The Marvel Cinematic Universe in a post-pandemic world

It’s strange to think that a little over a year ago, we were all heading to theaters to watch the closing chapter of the first era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — a project approximately 10 years and 20 films in the making.

Needless to say, the world has changed A LOT since then. By now, we were supposed to have seen the Black Widow prequel film and getting hyped for “Eternals” in November.

Now, “Black Widow” has been moved to summer 2021 and “Eternals” to fall 2021. We don’t fully know how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact films still in development (not to mention all those announced Disney+ series). The MCU fan community also continues to grieve the unexpected loss of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, who passed away from cancer earlier this year.

The entire entertainment world feels uncertain and adrift at the moment, so the Marvel Cinematic Universe certainly isn’t alone. The MCU roadmap feels a little less clear than it did after the rousing success of “Endgame” last year, when the world seemed a lot simpler.

The other day I had the thought that “Endgame” may be the biggest blockbuster of our generation and Hollywood may not reach that height again. COVID-19 has had a major economic impact on the entertainment industry, and who knows how confident studios will feel about funding massive blockbusters on the scale of “Endgame” in a post-pandemic world. The underperformance of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” is troubling a lot of studios, and it’s impossible to know right now when it will be safe for people to return to theaters — or if they’ll return in the same numbers they used to.

So, how should a franchise that was once a sure bet move forward in these unpredictable times?

While I understand the desire to release “Black Widow” in theaters, at this point it might be best to release it on Disney+. It hurts me to say that, because going to the movie theater is my favorite hobby and I would much rather see superhero flicks for the first time on the big screen.

That being said, while I balked at paying $30 to see the live-action “Mulan” on Disney+, especially after reading the mediocre reviews, I probably would pay $30 to stream “Black Widow.” As a prequel, the film already kinda feels like an odd holdover from a previous MCU era, and it’s tough to know whether a year’s delay will build hype for this movie or decrease it. Releasing “Black Widow” on streaming right now would keep the MCU buzz going and helps tide us over to the theatrical releases in 2021.

I know it’s somewhat controversial to say it, but before the craziness of COVID, I was feeling a little burned out of the MCU — call it “too much of a good thing,” if you will. “Endgame” was amazing and well deserving of all its hype, but after it ended, I felt a little drained. It was a lot to process (especially with the death of my favorite MCU character, Iron Man).

So in an odd way, a year without MCU movies has actually been kind of good for me as a fan. It’s allowed me to ponder the legacy of this franchise and start getting excited for what’s to come. I’m ready to stream “Black Widow” and then dive headfirst into all the new stuff.

I want the next era of the MCU to be totally unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. I want it to be weird and crazy and thought-provoking, showing us new worlds and characters that push the boundaries of the superhero genre.

I don’t really know anything about “Eternals” but the premise — an immortal alien race created by the Celestials — hooked me right away (not to mention the star-studded cast that includes Richard Madden, Gemma Chan, Kumail Nanjiani, among others). “Eternals” has the potential to expand the world of the MCU in an exciting, dramatic way, similar to the way the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie did.

I’m excited that the MCU is bringing in a diverse array of voices into this new era, and I’m really looking forward to “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” And while “Thor: Ragnarok” isn’t my favorite MCU film, I’m excited to see the return of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

Right now, I’m a little disappointed that Scott Derrickson will not be reprising his role as director on the Doctor Strange sequel, “Multiverse of Madness,” and the fact he departed due to “creative differences” with Marvel worries me. The original “Doctor Strange” is one of my favorite MCU films, and I really wanted to see Derrickson’s take on the sequel.

That being said, director Sam Raimi is a solid second choice, and I hope the film really leans into the otherworldly elements of horror that the film’s title seems to promise. It’s cool to see the MCU experimenting with different genres, and “Multiverse of Madness” could be very trippy and fun.

While there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, the MCU probably isn’t going anywhere. If there are any films that could bring people back to theaters once the pandemic is under control, it’s these ones.

Although it’s entirely possible we may have to wait even longer than we’re expecting to watch these movies (due to future pandemic delays), the wait isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Maybe the extra time will give creators extra time to polish the scripts and brainstorm how to really push the MCU into the future.

Right now my main concern is that all the cast and crew members stay as safe and healthy as possible, and hopefully we’ll all be able to return to theaters to enjoy MCU movies with other fans soon.

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