During the studio’s yearly retreat in Palm Springs this past September, a handful of Marvel creatives, including studio head Kevin Feige, convened. Most years, the atmosphere would have been self-assured, even brash, considering how Disney’s flagship superhero brand, which it has controlled since 2009, has transformed the world of entertainment. This was an emotionally charged event, though, as Marvel was recovering from a string of on-screen setbacks, a legal dispute involving one of its greatest stars, and doubts about the studio’s bold plan to take the brand into streaming. What to do with Jonathan Majors, the actor who was supposed to lead the next chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but is instead facing a prominent trial in New York later this month on allegations of domestic abuse, was the most urgent topic of discussion during the meeting.
The actor maintains that he is the victim, but Marvel has been forced to reevaluate its strategy to base the next installment of its interconnected slate of sequels, spinoffs, and series around Majors’ evil character, Kang the Conqueror, due to the harm to his reputation and the possibility that he may lose the case. Executives at the Palm Springs meeting talked about fallback options, such as switching to another villain from a comic book like Dr. Doom. However, each change would come with its headaches: Majors was already well-known in the MCU, having starred as the enemy that stole the show in February’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” And in this “Loki” season, he has been framed as the franchise’s next big thing. This is especially true in the end, which premieres on November 9 and establishes Kang as the lead character of the fifth “Avengers” movie in 2026.
“Marvel is truly fucked with the whole Kang angle,” a prominent dealmaker who has watched the last episode of “Loki” claims. “And they haven’t had an opportunity to rewrite until very recently [because of the WGA strike]. But I don’t see a path to how they move forward with him.” In addition to the negative publicity surrounding Majors, Marvel’s creative team is also coping with the November release of “The Marvels,” a follow-up to the successful 2019 film “Captain Marvel” that has undergone extensive reshoots and now seems certain to perform poorly at the box office.
The year 2020 is where Marvel’s present problems originated. At that point, the COVID pandemic brought about a directive to use an unending supply of interconnected Marvel material for the studio’s nascent streaming service, Disney+, in an effort to raise Disney’s stock price. The idea was that there would never be a break in superhero action—a new TV show or movie would always be available for viewing. Furthermore, fans were confused by the jumbled narrative that resulted from having to piece together an intricate plot across so many different episodes, films, and platforms. “The Marvel machine was pumping out a lot of content. Did it get to the point where there was just too much, and they were burning people out on superheroes?” Disney-focused Wall Street analyst Eric Handler adds, “It’s possible. The more you do, the tougher it is to maintain quality. They tried experimenting with breaking in some new characters, like Shang-Chi and Eternals, with mixed results. With budgets as big as these, you need home runs.”
The whole Marvel visual effects team, comprising employees and suppliers, is finding it difficult to keep up with the constant influx of projects. When the credits played during the global premiere of “Quantumania” in February of this year, poor CGI caused a stir at the Regency Village Theatre in Westwood. According to a seasoned power broker who attended, “There were at least 10 scenes where the visual effects had been added at the last minute and were out of focus. It was insane. I’ve never seen something like that in my entire career. Everyone was talking about it. Even the kids of executives were talking about it.”