The Marvel Cinematic Universe is in a weird phase right now, and no, I don’t mean Phase Five which began with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Over just a few short days, it became clear that the shared movie universe is undergoing a lot of change, and not for the best reasons. From actors to workers and even top leadership, Marvel’s going through it right now.
Marvel as a subset of Disney was just part of a huge set of layoffs earlier this week, with Mickey Mouse and friends slashing over 7000 jobs. Only the first wave of those cuts happened this week, and the final 7000 number is expected to come sometime in April. Company-wide, personnel is being dropped by one of the biggest corporations in the world, but even outside of egregious labor issues, Marvel has been dealing with a few more precise changes in its workforce.
Top executives are being let go
Marvel recently fired Victoria Alonso, who AV Club describes as “one of the biggest architects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe,” having been with the connected universe project for over a decade before her leaving the company earlier in March. At the time of her departure, she was Marvel’s president of physical production, post-production, VFX and animation. According to a Variety report, this came as part of a joint decision between Disney’s human resources, legal department, and executives including but not limited to Disney Entertainment co-chairman Alan Bergman. Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, reportedly didn’t intervene, and Alonso was “blindsided.” The entire situation is wading into legal territory. Disney says Alonso’s firing came as part of a breach of contract because of her production work on Argentina, 1985, a non-Disney film, though Alonso’s team claims she had permission to do so.
On top of this, there seems to have been conflict between Alonso and Disney/Marvel in regards to queer issues within the company, according to Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Alonso, who is gay, reportedly clashed over an issue where Disney wanted a scene in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania altered to blur out a shop window that included Pride memorabilia in Kuwait, which has anti-LGBTQ+ laws in place. This is after she publicly spoke out against then-CEO Bob Chapek at the GLAAD awards for Disney’s reaction to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and was told she would no longer be allowed to do press for Marvel. Attorney Patty Glaser, who is representing Alonso, released the following statement to Variety:
“The idea that Victoria was fired over a handful of press interviews relating to a personal passion project about human rights and democracy that was nominated for an Oscar and which she got Disney’s blessing to work on is absolutely ridiculous,” Glaser says. “Victoria, a gay Latina who had the courage to criticize Disney, was silenced. Then she was terminated when she refused to do something she believed was reprehensible. Disney and Marvel made a really poor decision that will have serious consequences. There is a lot more to this story and Victoria will be telling it shortly—in one forum or another.”
While Alonso’s influence on the MCU is significant and dates back to the earliest films like the original Iron Man, she’s also been named in ongoing reports about the dire state of the animation industry as reported by Vulture and allegedly blacklisted artists working on Marvel projects that she took issue with. In general, Marvel’s animation and VFX workers have been coming forward about apparent toxic work environments and unfair contracts while working on the studio’s projects. This has reportedly been especially difficult on Disney+ projects like She-Hulk, with smaller budgets and shorter turnaround times still expecting movie-quality work.
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Another high-profile departure is that of Ike Perlmutter, who was let go from the company this week. Perlmutter has had a long, storied history with Marvel, including a stint on the board of directors (as well as the chairman of the board), working as the vice chairman of the company in the early 2000s, moving up to the chief executive officer position in 2005, then remaining the CEO after Disney acquired the comic company in 2009. He oversaw Marvel Studios up until 2015 while reportedly being very tight on production budgets and also claiming Black people “look the same” regarding Don Cheadle’s replacement of Terrence Howard as James Rhodes in the MCU. He operated as a chairman from 2017 until his eventual layoff.
Jonathan Majors’ domestic violence case is ongoing
While executive departures will have an effect on things down the line, the most immediate problem Marvel movies have to contend with is the ongoing domestic violence case against actor Jonathan Majors. The actor, who plays Kang the Conquerer most recently in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, was arrested in Manhattan on assault, strangulation, and harassment charges. Majors’ legal team led by attorney Priya Chaudhry claims he’s innocent and released text messages allegedly sent by the victim in the case. The texts say this was “not an attack,” claim fault for the dispute because she was “trying to grab [Majors’] phone,” and disputed the strangulation charges. The alleged texts say the authorities were called due to the woman fainting, and that when there was a suspicion of a domestic dispute, Majors was arrested per mandatory arrest laws associated with domestic abuse cases in New York.
Majors’ future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is unclear as the investigation is ongoing, but the U.S. Army has pulled ads featuring the actor until the investigation is complete. The reason this is so significant in Marvel’s view is Majors’ character, Kang the Conquerer, is essentially Marvel’s main villain right now. He’s only appeared in two projects thus far, one being the Loki Disney+ show, and the second being Quantumania. But the shared universe franchise is leading up to Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars, both of which are set to feature Kang as the primary antagonist. He’s a Thanos-style character that Marvel can’t simply pluck from the story. Should the investigation lead to a guilty verdict, it’s likely Majors will be recast.
While all of these developments have happened for different reasons, whether that be corporate greed, office politics, and a domestic violence case, Marvel as a production is seeing some serious shake-ups right now. Not all of it seems to be of the company’s volition, but things are changing for Marvel at a time when the brand has been losing a lot of its staying power. Quantumania is the last movie Marvel released in theaters, and it was one of the series’ most poorly received and is sitting at a 47 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
While Marvel movies still make more money than you or I will ever see in a room at once, the franchise has been trending somewhat downward at the box office. Quantumania still made $470 million in its theatrical run, but that’s significantly lower than Ant-Man and the Wasp made in 2018, which was around $623 million. Several Marvel movies have made below the half-a-billion mark in recent years, such as Eternals and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Black Widow is one of the lowest-performing movies in the franchise’s lifetime with $379 million but was notably hindered by the covid-19 pandemic making fewer people willing to head out to theaters in 2021. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever did manage to bring in over $859 million, but that was even down from the original’s $1 billion.
It’s unclear what, if any, changes this might bring to the franchise, but figureheads and workers that have been with the brand for a long time are gone. Reading over it all now, ultimately, I sympathize most with the workers who were subject to the layoffs. Alonso and Perlmutter will be fine, but the people who worked (and apparently suffered) under them are in a much worse position.
We’ve reached out to Marvel, Majors, and Alonso for comment on this story and will update it should we hear back.
Update: This piece has been updated with information about Alonso’s reported disputes with Disney regarding queer content in its movies.