We’re weeks away from the once-highly anticipated second season of Marvel Studios’ Loki, the most-streamed Disney+ show, which premiered in 2021. Something’s different this time though. It’s...quiet. My social media feeds, once alight with theories, passionate reactions, and yearning fan fiction in response to Marvel projects, have given me the sense that no one even knows Loki Season 2 is on its way next month. (I wouldn’t have known either if I hadn’t thought to Google it last week.) Studios might like to blame our collective disinterest on the writers’ and actors’ strikes—which are impeding stars’ promotion of their upcoming releases—but that’s just their refusal to actually take accountability speaking.
I could barely stomach three episodes of Marvel’s latest Disney+ show, Secret Invasion, which follows Nick Fury battling an army of shape-shifting aliens that he himself brought to Earth, before I became too tired and disinterested and had to call it. The show drew staggeringly low audience ratings and predictably poor reviews—and it’s hardly the first post-Endgame Marvel project to flop miserably. Vulture called Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania “a cry for help.” Thor: Love and Thunder was panned by critics and fans alike. Every Marvel Cinematic Universe project now requires a PhD in Marvel studies just to watch it, and there’s little pay-off for remembering every detail beyond suffering through cartoonishly bad CGI and cringe jokes. I once tirelessly obsessed over Marvel projects, but the movies that got me through the pandemic now just feel like homework.
To be fair, Marvel has done a decent amount to stave off my superhero fatigue, like introducing the franchise’s first queer and Muslim heroes; dragging online incels in She-Hulk; and setting the stage for the feminist thrill ride that The Marvels looks like it will be when it hits theaters in November. The studio has drawn a lot of predictably stupid sexist and racist vitriol from trolls, eager to assert that the MCU is going downhill for all the wrong reasons. (Then again, I’ll have to watch Jonathan Majors in Loki. His trial for domestic abuse could coincide with the new season’s release—and his role in the Marvel universe is growing.)
Marvel’s strides toward diversity and occasional embrace of newness are actually the few redeeming things the studio has going for it right now. Its downfall comes in its marriage to its past, as well as its determination to churn out as much content as possible regardless of whether anyone is actually asking for it. And it’s not just Marvel—the D.C. franchise is also in a state of chaos right now, between conflicting accounts about the future of Wonder Woman, the bizarre ballad of Ezra Miller, and massive flops like Shazam and The Flash.
At its core, it’s just all too much right now. There are no real stakes when the next Disney+ show or the fifth Thor movie is always just around the corner. This over-saturation of superhero shows and movies makes it impossible to be a casual fan—or even a devoted one. The MCU’s commitment to its own lore means all of its plotlines are exhaustingly entangled. And as I’ve previously written, the studio’s refusal to move on means every Avenger and their damn cousin is suddenly getting a child or protege—even though it would almost certainly be more enjoyable for everyone to just move on. There’s also the fact that all of this is a lot harder to enjoy knowing how severely mistreated, exploited, and some Marvel employees—namely VFX artists—are as the studio seems to be pivoting to AI art (however badly it was done in Secret Invasion).
The movies of summer 2023 weren’t Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 or The Flash, but Barbie—a fun feminist romp, even if it was based on a brand—and Oppenheimer, a three-hour biopic about a scientist. People are tired of needing to know the precise timing of who did what in Loki Season 1 or Spider-Man: No Way Home or WandaVision to open up the multiverse; who’s an Inhuman or a mutant; or how many versions of Kang there are. I’m tired! If my choices are a neon-pink-washed movie about a doll experiencing a feminist awakening and a regurgitated, explosion-heavy movie about yet another alien race here to destroy earthlings unless a new iteration of Avengers can stop them, I’ll take the doll movie every time.