Can the Quality of the MCU Survive Solely on Brand Loyalty?

“Brand loyalty” is exactly as it sounds. It describes the act of consuming a particular brand’s product over products of other brands. An example would be a person’s tendency to purchase Coke over Pepsi or their decision to order pizza from Pizza Hut over Papa John’s. In many cases, we’re loyal to brands because they consistently produce good products, but sometimes, we continue to purchase a brand’s products even when the quality of said products goes down. In extreme cases, consumers will deny the decrease in quality even if the flaws are as clear as day to everyone else.

When making the decision to write anything remotely critical about Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, you almost have to plan to set some time aside anticipating the backlash you might get from the franchise’s most loyal fans.

First, be prepared for the assumptions: “This must be written by a bitter DC fan,” “This person must know nothing about comics,” etc.

Second come the mentions of box office numbers: “They can’t be bad movies if they’re making billions at the box office!”

Lastly come the mentions of Rotten Tomatoes: “If the movies are so bad, why do all the movies get ‘Fresh’ scores?”

Well, first of all, a movie or movie franchise receiving any sort of criticism doesn’t necessarily imply the person doing the criticism hates the franchise or wants it to fail. I happen to enjoy a good number of movies of the MCU. There are also a number of movies I can’t get on board with. That should have no effect on someone else’s ability to enjoy the franchise. However, it seems anytime anyone writes something that isn’t 100% positive about the MCU, there’s a fanatic ready to vehemently defend it.

Now, the topics of box office numbers and Rotten Tomatoes are interesting, because neither present a black and white picture. For example, a movie can be “Certified Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes but under perform at the box office (see: 2020’s Birds of Prey). Other times, a movie will be measured as “Rotten” and over perform at the box office (see: 2018’s Venom). Yes, we can often predict a movie’s box office performance by looking at its Rotten Tomatoes score, but when outliers occur, they indicate that there is no true way of measuring whether a movie is “good” or “bad.” There are movies that are enjoyed widely and others that are not — scores on Rotten Tomatoes and financial successes or losses at the box office are not always indicators of whether or not a movie is really enjoyed.

“Birds of Prey” was neither a flop nor a huge billion dollar hit at the box office, but failing to make billions at the box office is no indication that the movie is hated or “bad.”

Yet, whenever I write anything about the MCU that is remotely critical, at some point, someone will bring up box office performance and/or Rotten Tomatoes scores, and even if the MCU’s “main competitor,” WB’s DC Extended Universe, hasn’t been brought up initially, they often will in order to attempt to solidify their arguments — “Well, it’s better than the DCEU!” “At least Captain America: Civil War was better than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice! [insert ‘Martha’ joke].”

I probably haven’t made friends with a portion of the MCU fandom by describing their behavior as brand loyalty, but honestly, there’s no other way to describe it. If I point out the storytelling flaws present in Avengers: Infinity War and in Avengers: Endgame, it will likely be followed by someone bringing up Rotten Tomatoes and the billions of dollars both movies made, but as I’ve already pointed out, box office numbers and scores on Rotten Tomatoes are not always indicators as to whether or not a movie is enjoyed as widely as many people tend to think. However, to indicate that maybe some of us were disappointed by either or both of these movies (or really any movie of the MCU) seems to trigger something in the most loyal of the franchise’s fans, but it shouldn’t have to.

I get that the franchise is enjoyable. I get that these movies are important to people. But I think if criticism towards the franchise or positive words written about “competing” franchises triggers resentment in a person, it’s time for that person to take a step back and maybe consider taking a break. No one should be investing so much of themselves in any franchise that any criticism towards it feels like a personal attack, and no one should be threatened by someone else’s preference for another franchise.

The truth of the matter is many people had problems with Infinity War and Endgame. Many of us have expressed our views that the stories of both were sloppily crafted and many good qualities that the characters developed over the span of eleven years were all but erased. Along with this, good and well-liked characters (Gamora and Black Widow) were sacrificed in favor of adding shock value. Some can overlook these things and label both movies as “good,” and that’s fine. I do not feel any resentment towards anyone who thoroughly enjoyed these movies, but that doesn’t mean I don’t consider these movies “bad.”

Many of us who have been critical of the MCU do not want to continue to be disappointed by it, which is why we offer criticism. Maybe, by some miracle, someone at Disney is paying attention and is not being blinded by the billions of dollars they make with every MCU title they release, but chances are, they’re relying on their most loyal of fans who refuse to offer criticism or accept criticism for the brand. I really hope that is not the case, because although I am only a fan and not an expert, I can’t imagine whatever quality the MCU retains will remain.

The ‘She’s Got Help’ scene in “Endgame” was meant to be empowering, and maybe it could have been for more women if it hadn’t been for Black Widow’s (one of the first prominent female leads of the franchise) absence.

If I could point to an example of another franchise of which fans witnessed a fast decline in quality, let’s take a look at Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

When the first movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, was released in 2003, it was received well — probably more so than anyone ever anticipated, but it was fresh. It was new. We hadn’t seen anything like it before, and it gave us what is probably Johnny Depp’s most charismatic character, Captain Jack Sparrow. Four years later, in 2007, we were given a third installment, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, that many agreed was a bittersweet conclusion for Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan’s (Keira Knightley) story, but also a satisfying conclusion to a trilogy. However, in 2011, Disney released a fourth installment, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, that added new characters but was missing other favorites including Will and Elizabeth. The fifth installment, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, was released in 2017 and agreed by a lot of audiences to be lackluster with many coming to terms with the fact that the franchise was never Depp’s to carry alone with Captain Jack. In fact, Depp seemed burned out and unmotivated in his role, and many agreed that the film’s only high point came at the end with the reuniting of Will and Elizabeth.

Will and Elizabeth reunited in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.’

Due to scandals and serious abuse accusations against Depp, Disney dropped him from the franchise. It is rumored that a sixth installment without his character will be released mid-2021, but aside from diehard fans of the franchise, I have to wonder if anyone else is looking forward to another movie. Most of the “magic" of the franchise can be found in the first three installments--all releases after the third just feel like hollow cash grabs. Many casual fans like myself are wondering if it’s going to be worth the cost of a movie ticket. It will be interesting to see, however, the effect Depp’s absence will have on turnout — though, the loyalty fans have towards the problematic actor is another subject altogether.

Maybe it’s not fair to compare the Pirates franchise to the MCU. After all, the MCU has brought Disney financial success with over twenty movies while Pirates only has five movies to its name. I do think, however, that Pirates can serve as a cautionary tale as to what can happen to the quality of a product when a brand like Disney no longer has to put heart into it. Although I am critical of the MCU, I’m not going to bet that it’s not going to continue to make a lot of money for Disney. And that’s what this all comes down to. Disney had cemented its status as the brand of “magic” in 1937 with its release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and through the brand’s ups and downs, it has managed to retain that title throughout the years. There is no doubt Disney will continue to make money, but the heart of these movies seems to be diminishing. Without this heart, is Disney really Disney anymore?

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