Los Angeles Times

Thor falters but is still in fight

Marvel’s latest loses Week 2 momentum. What does it mean for the franchise?

- By Ryan Faughnder

The performanc­e of “Thor: Love and Thunder,” a hit by reasonable standards, has critics and pundits speculatin­g about whether Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios is in a rough patch and what that might mean for Hollywood’s most valuable franchise.

The Taika Waititi-directed film grossed $47 million during its second weekend in North American theaters, 68% less than it did in its opening weekend — that’s a steep decline for a Marvel movie. The big drop is not surprising, considerin­g the film scored a B+ in CinemaScor­e audience exit polling; historical­ly for a Marvel offering, that’s a little like getting a B+ in P.E. class. Reviews were similarly middling.

Critics have started to see cracks in Marvel’s Asgardian armor. Some of the recent installmen­ts in Marvel’s “Phase 4,” the company’s lingo for its current chapter of interwoven stories, have been less enthusiast­ically received than the studio’s earlier chart-toppers, taking a bit of the shine off the MCU’s previously unassailab­le brand. The reception for “Black Widow” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” was somewhat mixed, and there was outright critical derision leveled at “Eternals.”

That has led to a deluge of commentary asking whether Kevin Feige’s hit machine is losing its way. Is Marvel in a creative slump? Is the company spread too

thin while making multiple Disney+ shows on top of releasing several movies a year, all of which are supposed to be connected? Is the firm’s interdimen­sional plate-spinning act simply getting too unwieldy, while lacking a discernibl­e and compelling larger structure? The studio also has taken heat from some visualeffe­cts profession­als.

Some of these are understand­able concerns, coming after the near-perfect conclusion of the Infinity Saga with “Avengers: Endgame.” Quality control is important. And the idea of this superhero factory peaking as a commercial juggernaut must be appealing to people who printed and framed that Martin Scorsese essay about the difference between Marvel movies and cinematic art.

But do such stumbles really justify a crisis of faith for Marvel fans?

I don’t know, but it seems premature.

Despite the hand-wringing, we’re talking about a fourth “Thor” movie that grossed $500 million worldwide in less than two weeks. It’s going to end up as one of the biggest movies of the year, especially considerin­g that it doesn’t have much competitio­n in the coming weeks. Sure, the “Doctor Strange” sequel declined 67% in its second weekend and didn’t get unanimousl­y rapturous reviews, but it still made more than $950 million.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” (produced by Sony and Marvel) made $1.9 billion. It also dropped 68% in Weekend No. 2, which included Christmas Day.

While many critics have been feeling Marvel fatigue at least since the first “AntMan,” the MCU remains a license to print money. If audiences are getting sick of Marvel, they have a funny way of showing it.

This is not to say that angst among fans and critics doesn’t matter. Corporate stewards have to take care with these beloved properties.

There’s a reason Lucasfilm isn’t rushing out “Star Wars” movies every year anymore but is instead switching off release dates every other December with James Cameron’s “Avatar” sequels for the next few years.

The next “Star Wars” movie, Patty Jenkins’ “Rogue Squadron,” isn’t expected to hit theaters until the end of 2023, four years after “The Rise of Skywalker.” And with the Disney+ “Star Wars” shows like “Obi-Wan Kenobi” going strong, for all we can tell, the company can afford to slow down the film pipeline to get it right.

The reality is, we’ve never seen a franchise like Marvel, one that behaves less like a series of theatrical films and more like a TV show with two-hour episodes that each cost more than $200 million to produce. What started with a career-rejuvenati­ng romp for Robert Downey Jr. in the first “Iron Man” is now in its fourth season, so to speak, and getting into stories set in an increasing­ly complex multiverse. Not everything is going to work.

This is a transition­al stage for Marvel in which it’s trying to please fans by bringing back old characters while also introducin­g new ones to keep things going for years to come. If “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” or “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” disappoint, the latter of which is sadly a possibilit­y without Chadwick Boseman, then we can talk about whether the MCU is in a real lull. But with Marvel, as fans know, you never want to leave the theater before the end credits are done.

This article is taken from the July 19 edition of the Wide Shot, a weekly newsletter about everything happening in the business of entertainm­ent. Sign up at latimes.com/newsletter­s.

 ?? Photo illustrati­on by Nicole Vas Los Angeles Times; Jasin Boland Marvel Studios ??
Photo illustrati­on by Nicole Vas Los Angeles Times; Jasin Boland Marvel Studios

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