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While the writing has been on the wall for a fair amount of time, Marvel Studios has now made it official: 2020 will be the first year since 2009 that we won’t see a big screen feature set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There was hope for a spell that Cate Shortland’s Black Widow would still be released, moving from its original May release date to November in the early months of the pandemic (in turn bumping Chloe Zhao’s Eternals from the calendar year), but now the blockbuster has been delayed further and won’t arrive until May 2021.
This move has saddened fans who are perpetually excited for the next chapter in the expansive franchise and have come to expect at least two blockbusters a year – a release strategy that began in 2013 – but those feeling that way may not be taking into consideration the much more significant positives. Nobody likes being forced to exhibit patience, but the reality is that all of the delays might prove to be an exceptionally healthy thing for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And this is true both for the audience’s relationship with the material and also all of the work being done on the creative side of things.
Let’s start by talking about the existence of what has been firmly branded “The Infinity Saga.” Last year, Marvel Studios completed a decade-plus journey that began with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man and ended with Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Far From Home – the multi-branched big picture narrative both introducing an age of heroes and then putting the collective mettle of those heroes to the test in an intergalactic fight against an extraterrestrial despot. Marvel Studios went out of its way to affirm that these 23 movies were meant to be received as a singular era of the franchise, with future films released intended to be viewed as the start of a new journey.
But were we really going to feel that way with Black Widow released less than a year after Spider-Man: Far From Home?
This obviously isn’t a purposeful strategy in play by Marvel Studios, but the pandemic-caused delays have provided space from The Infinity Saga that otherwise wouldn’t exist, and that accomplishes a lot as far as establishing perspective on it as a more independent whole. And while it’s true that the franchise has never had an issue generating hunger for its stories (box office numbers alone tell us that), that hunger has also transformed into something new with the addition of time: fans now actually miss the big screen Marvel Cinematic Universe. So not only do we gain a more distanced viewpoint on the previous era, there is a special kind of excitement generated as the blockbusters launch into the new one.
Of course, Black Widow – which has been completed – isn’t the only Marvel Studios film impacted by today’s news regarding release date shifts, and that brings us to why everything that’s happened could ultimately make all of the upcoming projects better than they may have been otherwise.
Compared to most Hollywood franchises, Marvel Studios has a rather demanding output schedule, announcing release dates years in advance and expecting its filmmakers to hit those dates, and that machine has been grinding non-stop for more than a decade now. It’s obviously worked well for them, but the company has notably hit some speedbumps in the last couple of years that have caused significant shakeups. Plans to have Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 as one of the earliest post-Infinity Saga features were disrupted due to the firing and subsequent rehiring of James Gunn in summer 2018, and that clearly had an impact on the big picture.
Take The Eternals as an example. The film is expected to be a massive cosmic blockbuster that centers on a large ensemble cast and sports a story that takes place across thousands of years… and it was still in principal photography ten months before it was originally set to hit theaters. Considering that movies of that scale typically like to have at least a year to do post-production work, this seemingly put the project on a surprisingly short schedule – but now that’s no longer the case.
It’s new November 5, 2021 release date means that those 10 months have transformed into 22 months, and that means that Chloe Zhao and the various production teams have a tremendous amount of time to take the movie as it currently exists and make it even better, be it through additional VFX development or expanded reshoots. Meanwhile, Destin Daniel Cretton’s Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, which is a movie that will likely require a lot less post-production work, can be released before it while also enjoying an additional five months of development time (it was originally scheduled for February 2021, but it now coming out in July 2021).
And these benefits aren’t limited to the films that have already started production. Projects like Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love And Thunder and Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, which are currently being written, have been gifted a rare resource in Hollywood with extra time to develop their scripts and be as good as they can be before a single set is built or a single frame is shot. Waititi specifically recognized this during an interview back in April, saying,
There are a few positive things I can take away [from the COVID-19 crisis]. One of them is that a lot of these films, and films in general, are rushed, or you don’t have as much time as you’d want to have on the script and things like that.
Is it disappointing that Black Widow didn’t come out as originally scheduled, and is now a little over seven months away from release due to the fact that the country isn’t functioning well enough to sustain blockbusters showing on the big screen? Definitely. But there is a silver lining to embrace about the whole situation as well, and it could work to the benefit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for years to come.