This year has sucked for many reasons. While one reason tends to be more prominent than others, many of us have felt it. Some have just felt it more than others. While 2020 has sucked for everyone, it especially sucks for fans of superhero movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
This year was supposed to be a year of transition. After the record-breaking returns of “Avengers Endgame,” the MCU was at a crossroads. Prominent actors had lived out their contracts. Certain heroes were killed off or retired. Longtime Marvel fans like myself were both anxious and curious to see where the MCU would go from here.
This year was supposed to be the beginning of Phase 4, which was to commence with “Black Widow,” “Eternals,” and “Shang-Chi.” On top of that, the MCU was going to venture into the world of streaming with several Disney-Plus shows. It all seemed so promising.
Then, the goddamn pandemic hit. Need I say more?
Now, it’s official. For the first time in a decade, there will be no MCU movies in 2020. According to The Verge, “Black Widow” has been pushed into 2021, along with the rest of the aforementioned 2020 slate of movies.
Black Widow will now open on May 7th, 2021 — more than one year after it was originally scheduled to be released. Like with other Marvel delays, Black Widow’s new date pushes Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings back from its May 7th, 2021 release date to July 9th, 2021. The Eternals, which was supposed to follow Black Widow is moving from February 12th, 2021 to November 5th, 2021. A number of other Disney films, including West Side Story and The King’s Man, were also moved around as part of the shuffle.
Basically, the entire timeline for the MCU’s next phase just skipped a year. As someone who scheduled entire months around going to see Marvel movies, I can’t put into words how disappointing this is. This year has broken my heart, my spirit, and my hope for a brighter future. This just rubs salt, acid, and molten lead in the wound.
However, as disappointing as this news is, I do want to keep things in perspective. I also want to highlight some insights that may or may not be encouraging. Please don’t mistake any of that for tangible hope. I still have none left. At the same time, I do see reasons for encouragement.
For one, I’m not too surprised by “Black Widow” being delayed. I think the bean counters at Disney saw the box office returns of “Tenet” and decided to throw in the towel for this year. Despite that movie being widely praised by fans and critics, it barely made enough to cover the marketing budget for a typical MCU movie.
Movie theaters are not back. They are a long way away from being back, so to speak. This pandemic has hit them harder than any other industry that doesn’t involve health care workers and mask manufacturers. Even if a good movie comes out, people are still reluctant to go.
That’s not likely to change this year. It probably won’t change in the first few months of 2021, either. However, if the current timelines are to be believed, we should have a working vaccine by the end of 2020. That’s the only way the world will return to some semblance of its former self.
Now, I don’t believe that timeline for a second and I don’t think Marvel Studios believes it, either. If they did, then they wouldn’t have pushed “Black Widow” all the way into the spring. While this does mean a longer wait, it also reveals something else that’s just as important.
Earlier this year, I questioned whether the entire movie theater industry has been irreparably damaged. While I stand by many of my points, I might need to pull them back. Before this news came out, Disney decided to take the plunge into pure streaming and dump “Mulan” onto its streaming service. I suspect that if this move proved both successful and profitable, then that might be the future for all its major movies.
However, that future is now in question. While Disney has claimed that the movie has generated some healthy profits, the extent of those profits is very much in question. Nobody is convinced that “Mulan” is a success or failure. This is not like “Trolls World Tour,” a kids movie that cost less than half of what it took to make “Mulan.”
In a healthy, non-pandemic world, it’s hard to say whether “Mulan” would’ve worked out better. However, it is fairly clear that dumping a big budget blockbuster movie on a streaming service just isn’t as profitable as the good old fashioned box office.
That bodes well for both movie theaters and the MCU. I believe that Disney and Marvel Studio believes that their big budget blockbusters need to come out in theaters. These are not cheap independent movies that Netflix gladly gobbles up. These are massive cinematic undertakings. They need movie theaters to get a good return on their investment.
That need might very well be what saves the movie theater industry, at least to some extent. I think moving the MCU’s heavy hitters into 2021, assuming by then a vaccine will have tempered the pandemic, shows that they still believe in this model. They’re still committed to using this platform for developing the MCU.
Honestly, I’m a bit relieved. As much as I love binge-watching my favorite movies, there’s still something to be said about the movie theater experience. I don’t think that watching “Avengers Endgame” on my TV would have had the same impact as it did when I saw it in IMAX. That experience is still valuable.
Now, I’ve learned not to trust release dates and timelines. This year has taught me that all timelines are tentative when pandemics are a factor. Be that at as it may, Disney’s reluctance to dump big movies on a streaming platform bodes well for the movie going experience.
If and when “Black Widow” comes out on its newly scheduled date, I’ll definitely be there to see it. It may also be the best possible sign that we’ve gotten through this awful shit storm that has been 2020.