Marvel movies are meant to be an escape. A few hours of light relief; a chance to lose yourself in a universe where the good guys win and the villains (almost) always lose. Plant yourself in a comfy seat and tune out. Just enjoy Captain America punching a man with a red skull.
Of course, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has moved beyond that simple narrative thanks to various Avengers event movies. However, since 2019’s Endgame, things have become more complicated. Gone are the days of a few cinema trips being enough to understand the larger story – now, you need to sink hours into various Disney+ series too.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, for example, makes more sense after watching WandaVision, and even more sense after watching Loki and What If…?. To fully appreciate Spider-Man: No Way Home, you need to have seen everything from the MCU, two sets of Spider-Man movies, and have working knowledge of the Venom: Let There Be Carnage post-credits scene. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which the critics agree is a slog, has already been made required viewing for multiple future Marvel projects.
Sadly, Endgame’s blockbusting triumph has led to other studios expecting the same commitment to their franchises. DC is launching The Flash this June, bringing back Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck’s Batmen, Michael Shannon’s General Zod and potentially Temuera Morrison’s Aquaman character. If you didn’t watch the SnyderVerse saga and Tim Burton’s Bat-films, good luck. And even if you invest, James Gunn is restarting the whole DC thing soon anyway.
The same is happening beyond superheroes. The terrific Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves has a spin-off TV show confirmed. Scream 6 requires watching, well, five other Scream movies (not least the fourth one, if you want to make sense of Hayden Panettiere’s appearance). And sure, that’s the nature of franchises. But as these series become bigger and more reliant on viewers being au fait with everything that came before, it’s starting to feel like you have to do homework before you set foot in the multiplex… Or is it just me?