Iman Vellani is learning from her peers’ mistakes; she’s been handling the failure of her new film The Marvels well, refraining from blaming fans and, now, addressing some of the issues that are turning people off of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In an exclusive interview with The Direct, Vellani was asked how Marvel could recapture the success it saw at the height of its popularity, and she said this:
“I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s about just getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Because then, like, what’s left? You know, I think it’s just about making the audience care about their characters. And I think they’ve established so many wonderful characters in the last phase of the MCU that it would be nice to see them all again and see them team up.”
Okay, she’s half right; Marvel needs to get people to care about the characters again. Instead of replicating what they did with Iron Man, Captain America, and the other Avengers, they’ve thrown the newbies out there and took for granted that the goodwill they earned with the first three phases would prop them up without doing the necessary character work. Some good writers, directors, and actors made general audiences fall in love with the Avengers and made comic book fans fall in love with cinematic versions of them. Nobody is trying to do that anymore; there was no effort to get people to like the new crop of heroes outside of tearing down the old ones in the hopes that we’d be fooled into agreeing. Remember when She-Hulk mocked Tony Stark, the guy who had just sacrificed himself to save the universe? Or before that, when she told her suicidal cousin who’d lost his best friend and the woman he loved that he knew nothing about suffering because a construction worker never whistled at him? Do you think that endeared her to anyone? Nope, but giving her a good story that helps her grow as a person and figure out what it means to be a hero could have.
But the problem with the other half of her statement is tied into that: there are not “so many wonderful characters” that came about in Phase 4, and it’s because they didn’t do the proper work to make them wonderful. She-Hulk sucks in the MCU, but she doesn’t have to; neither do Shang-Chi, or any of the Marvels, or even the Eternals. Give these characters movies or shows with good stories, stakes that feel real, a villain who tests them (preferably on multiple levels), and arcs that emphasize their humanity and make them better people. This is the problem with the “she’s already perfect” attitude: it leaves them with nowhere to go and nothing human for the audience to grab onto. Take Captain Marvel; in her first movie, her big showdown with the villain finds her taking him down with one hit and saying, “I have nothing to prove to you.” She’s effectively talking to the audience in this scene, and she’s wrong; of course, she has something to prove, like every other character. Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, Thor Odinson, Scott Lang, Stephen Strange, and even someone as popular and well-known as Peter Parker spent their first solo movies proving themselves to the audience, and their subsequent appearances reinforcing their heroism. You can’t cut corners when it comes to character development because the audience will disengage.
And the same is true of better-known characters. Marvel has the X-Men and the Fantastic Four on deck, and those guys are in a better position than heroes like Captain Marvel or the Eternals because they’re more popular, especially the X-Men. But that doesn’t mean Marvel can half-ass their movies, because the days of name recognition carrying your lousy films are over. They can’t say, “Look, Wolverine!” They have to do something compelling and human with Wolverine. And I’m not convinced they will because they’re already taking shortcuts; they’re bringing back Hugh Jackman and, if recent cameos are any indication, the Fox versions of the rest of the X-Men as well. That doesn’t mean their movies will be bad (I’m more hopeful for Deadpool 3 than anything else Marvel’s got cooking), but it’s a sign that Marvel doesn’t want to do the hard work of introducing and developing their own versions of the X-Men. I love a lot of those actors in their parts, but I don’t trust Marvel to stretch and grow the characters rather than dangle them in front of people like a baby’s mobile. The Fantastic Four have a better opportunity to be properly developed because the MCU is making its own version of the FF, but again, Marvel’s track record of late doesn’t inspire confidence. I hope this all pans out because I want these movies to be great, but they have to show me something before I believe they’ve still got the magic in them, and that means going back to the fundamentals that built the MCU before arrogance and complacency tore it down.