Whispers of a potential MCU reboot have been wafting through the comic book film fan community for about a year, but it seems they’ve now reached a fever pitch. On August 19th, the revered anonymous MCU scooper, referred to on social media as CanWeGetSomeToast, claimed Marvel Studios plans to fashion its upcoming team-up film Avengers: Secret Wars into a tidy in-universe precursor to a soft reboot of the entire cinematic universe.
As with most updates concerning the MCU nowadays, the report created quite the stir within the already discontented fan community. Some fans see this rumored reboot as a surefire way to steer the MCU out of the choppy waters created by much of its post-Endgame output – while others view it as a cheap gimmick, instead wishing the franchise would have the grace and forethought to bow out before overstaying its increasingly worn-out welcome.
What would an MCU soft reboot actually look like? How is Secret Wars a uniquely fitting launching point for it? Could this be the boost Marvel Studios needs to finally get fans excited about the MCU again, or is it little more than a desperate Hollywood tactic to stave off the franchise’s inevitable death rattle?
Before we dissect all the potentialities of this particular branch in the timeline, it’s important to remember that this is a mere rumor coming from an anonymous insider. To be fair, the insider in question has been proven right about several things in the past, but this particular piece of juicy MCU gossip remains unsubstantiated by official Disney and Marvel Studios back channels. With that out of the way, let’s commence with some good old-fashioned tin foil speculation.
What a soft reboot might mean for the MCU
Soft reboots differ from full-scale reboots in one pivotal way: generally, they retain elements of the franchise’s original continuity while making room for recasts and reimaginings of classic characters. For example, a soft reboot in the MCU might enable Tom Holland to retain his role as Peter Parker while creating a feasible entry point for additional Spider-People like Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy to join him in the main continuity. It could create an opportunity for the studio to recast integral roles like Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Natasha Romanoff without requiring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Scarlett Johannson to sign another round of multi-million dollar contracts.
With these behind-the-scenes financial concerns in mind, it becomes clear why soft reboots are so appealing to Hollywood studios – Marvel Studios in particular. MCU films rely on heavy CGI, requiring gargantuan production budgets to ensure their meticulously planned action scenes look state-of-the-art and believable. When significant portions of those budgets must be allocated to placating the demands of A-list talent, the studio may find itself overspending and receiving diminishing profit returns.
By way of a soft reboot, Marvel Studios can garner excitement for a brand new era of storytelling, revive classic characters, and insert less expensive young actors into flagship roles in one fell swoop. From an economic standpoint, the soft reboot strategy is as ironclad as it gets. But is it as artistically viable as it is commercially profitable?
In 2023, the cultural zeitgeist seems to be sweating out the MCU fever that held the 2010s in a vice grip. The movies are still making money and generating some level of excitement among hardcore fans, but general audiences seem to be venturing outside the world of capes and cowls for their cinematic entertainment. A soft reboot could cause wayward audiences to remember what made them fall in love with Marvel movies in the first place. But just as likely, it could make them roll their eyes as they check out from the franchise entirely.
Learning from past mistakes
Before taking the plunge on reimagining the MCU, perhaps Disney should review the successes and failures of its most controversial soft reboot in recent memory: the Star Wars franchise. In 2015, Disney released Star Wars: The Force Awakens to a generally positive reception from fans and critics. Characters like Luke, Leia, and Han Solo were relegated to ancillary status – as new additions like Rey, Finn, and Poe took their place as leads. Despite a promising start, fans grew more displeased as the trilogy unfolded. The second film in the saga, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, was met with scorn for radically diverging from the franchise’s tropes and calling cards, while the third film, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, angered fans for leaning too heavily on nostalgia.
Executing a successful soft reboot is a balancing act that many studios have fumbled while attempting. It requires a team that can effectively create a new vision that respects what came before without using it as a crutch. Luckily, there is an ace up the MCU’s sleeve that Star Wars didn’t have: the ideal in-universe rationalization for a soft reboot in Secret Wars.
