Can Deadpool save the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

can deadpool save the marvel cinematic universe?

Comic book characters Deadpool and Wolverine will team up for their Marvel Cinematic Universe debuts. (Supplied: Disney/Marvel)

The last time Marvel released just one film from its cinematic universe in a calendar year, it was 2012, and that film was The Avengers.

The box-office-shattering superhero team-up brought together the seeds sown in five previous films, and the MCU suddenly blossomed into a critically lauded mega-franchise that had Marvel laughing all the way to the bank.

But 12 years, a further 27 films, and about a dozen TV shows later, there are signs the juggernaut is slowing.

After cranking out an average of three films a year since 2017 (minus the pandemic-disrupted 2020), the MCU will have just one new entry this year.

The 2023 writer's strike has played its part, but Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed to Variety earlier this year Marvel was slowing down its release schedule to "two or a maximum of three" films per year, as well as dropping its TV output back to "probably about two TV series a year".

So after an onslaught that featured 11 movies that topped US$1b (including two over $2b) and four Oscars (from 27 nominations), is it possible the MCU is on the eve of its Endgame?

Is the MCU's golden age over?

The first 23 MCU films make up the Infinity Saga, and within that remarkable run there is not a single genuine flop (The Incredible Hulk underperformed, but didn't technically flop), nor is there a single film rated as "rotten" according to the metrics of critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

Ten of the 11 aforementioned billion-dollar movies come from that MCU 23-film hot streak, with five of those in the last six movies of the Infinity Saga (with Ant-Man & The Wasp being the exception).

The double-whammy of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame wrapped up an incredible decade or so of superhero film-making better than many expected.

But since then, Marvel has struggled to retain its mojo as it builds its next era — the so-called Multiverse Saga.

Eternals in 2021 gave the studio its first genuine flop and its first "rotten" score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania repeating the feat in 2023.

The most recent MCU film to date, The Marvels, released in November last year, received a warmish reception from critics, but copped a walloping at the box office, yielding the lowest gross of any MCU movie to date.

Throw into the mix actor Jonathan Majors being found guilty of reckless assault and harassment, leading to him being fired by the MCU from the role of the multiverse-traversing villain Kang, who was being set up via his appearances in Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania and TV show Loki as the Thanos-equivalent "Big Bad" for the Multiverse Saga.

It was in the wake of Majors' transgressions and the less-than-perfect financial landing of The Marvels that Iger made his slow-down comments, which many critics and industry-watchers took as a sign that Marvel was realising it was no longer the bullet-proof Hulk it had been five years earlier.

Can Deadpool & Wolverine save the day?

While you could argue the MCU is far from on its knees, all eyes are on the lone MCU film being released this year to save the day, or —  at the very least — be a canary in the caped coal mine.

A Marvel screenwriter couldn't have come up with a more unlikely hero to have the fate of the franchise in their hands.

Deadpool, a foul-mouthed fourth-wall-breaking assassin played by Ryan Reynolds, is making his MCU debut in cinemas on July 26 in the succinctly titled Deadpool & Wolverine.

While his brand of extreme violence and profanity is a million tonal miles from the largely family-friendly MCU outings to date, Deadpool has two incredibly successful MA15+ outings under his belt with 20th Century Fox.

The trailer seems to suggest that the Deadpool fans know and love will be there on the screen come July 26 — Marvel would have been nuts to ignore the formula that has made him a fan favourite and raked in more than $1.5 billion at the box office.

Disney's acquisition of 20th Century Fox in 2019 means Deadpool is now a fully fledged MCU member along with his co-star Wolverine, with Reynolds reportedly coaxing Aussie screen icon Hugh Jackman back into the adamantium claws for one final appearance (Jackman retired from the role with 2017's Logan).

It's the first time Marvel has used an X-Men character in more than just a cameo, and pundits are predicting the combination of two of the most popular comic book characters will give the MCU the much-needed hit it needs.

The future slate

One hit won't solve everything though.

After all, the MCU's Multiverse Saga has had its winners, including Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3.

But the problem that lies ahead for Marvel is a slate of films that are largely following in some very big footsteps.

Next year, the superhero formerly known as The Falcon (played by Anthony Mackie) will make his first big-screen outing as the new Captain America, a team of second-tier heroes and villains will combine as Marvel's answer to DC's Suicide Squad in Thunderbolts, and the MCU will reboot The Fantastic Four, having also regained the rights to those characters in its 20th Century Fox purchase.

Beyond that, amid possible Spider-Man and Shang Chi sequels, is a reboot of Blade and X-Men — two more films with big shoes to fill.

All of this is pointing towards more Avengers films with a new line-up of Avengers that will undoubtedly be compared to Infinity War and Endgame, two of the biggest movies of all time.

Can the MCU defeat "superhero fatigue" and, perhaps more specifically, the biggest baddie of them, "MCU fatigue"?

Time, and maybe Deadpool, will tell.

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