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Marvel's Rotten 2023: Can The MCU Rebound From Two Huge Failures In One Year?

2023 hasn't been a great year for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the stream of new projects — both theatrical films and shows on Disney+ — is as steady as ever, it would be quite the understatement to say that some of the most recent entries in Marvel's MCU Phase 5 haven't garnered a very warm reception from critics. In fact, two of the MCU's worst-reviewed projects ever have released within mere months of each other: "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" and "Secret Invasion."

As it stands on Rotten Tomatoes, "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" has clocked in at a 46 percent on the Tomatometer, placing it in "Rotten" territory. That negative reception from critics is at least somewhat dulled by its substantially higher audience score of 82 percent, but the same cannot be said for "Secret Invasion." The six-episode series starring Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury has a "Rotten" rating of 56 percent and a similarly poor audience score of 59 percent. The finale episode stands out in particular as the worst-scoring MCU project ever on Rotten Tomatoes, garnering an abysmal 10 percent. There's no sugarcoating it — these projects are substantial missteps for Marvel Studios, and they don't bode well for the franchise's future.

The MCU can recover, but things need to change

With two considerable critical flops in the rearview mirror, can the MCU steady itself again and continue operating as the film and TV juggernaut that it currently is? The short answer is, well, yeah. The blow to Marvel's reputation that these projects caused may sting, but it's tempered by the fact that they're only two entries in a sea of other films and TV shows that are part of the universe. "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" recently released to rave reviews, demonstrating that the MCU is still able to find success. Simply put, two stinkers aren't enough to derail an entire mega-franchise on their own.

All that said, the idea that the MCU doesn't need to change anything in order to keep being successful feels inaccurate. Discussions of superhero fatigue among general audiences is more fervent than ever, and as the box office bombing of DC's "The Flash" demonstrates, it's no longer enough to put out a middling movie with promises of multiverse cameos and crossovers. "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" may have blown away everyone at the box office, but what does the loss of goodwill mean for a potential "Ant-Man and the Wasp" sequel?

The obvious solution is for Marvel Studios to tighten the ship, and prioritize quality over anything else. Fortunately, that sort of restructuring appears to be taking place. During a March 2023 conference reported on by CNBC, Disney CEO Bob Iger emphasized the importance of "newness" with the MCU going forward. In July, Iger told CNBC that Disney would also be slowing its rate of MCU content.