Why Secret Wars is the ideal place to start over
*Spoiler warning for the 2015 Secret Wars comic run*
Marvel Comics boasts a storied multi-generational history chock full of layered narratives and universe-spanning team-ups, but there is perhaps none more revered and beloved than Jonathan Hickman’s 2015 Secret Wars run. Secret Wars takes place in the aftermath of a destructive incursion that effectively destroys the entirety of the Marvel Comics multiverse. The lone survivors of this calamity are a select group of heroes and villains living in a place called Battleworld comprised of cosmic wreckage pieced together by Doctor Doom. A band of heroes thwarts Doom by imbuing Reed Richards with the power of the godlike Beyonders and restoring the multiverse in all its diverse eccentricity.
But there are key differences between the multiverse that Richards restores and the one that broke apart in the comic’s initial strips. Most notably, Miles Morales now finds himself alongside Peter Parker in Marvel Comics’ original continuity: Earth-616. Before the events that transpired on Battleworld, Morales existed in the Ultimate universe, but in the aftermath of Secret Wars, he is now able to operate alongside his mentor. Narratively, Secret Wars is one of the best team-up runs in Marvel Comics history. But logistically, it provided a way for the Marvel creative team to clean up the timeline and insert the most successful elements of its Ultimate comics branch into the original 616 continuity. The MCU can do the same thing if it so chooses.
The MCU’s Secret Wars could bring together different versions of currently deceased or inactive Avengers like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers on Battleworld. Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans could reprise their roles as wizened elder statesmen of the MCU as they impart their knowledge and experience on younger iterations of the characters played by fresh new faces. Simultaneously, Secret Wars could be the swan song fans want to see for their favorite Phase One heroes and a narratively tidy entryway for new actors to take their place.
However, there is an elephant in the room here. If Secret Wars is anything like the soft reboot starting point we’re envisioning, it’ll be an inordinately taxing, extremely expensive, and uncannily bizarre film from front to back. Beyond that, there have been rumors of Secret Wars containing cameo appearances from Fox’s X-Men and Fantastic Four adaptations and even some of Sony’s retired Spider-Men.
It will take impeccably precise planning, a crystal clear narrative focus, and an uncommonly steady directorial hand to pull off a movie this ambitious and essential for the MCU’s continued future success. But if Kevin Feige did the impossible already with Infinity War and Endgame, there’s little reason to doubt that he can pull the rabbit out of the hat once more with Secret Wars.
So is this a good idea?
Ultimately, it all comes to execution. The MCU needs to pull off a laundry list of miracles in rapid succession to pave the way for a successful soft reboot. First, it needs to make sure Secret Wars is as good or better than Endgame. All of this hinges on that film’s success, and if it’s a flop, Marvel Studios can almost certainly kiss their soft reboot plans goodbye. Next, hiring top-tier young talent to replace the original Avengers is essential. The lion’s share of the Infinity Saga’s success can be attributed to the magnetic charisma and iconic performances of leads like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, and without similarly gifted performers, fans will have a hard time connecting to the material as much as they once did.
There is something reassuring about the MCU’s constant growth and expansion. It can be painful to say goodbye to engaging fiction, but with Marvel, it seems there will always be another installment to bring you right back into the action. Fans never really have to say farewell. However, there is a growing contingent of the fan base holding the belief that the MCU should have closed up shop after Endgame. If the MCU plans to reboot in 2027 after a 19-year run of interconnected storytelling, there’s no reason to believe the studio wouldn’t opt for another two decades if given the chance. Does this franchise really need four decades to finish the story it set out to tell?
Sometimes, it’s difficult to admit and remember that everyone dies and everything ends. But endings are what makes life – and stories – mean something. Instead of going around the hamster wheel one more time with a new Tony Stark and Captain America, perhaps Marvel Studios should bow out with its head held high. But alas, who needs dignity when you’ve got a multi-billion dollar film franchise to attend to?