While terms like “superhero fatigue” keep getting tossed around, the open secret is that Marvel fans haven’t really been responding to new content such as Quantumania or Secret Invasion because the quality doesn’t match the ambitious films (such as Avengers: Endgame) that the franchise is best known for. Now, Secret Invasion director Ali Selim has stated the quiet part out loud: Marvel wants fans to simply accept lower-quality content. In an interview with Variety, he went so far as to call the fan base “rabid” and questioned whether it was “our job to fulfill their expectations” rather than to “tell the story that we’re telling.”
“Marvel has a very devoted — even rabid — fan base who have expectations and when their expectations aren’t fulfilled, they move in the other direction; they give it a thumbs down.”Secret Invasion director Ali Selim
From a distance, his commentary may not sound so bad, especially because it echoes debates classic debates over whether it’s possible for creators to innovate if they are focusing entirely on giving the fans what they want.
For example, part of what made WandaVision so engaging was that both its themes (about a character dealing with severe mental and emotional trauma) and its concept (the traumatized character using television eras as a coping device) were the last thing Marvel fanboys would have expected. To this day, that show is rightfully held up as an example of Marvel taking a big risk and creating something great.
However, Selim’s commentary is much more cynical than it first appears, especially when he decries how fans give “a thumbs down” to content that doesn’t “meet their expectations.” For starters, the man is literally complaining about the free market: the only reason that fans have any major expectations at all is that Marvel has been creating great MCU content since 2008.
WandaVision showed how great Disney+ shows can be by creatively subverting fan expectations, but every series since has failed to come close to the same level.
Quite frankly, it’s functionally impossible for someone who has watched great Marvel movies to pretend that stuff like Quantumania is anywhere near as good as Iron Man or most of what else we had before.
What Selim seems to be overlooking (or maybe just deliberately ignoring) is the fact that the average Marvel fan doesn’t want a carbon copy of what came before, but they want content that matches the quality of what came before. For example, the highest-ranked MCU films on Rotten Tomatoes are Black Panther, Avengers: Endgame, and Iron Man, and these films are all very different from one another. However, each film managed to impress fans in a distinct way, proving that it’s possible for Marvel to create very distinct films that nonetheless manage to meet the expectations of the fanbase.
Quite frankly, it’s functionally impossible for someone who has watched great Marvel movies to pretend that stuff like Quantumania is anywhere near as good as Iron Man.
Obviously, it’s easier for us to make these observations than it is for Marvel to actually create the content (we can all agree, for example, that “make the next Endgame” would be a tall order for even the most talented director). Still, we can’t escape the conclusion that modern Marvel is a shell of its former glory.
We applaud Ali Selim and any director who wants to take the franchise in a new direction, but Marvel needs to make something other than a firehose of content that exists solely to set up future content.
And ultimately, we’d happily take fewer movies and TV shows per year, especially if they were high enough quality to make these Marvel films feel like special events once more.