Everyone everywhere is talking about superhero fatigue, but the wheels keep turning, and the studios continue to not only release but plan new movies and shows in the genre for decades to come. Although it has produced material that is significantly more consistent and satisfactory than its direct competitor, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has frequently been the one at the receiving end of the negative discourse.
For the most part, Marvel seems unphased. No matter how bad the critical reception is for projects like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Thor: Love and Thunder, and how subpar the box office and viewership numbers are for recent releases, the studio seems to carry on, business as usual, with no apparent strategic changes. While some of the heat has been unjustified, and the narrative prowess of the MCU continues to go largely unrecognized by peers, some criticism is valid — especially that which is coming from legitimate fans of the franchise.
In that sense, it has been frustrating to feel like Marvel is ignoring the complaints, and making close to no effort to bring the franchise back to its glory days. Despite that being the case for a stretch there in the post-Endgame era, it seems like the bigwigs are finally reconvening and rethinking their approach.
An initial good omen was the decision to space out the releases of upcoming projects, reflecting the viewership’s complaints about overfeeding. Additionally, tighter deadlines have backed projects against the wall, resulting in productions that feel incomplete and half-assed. This rescheduling not only allows each show or movie to breathe and settle, before fans are forced to move on to the next one, but it also helps calibrate each new release.
The latest addition to the MCU seems to be taking things a step further, though, and actually addressing the tension in-universe. We might be reading too much into this, and we’re only two episodes in, but there is a case to be made about the choice to present Nick Fury — who is virtually the poster child for the old guard of the franchise, as its leader and creator — as depleted and run down as he is in Secret Invasion.
All around Fury, characters keep reminding him that he’s past his prime and can no longer handle the high stakes of the constantly evolving world. We can’t help but think that the writers for the show — Kyle Bradstreet, Brian Tucker, Brant Englestein, and Roxanne Paredes — were aware of the possible symbology of Fury’s storyline on the show. Like Fury, the MCU has also been accused of running its course and being unable to produce anything that breaks from the overused formula. Like the MCU, Fury is also attached to a traditional way to take care of business that no longer works in the new landscape that greeted him after his return from S.A.B.E.R..
In a lot of ways, Nick Fury is the MCU. He’s the reason it exists, the glue between every film. And we can take things even further by associating Fury’s absence from Earth following the Blip with the chaos that has defined Phase Four of the MCU. Like the characters in Secret Invasion accuse him of abandoning them, as viewers we have a similar feeling of losing the core identity that defined the franchise and that made us fall in love with it. Could Fury’s return bring back the magic of the Infinity saga?
As Fury hopefully adapts and grows throughout the season, in the process proving everyone around him wrong, there is also hope that in the Marvel ranks, new ideas are also being concocted. Ideas that unabashedly accept the shortcomings of recent releases and give creators the flexibility (and time!!) needed for reinvention. After all, reinvention and adaptation are indispensable for survival. If our read of the first two episodes of Secret Invasion is right, Fury knows this and, with luck, Marvel does too.