No, the big mistake in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame isn’t any of the superhero deaths or the oft-whined about all-female hero shot. Marvel’s biggest mistake was leaping five years into the future in the first twenty minutes without eventually turning the clock back. It was ultimately the wrong choice, because it took the opportunity away from every MCU project that came after it to follow one of Stan Lee’s more well known rules: that Marvel should always be “the world outside your window.”
Marvel stopped being the world outside the window after Endgame because it leaped forward to, well, now. With the sole exception of Black Widow and an episode here and there of What If…?, every canonical movie or show to release after Endgame begins–at the earliest–in 2023. Everything that came after it is set in a fictional world whose real version didn’t exist yet.
Think about how many Marvel projects that encompasses. Two Spider-Man movies, Eternals, Shang-Chi, Doctor Strange 2, Thor 4, Ant-Man 3, Black Panther 2, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Loki, WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, most of What If…?, She-Hulk, Moon Knight, Werewolf by Night, Ms. Marvel, and Hawkeye.
That’s seven movies, two Disney+ specials, and eight TV series that took place in a version of 2023 in which there was no January 6 Insurrection, no Rust shooting, no raid on Mar-a-Lago, and no Black Lives Matter protests. They unfold in a 2023 where there is no Israel-Hamas War, no Russia-Ukraine War, no overturning of Roe v. Wade, no Kabul falling once more to the Taliban, and no Kamala Harris becoming the first Black woman–and first woman–elected Vice President of the United States of America.
Marvel sped ahead of us, and it didn’t land anywhere near where we did.
Those 17 Marvel projects happen in a 2023 in which George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Halyna Hutchins, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Larry King, Christopher Plummer, DMX, Alex Trebek, Eddie Van Halen, Kobe Bryant, Betty White, Ray Liotta, Kirstie Alley, Michael K. Williams, Angela Lansbury, Sidney Poitier, and who knows how many mass shooting victims, are all still alive.
More earth-shaking than any of it, those Marvel stories happen in a 2023 in which Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are still a part of the Royal Family.
Oh yeah, and just in case this is something anyone else remembers, all those movies and TV shows take place in a world in which there was no Covid-19 pandemic.
The term “unprecedented times” became so annoying to us all and so horribly overused, but like most cliches it got to be that way because it was accurate.
In all seriousness, think about that. Think about the levels of irony.
I don’t care where you fall ideologically in terms of Covid-19: whether you masked, whether you believe it exists, if you think it exists but isn’t all that big a deal, if you’re vaccinated or not, I don’t care. Regardless of your outlook, you have to admit it changed everything.
But it wasn’t in Marvel. It was a global threat (or perceived as one if you’re in the “if I close my eyes I won’t see it” camp) and yet in a cinematic universe set in a genre that’s all about global threats, Covid wasn’t there.
In a film and TV series set in a genre known for heroes wearing masks, during a time when everyone in the real world was arguing about whether or not you should wear masks, no one was wearing masks or talking about them.
Look, I’m not suggesting Kevin Feige should have texted every showrunner and director working for him with “STOP THE PRESSES! WE NEED COVID STUFF!”
I’m not saying that Marvel no longer being the world outside the proverbial window is anyone’s fault. But it happened, and is it any mystery that these superhero adventures stopped being relevant to us?
When Avengers: Endgame time jumped five years into the future, the Marvel Cinematic Universe stopped being what Stan Lee called “the world outside your window.”
Yes, the “fatigue” played a role in Marvel’s decline. So did the failure of Marvel to give fans a clear idea of the direction in which the larger narrative was heading.
But the impact of that five year time jump has been greatly under appreciated. Marvel sped ahead of us, and it didn’t land anywhere near where we did.
In particular the lack of any mention of the pandemic picked up the MCU and tossed it thousands of miles away from the world outside our window. The term “unprecedented times” became so annoying to us all and so horribly overused, but like most cliches it got to be that way because it was accurate.
We all experienced something genuinely traumatic and the world of Marvel ignored it. When that happened ,the MCU stopped being the world outside our window and started being alternate history. Like something out of Sliders. Like a world where dinosaurs never went extinct. Or a world where everyone’s head and butt are switched. Like Congress.