OK, the title of this post does come off a might hyperbolic, but the feeling is justified among many fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) who have been without any new MCU films in over a year and a half.
Of course, this is not the fault of Marvel Studios or even Disney since the COVID-19 pandemic has been so disruptive in our society. Disney cannot do any widescale release of films in theaters because most of them are closed for safety reasons. Who wants to go to a crowded movie theater during the middle of a pandemic? Even if Disney was inclined to release a film widescale now they would lose money. Just look what happened last year when Warner Bros. released Tenet in the summer.
Last month, Disney and Marvel Studios announced a release schedule for their films for this year with Black Widow due on May 7th. This announcement was done with the understanding that the pandemic would be under control. However, at this point it will take some more time, with the latest estimates of widescale vaccine distribution happening during the late spring, summer and early fall. This jeopardizes the release schedule of the MCU films with Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (due on July 9th) and even Eternals (November 5th).
The problem with the MCU films, and one of its strengths, is their interconnected nature. To fully appreciate the films they have to be watched in order as certain scenes connect with the other films. For example the post-credits scene in Captain Marvel deliberately led into the next MCU film Avengers: Endgame. Another example can be seen with the Infinity Stones. The Reality Stone was the main macguffin in Thor: The Dark World and was seen been placed in a specific spot for safe keeping at the end of that film. But in Avengers: Infinity War, the main villain traveled to that spot and obtained the Reality Stone.
A new wrinkle is that are the new MCU TV shows on Disney+ are certainly part of the MCU, and what happens in those shows will be referenced in upcoming films.
Rumor had it that even though Black Widow was a prequel film, it set up future events in the MCU from the introduction of the Thunderbolts or Dark Avengers to Black Widow’s sister, Yelena Belova, becoming the new Black Widow. Yelena has already been confirmed to appear in the Disney+ show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. So this is a strong reason why Marvel Studios wants Black Widow to be the first MCU film out of the gate and not launch the cinematic part of the MCU’s Phase Four with Shang-Chi or Eternals.
But the problem is that pushing back Black Widow pushes back other slated MCU films. Some of us are eager to see the next Doctor Strange film, which was already delayed to next year, as an example. What would be the reaction if it got bumped to 2023? Would this imperil other announced films in pre-production to the point of them being cancelled?
The delay also could jeopardize the release of the Disney+ shows and in fact already has. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was supposed to be the first Disney+ TV show to stream followed by WandaVision. Now that has been reversed with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier coming out this March as WandaVision is currently streaming. But who knows how more film delays would affect the future Disney+ shows?
Something has to be done. At this point it would be best if Black Widow and even Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings were released on Disney+ this year. This would satisfy fans who are eager for new film content (though many are pleased with WandaVision), entice more subscribers to the streaming service, free up the backlog of films piling up now, and maintain the viewing order of both films and TV shows. Also consider this, is there a great demand to see Black Widow knowing the character’s fate or Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which features a character who was last popular during the 1970s?
Yes, this will hurt Disney financially but the company is already losing money and are going all in with their streaming platform. Releasing the films on their app would generate revenue so it would not be a complete loss. Of course, this endangers the filmgoing experience later on but this is inevitable. No matter what Marvel Studios and Disney decides, this situation cannot continue, but we’ll know soon what they decide.
It could have been worse. Take comfort that at least we got to see Avengers: Endgame in theaters before all this started.