Troubled Disney needs new Ant-Man sequel to ignite successful launch of MCU’s Phase 5 amid recent critical bombs and Q1 results

February 8, 2023, 5:33 PM UTC
Paul Rudd returns as Ant-Man in Marvel's Quantumania
For owner Disney, a lot is riding on Paul Rudd’s successful return as Ant-Man in “Quantumania,” which launches the fifth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

A lot is riding on Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania once it enters theaters next Friday.

The third installment of the titular hero played by Paul Rudd kicks off Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is tipped to introduce a new archvillain following the defeat of alien baddie Thanos in Avengers: Endgame.

A successful run in theaters is crucial for Disney, which reports fiscal first-quarter results after the closing bell today. The media giant must reignite the flagging appeal of its most important creative engine following notable Phase 4 misfires like the Eternals and Thor: Love and Thunder that failed to live up to expectations. TV series like She-Hulk have also fallen flat.

For the first time since being reinstalled in November as CEO, Bob Iger will be helming the investor call.

And chances are he will be fielding quite a few questions when it comes to his brief two-year mandate to steady the ship and stem heavy losses coming from streaming operations centered around Disney+.

“What is the structure? What is the cost cutting?” asked Jessica Reif Ehrlich, analyst at BofA Securities. “What does he say about Disney+? Does he reset the [subscriptions] goal? What can he do to drive profitability?”

With the exception of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and James Cameron’s Avatar sequel distributed by new subsidiary 20th Century Studios, the Mouse House has struggled to land a bona fide hit. 

Disney’s animation studios, once its bread and butter, churned out the costly flops Lightyear and Strange World. The best that seems to emerge from Disney’s Burbank headquarters is to green-light yet another live-action remake of beloved classic The Little Mermaid.

Even Lucasfilm’s once reliable Star Wars franchise has failed to connect with audiences of late.

Disney’s board consequently ousted CEO Bob Chapek on a Sunday night, returning the reins to Iger in November.

He in turn immediately went to work reversing his successor’s most important operational change, which took commercial control away from its stable of creators and gave it to business suits with little experience in filmmaking.

Yet the crisis remains: Its stock is trading not far from eight-year lows; the streaming business chalked up losses of $4 billion in the past fiscal year; and it has, in Nelson Peltz, a new activist investor seeking to shake things up.

If anyone is going to save the day for Disney, it will be the long roster of superheroes created by Marvel. Its cinematic universe has proved to be a paradigm-shifting innovation that reshaped how the industry approaches storytelling. 

Marvel rebuilding amid loss of tentpole characters

Whereas a successful film in the past might have earned a right to a sequel, no one previously thought of weaving interconnected story threads across multiple properties into a greater tapestry—a device Marvel adopted from its own near-century-old experience as a comic book publisher.

With the two-part conclusion of the Infinity War saga proving to be such a money spinner, Warner Bros. Discovery is now attempting to duplicate the success, yet again, with its own extended Detective Comics universe (on Friday MCU defector James Gunn finally revealed his plans for the DCU to underwhelming reactions from critics and fans).

Unfortunately, the conclusion of Phase 3 left Marvel in a rebuilding phase as the two tentpole characters of Iron Man and Captain America hung up their figurative capes while Scarlett Johansson’s popular Black Widow was written out. Add to that the tragic loss of Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer, and the MCU began to feel adrift. 

Phase 4 introduced a bevy of new faces who are expected to play a greater role including Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, Ironheart, and Echo. Yet with just a few fan favorites like Spider-Man left, Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige will have to deliver better story lines that resonate more emotionally in order to lure audiences back into the theater or stream Disney+.

If the architect of the MCU realized just how much was riding for Disney on the success of his new Quantumania film, he didn’t let it slip.  

“We wanted to kick off Phase 5 with Ant-Man, because he’d earned that position,” Feige told Empire last month. “To not simply be the backup or the comic relief, but to take his position at the front of the podium of the MCU.”

For CEO Iger, the question is will enough people line Disney’s pockets to justify investing in Phase 6 of the Marvel MCU.

Disney has been contacted for comment.

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