The advent of Marvel Comics brought with it a surge of stories that served as mirrors for our own human experiences, stories that molded heroes from people rather than people from heroes. Industry legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby saw a need for comics that were both exploratory and explicit in their examinations of heroism and the people who embody that. The two pooled their ideas and began cranking out comics in rapid succession. The publisher pioneered the prevailing practice of peopling comics with characters both complex and conflicted, subsequently becoming a behemoth with interest and influence in almost every area of pop culture.
Why, then, has the company succumbed to mediocrity? Nicknamed the House of Ideas shortly after its rise from the ashes of Atlas Comics, Marvel has become a retreating echo of the thunderous shout it once was. Gone are the days when the concepts and conflicts felt fresh, exciting, and worthwhile. With the last drops of moisture clinging to the walls of its creative well, Marvel struggles to infuse its stories with the same energy and enthusiasm that made its earlier efforts so compelling and resonant. This holds true for both its movies and its comics, which are passable within the constraints imposed by the company’s current standards, but don’t push those constraints in a compelling way. The result is a company that has lost its edge in the movie/comic book business.
This isn’t to say that Marvel’s recent cinematic endeavors are bad. This is to say that the company has experienced a precipitous drop in quality in a relatively short time. The period beginning with The Avengers and ending with Guardians of the Galaxy took the studio to lofty new heights and established Marvel Studios as the standard other moviemakers should meet or surpass.
This two-year period saw superior filmmaking that reinvigorated a tired genre and garnered almost unanimous praise from critics and fans alike. Everything that came after, however, lost that breath of life, that zeal. Efforts like Ant-Man were silly and sloppy while slightly more inspired adventures like Doctor Strange and Captain America: Civil War aimed for targets that sat just out of reach. Misfires in almost every sense of the word, these films saw Marvel overwhelmed by its own banality.
Films as inconsequential as those in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) grow tiring after teasing ramifications and giving us none. Audiences want stories that possess lasting meaning. Even the aforementioned Captain America: Civil War, deemed a masterpiece by some, felt contrived and convoluted and gave audiences nothing in exchange for their dedication. It’s always more of the same. It’s usually about the money and not the magic. At this point, the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) movies feel more honest, even if its films don’t boast the quality many of Marvel’s earlier installments possess.