It’s official – for the first time since 2009 we’re in for a year with no Marvel movies, with the latest delay to Black Widow’s release date marking 2020 as an MCU-free zone.
Of course, we won’t be completely without any Marvel storytelling – despite coronavirus delays, Disney+ series WandaVision will apparently still arrive on the streaming service towards the end of the year – but largely, this will be the longest pause in Marvel’s world-beating blockbuster machine in over a decade. Really, you have to wonder whether it puts the whole project in danger.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Suggesting that a couple of years between movies is a dealbreaker seems ridiculous, especially when Star Wars movies have sometimes had decades between them and still attracted huge audiences.
But the Marvel Cinematic Universe is slightly different. In a lot of ways, the appeal of these movies has become the momentum, the ongoing push from film to film every few months that keeps excitement and interest high and funnels more and more people to cinemas to watch the latest super-heroic story.
Just think of the post-credits scenes that crop up at the end of most MCU films, teasing future movies or spin-offs. The popularity of these stings seems to show that, for a lot of Marvel fans, thinking about the next film is as much fun as enjoying the current one. The business Marvel has made depends on people wanting to watch “the next one,” almost like a TV model imported to the silver screen. With such a long gap between films, can that must-watch habit be broken?
By the end of Marvel’s Phase Three, part of the reason Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame had been hyped to the heavens was the build-up, with 11 films released from 2016-2019 pushing the story along to its epic conclusion – but now that conclusion has come and gone, and the unintentionally long gap following it (well, technically following Spider-Man: Far From Home) could prove tricky to come back from.
A huge moment of catharsis and finality came with Avengers: Endgame, and Marvel’s trickiest next move would always have been how to tackle what comes next. Every Marvel movie so far, give or take, had been part of the Infinity Saga – now that’s over, how do you keep things going without seeming like you’re dragging the whole thing out?
Marvel’s initial response was to take a bit of a break, not releasing any movies in autumn or winter slots and planning for a Black Widow release in Spring 2020 – but now that film and its follow-ups (like Eternals and Shang-Chi) have all been pushed an entire extra year. Suddenly, that pause feels like more of a full stop.
An unforeseen positive of this could be that the events of Endgame will be allowed to sit for a bit before the Marvel machine gets going again. A negative for Marvel could be that this extended wait breaks audience habits, with cinemagoers less inclined to desperately seek out massive Marvel movies when they’ve survived perfectly well without them for almost two years.
On the other hand, it could be that people around the world will gratefully flock to cinemas once we’re (hopefully) back to some sort of normal society. Maybe absence will make the heart grow fonder, while the upcoming Disney+ shows (which will also include the delayed Falcon and Winter Soldier and Loki now that filming has resumed on both) will stop fans from forgetting the MCU entirely.
Still, I can’t help but wonder whether people’s cinematic interests will be changed for good by this pandemic – and whether the Marvel momentum will be so easy to get rolling when superheroes rise again.
Black Widow will be released in May 2021. Want something to watch on the smaller screen? Check out our TV Guide.