Marvel Races Against Time Amid “Fatigue” Storm: Can the World’s Most Famous Cinematic Universe Be Saved?

Just over a year ago, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania was set to take Marvel Studios to the next level. A new villain was going to be introduced, setting the stage for several years’ worth of storytelling. And the movie itself was a giant-sizing of a franchise that was previously modest in scope. Instead, the Peyton Reed-directed movie heralded a year’s worth of missteps, box office blunders and PR nightmares. It was all uncharted territory for Marvel, which had steadily been generating box office gold for 15 years.

Marvel is quietly restructuring the Cinematic Universe

But the Disney division is in the midst of a pretty darn good February, all things considered, despite the general gloom that surrounds the superhero genre as of late. The Super Bowl trailer for Deadpool & Wolverine became the most-watched trailer of all time, with 365 million views in 24 hours. Yes, Disney’s math includes the 123 million people who tuned in for the game, which included just 30 seconds of the trailer, but Super Bowl fudging or not, the clip’s reach was an encouraging number for a studio whose last movie, The Marvels, became the lowest-grossing in the MCU’s 33-film run, hitting just $206 million globally.

Next came the Valentine’s Day unveiling of the cast of The Fantastic Four — Pedro Pascal, Vanessa Kirby, Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Joseph Quinn, coupled with retro art teasing a 1960s setting for the movie. (The Fantastic Four are a cornerstone of the Marvel mythos, with writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby introducing the team in 1961’s Fantastic Four No. 1, the comic that would initiate the Marvel Universe, so the symbolic launch of the new team carries a lot of weight for the film division. This will be the third incarnation of the Fantastic Four to hit the big screen, not counting the infamous Roger Corman version.)

A day later, Marvel launched the trailer for X-Men ’97, a revival of the 1990s cartoon that debuts in March. The trailer set an internal Disney record as the biggest launch for an animated series on Disney+, ahead of other Marvel shows such as What If …? and any animated Star Wars series.

These public-facing moves come as studio boss Kevin Feige recalibrates the creative direction behind the scenes. Early in February, the company completed reshoots for Agatha: Darkhold Diaries, the WandaVision spinoff starring Kathryn Hahn that is expected to hit Disney+ this fall. The company usually budgets five days of reshoots into the schedule, but the studio completed the work in just one, fueling a sunny outlook around the show internally, according to sources associated with the series.

The studio also quietly hired Eric Pearson to polish the script for Fantastic Four, which will shoot this summer in London. Pearson is a company stalwart who worked on Thor: Ragnarok and Black Widow and has a reputation for taking projects over the finish line. The stakes for that movie are high, as the studio is still searching for characters and actors who can carry its universe forward after the exits of Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans.

Marvel also hired Joanna Calo, the showrunner of acclaimed FX series The Bear, to work on the script for Thunderbolts, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. The film will begin shooting in March in Atlanta. Her hiring adds a flair of prestige to the project, which stars Florence Pugh and — according to a source who has read previous drafts of the script — centers on villains and antiheroes going on a mission that was supposed to end with their deaths.

Marvel is also cleaning up the creative mess left in the wake of Jonathan Majors, the once-rising actor cast to play the lynchpin villain role in the next Avengers movies but who in December was found guilty of reckless assault in the third degree and harassment in a Manhattan court after a domestic incident with his ex-partner, a movement coach he met while working on Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Marvel dropped Majors hours after the conviction and is rewriting those movies, which will now either minimize the character or excise him entirely. The first of the new Avengers movies, due out in 2026, was initially titled Avengers: The Kang Dynasty but will be getting a new title to remove the character’s name, though sources say that even before Majors’ conviction, the studio was making moves to minimize the character after Quantumania underperformed, grossing $476 million.

On the TV side, Marvel has been reorganizing its operations to allow for greater control from showrunners, a move made after the critical failure of the expensive Samuel L. Jackson spy series Secret Invasion, which sidelined executive producer Kyle Bradstreet after a year, with various creative factions vying for influence in his wake. The show had about 2.5 billion minutes of viewing over its six-week run, per Nielsen, in the bottom third of Marvel’s live-action Disney+ offerings so far.

“The focus is internal this year,” says one insider of all the tinkering going on behind the scenes.

Execs are not calling it a reboot, not even a soft one, but more of a creative retooling. It’s no secret that since the 2019 Avengers: Endgame, the company was asked to scale up in an unprecedented way to feed its fledgling streaming service, Disney+, then a top priority for Disney, which was in the thick of the streaming wars. First under the direction of Disney CEO Bob Iger and, later, his short-lived successor, Bob Chapek, Marvel expanded into TV series and animation, with the goal of the MCU becoming a place with a seemingly endless procession of year-round releases. It was an ask that proved too unwieldy to sustain.

“Some of our studios lost a little focus. So the first step that we’ve taken is that we’ve reduced volume,” Iger said on a Feb. 7 earnings call. “We’ve reduced output, particularly at Marvel,” in order to ensure “the films you’re making can be even better.”

As the Hollywood strikes ended in November, the studio delayed Captain America: New World Order seven months to Feb. 14, 2025, to give it time to undergo reshoots. Iger touted Captain America 4, starring Anthony Mackie, as among the 2025 Disney releases he was most excited for during the earnings call. He did not mention Blade, leading to speculation it will be moved from its November 2025 date; it’s unlikely Marvel will release four films that year given Iger’s mandate to slim down.

The dual writers and actors strikes, while costly to Hollywood, ironically gave Marvel breathing space. It was able to reschedule its movies so that only Deadpool & Wolverine will be released in 2024. And only two series — Echo and Agatha — are bowing on Disney+ this year. Other movies remain in the script stage, while TV shows (such as Ironheart) have filmed, but have no release date in sight. It is all designed to give creatives some breathing room and give audiences the chance to miss the MCU, just a little bit.

“They’re not going to give up,” says a source who has worked with Marvel over the past year. “They want to make something great.”

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