters couldn’t really interact with the rest of the Marvel Universe. Would it be Marvel’s first flop? (It certainly was not.) And how were they going to integrate them? And it took the massive mechanics of the Infinity War story to be able to bring those characters together with The Avengers and the heroes that we know. So, I could see very easily the first couple of Eternals movies building this separate space story, much like Guardians Of The Galaxy did with their first two films before somehow being integrated.

Katie Rife: I think the bigger question here is: How long will audience interest in these characters stay at the level that it is now?

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AD: I’m super curious about that, too. I think that this year is going to be really interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing what the returns are going to be on these movies. I think they’re going to do well. If the bubble is going to burst on comic book cinema, and on Marvel specifically, I think the pandemic may have delayed that happening. I think it created a hunger for these things. Audiences used to get them at a very steady clip, and then they have basically gone two years without seeing another big one. I think that is going to sustain the franchise for at least a little while longer as people are like, “Oh, shit, I get to see my old friends again.” Or, “Man, it was really hard not having one of these things for a couple of years...”

KR: ...Here’s four! The two years [without a Marvel movie] followed by four movies in one year is what makes me wonder what’s going to happen. Is that’s going to intensify people’s interest or is it going to oversaturate and [audiences are] going to get burnt out. I’m very curious because it could be one or the other. I really can’t say.

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