Do you ever find yourself lying in bed after a long day and, as the quiet of the night gradually envelops you, realize just how much noise you’ve been surrounded by? The constant hum of strangers talking, strangers yelling, keyboard clacking and phones buzzing and cars honking, speeding down the highway, and the ceaseless barking of the neighbors' dog? And at that time, don’t you find yourself more grateful than ever for a moment when everything finally stops?
Anyway, there have been 23 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies in the last 12 years.
And in 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, audiences will be Avengers-less for the first time in over a decade. Because of movie theater closures and the general lack of certainty as to when we’ll be able to gather in public again, Disney has moved the release of Black Widow, which was slated for release in early May, to November, taking over the slot previously occupied by Eternals. And moving Eternals has, subsequently, triggered a chain reaction in which every previously announced film in the MCU’s Phase Four has moved back by one date, each taking over a spot previously occupied by another.
For any other franchise this would be annoying at best and a disaster at worst. But for the MCU, it might quietly be a good thing.
Look, I like Marvel movies. You probably like Marvel movies. It’s hard to find people who don’t and that’s by design. They are, like Big Macs and iPhones, produced with the intent of catering to as diverse an audience as possible and they succeed in full. Marvel Studios is arguably the last bastion of monoculture (you could argue for Star Wars, as well, but the extent to which the franchise has become as polarizing as it has over the past four years has ever so slightly diminished that status, especially when paired with the divisive ending of the new trilogy) and as the years have gone on it’s become all-consuming.
It’s the metric by which franchises of any kind are judged both creatively and financially. It changed the game of blockbuster filmmaking in every way. And last year, of the three major franchises that brought their primary stories to a close (the MCU, Star Wars, and Game of Thrones), it proved the only one capable of wrapping things up in a manner most deemed satisfactory. In fact, it may have done too good a job of wrapping things up, because it’s hard to argue that anticipation for the studio’s upcoming film Black Widow was anything other than middling at best.
Setting aside the fact that a Widow standalone would have been much more timely several years ago before the character died — and before public goodwill for actress Scarlett Johansson hadn’t been diminished by her regularly taking on roles that should be played by POC or trans folks — it’s just kind of hard to follow up the one-two punch of Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home (which both drastically reshaped the MCU) with a film about a character viewers just said goodbye to.
The murky timeline doesn’t help, either. While MCU die-hards may know that the film takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Joe Q. Moviegoer who doesn’t keep up with the MCU’s news cycle isn’t going to be aware of that. It simply makes for confusion given the character’s recent exit from the franchise.
But let’s flash back for a moment. Between Avengers: Infinity War and Far From Home, the MCU dominated cultural discourse for well over a year (from early 2018 through mid-2019) like few films ever have or ever will again. It came at the tail end of over a decade of an increasingly smothering presence, so much so that even fans of the franchise couldn’t help but sigh with relief when the credits to Endgame finished rolling. Finally, it would seem, the long journey was over (even if it wasn’t — Far From Home hit theaters just a few short weeks later in order to satisfy a contractual obligation in Marvel’s joint contract over Spider-Man with Sony).
So it’s worth noting that under the adjusted schedule, a lengthier hiatus between films might not only be beneficial but necessary to the fanbase’s general sense of adoration. If the current schedule holds true (it feels extremely subject to change given the state of the world right now) there will be five Marvel films released between November 2020 and November 2021 (four previously announced for Phase Four and a fifth on the way if the untitled Spidey threequel makes its intended July 16, 2021, release date).
In theory, it’s great news for MCU fans. Five movies in a year? That’s something of an unprecedented streak, even for such a prolific studio. But it’s one that risks complete and utter exhaustion with the franchise.
Nobody wants that, least of all MCU fans.
I hate to utilize cliche but it feels necessary to do it twice here: First, it is totally possible for there to be too much of a good thing. Ask anyone who’s tried to make takeout leftovers into four days’ worth of meals. The extraordinary, whether we’re talking a movie with both Captain America and Thor in it or the best soup dumplings in the city, should never feel ordinary. The MCU had reached — or has reached, if you ask certain folks — a point where its landmark releases feel more like cultural obligations than special occasions.
You do not have a choice in seeing the new Spider-Man movie opening weekend. You must. It compels you, lest you be left out of The Discourse for the next four to six weeks or, even worse, have the mid/post-credits scenes spoiled (there’s a longer conversation to be had about the way these movies have, like alchemy, turned spoiler culture into guaranteed box office dollars).
The thing about escapism is that to enjoy it, it has to be optional. You have to seek it out of your own volition, not write it on your to-do list for the week next to “pick up groceries” and “order more soup dumplings.” Superhero movies, namely those of the MCU sort, are — or at least should be — pure escapism, but as they’ve grown to hog more and more oxygen, their presence has become a suffocating one.
So when news broke that, for the first time in their lengthy run, there’d be a significant delay in and restructuring of the releases of the MCU’s Phase Four, it was immediately hard to see it as a bad thing. Setting aside its implications on something as trivial as film release dates in the grand scheme of things, it’s an indisputably good and ethical decision. Most of these films are still in production (Black Widow may have even still been in post-production in the weeks before its release) and in order to be completed in time for their original dates, cast and crews would need to work on them through a pandemic. No movie is worth that risk, doubly so if it might not even be safe to see said movies in theaters for a while.
It’s been under a year since the release of Endgame and even less time since the Infinity Saga’s postscript in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Some exhaustion with a franchise that has grown that massive, both in terms of its cultural footprint and the scope of its story, is *Thanos Voice* inevitable. And so when it comes to the Black Widow film — a smaller-scale, standalone story fans first started clamoring for almost a decade ago before her demise and which is set several movies before the present franchise timeline — trying to recapture Endgame-levels of excitement is a futile effort without giving viewers time to need such a movie.
For a while now there’s been no time to anticipate Marvel movies. They come in such quick succession with such meticulously-crafted marketing campaigns that there’s hardly time to sit back and wonder what the future of the franchise holds before a new trailer or casting announcement just up and tells you. And when you pair that constant presence in the film landscape with the increasing frequency of character crossovers in the films, there’s less time than ever for fans to miss the characters they love. With films like Thor: Love & Thunder and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness getting moved back due to coronavirus-induced production delays, there’s finally time for anticipation to build for fan-favorite characters to return rather than simply accept that they’ll probably show up within a movie or two.
While the MCU is far from immune to criticism when it comes to... well, a lot of things (not to rile up the Scorsese hive, but... ), it remains a unique cinematic phenomenon. It’d be a shame for these movies' goodwill to start getting burned because they aren’t given time to breathe — which sometimes they very much need! Turns out Ant-Man and the Wasp plays about 100 times better when you aren’t watching it seven weeks after Infinity War.
Right now movies at large are in a weird, scary place. There’s a good chance the moviegoing experience doesn’t look the same once it resumes (whenever that may be). But if there’s been one constant of the experience over the past few years it’s the electric experience of seeing a new MCU movie with a white-hot crowd opening night.
Sure, it’s a little bit of a bummer that some of these movies have been moved back. But it’s going to make it all the sweeter when we finally get to see them.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.