All the Way Home: Disney Dominance and the State of Brand Assimilation in the MCU

Curator's Note

In Spider-Man: No Way Home, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) attempts to reclaim his anonymity, inadvertently drawing villains from previous Spider-Man film franchises to his universe. To the delight of film audiences, he also manages to bring versions of Peter Parker (Toby McGuire and Andrew Garfield) along with them.

Similarly, in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, the titular hero travels to a parallel Earth and encounters alternate versions of Marvel Cinematic Universe characters and Professor Charles Xavier (as reprised by Sir Patrick Stewart).

Both films provide an opportunity for Disney to establish brand dominance in the mediascape. In the case of Spider-Man, it is notable that Holland’s version of Parker is the one whose actions draw the three versions of the character together and that he brings them to his world as opposed to visiting theirs. Holland’s Spider-Man is a coproduction of Disney with Sony, who acquired the film rights to Spider-Man in the late 1990s. However, even though Sony could have brought the McGuire and Garfield version into action together, they did not. That Disney’s coproduction, with their officially sanctioned version, Holland, did, appears to be a means of demonstrating the dominance of their brand.

And although the setting of Dr. Strange does lead the hero to another Earth, he encounters versions of established MCU characters whose biographies are informed by the primary MCU narrative (referred to as Earth-616). The addition of Professor Xavier--who had previously appeared in the Fox X-Men franchise--alongside these characters serves to underscore his status as outside the dominant narrative. And if outside the dominant narrative, then he is subservient to the primacy of the MCU’s brand.

Such appearances offer fans rewards for their longtime consumption of Marvel properties, but it also allows Disney to assert that their products are the ones through which these previous versions should be read from a contemporary perspective. Doing so ensures that consumers will maintain loyalty to their brand, as they have tactically assimilated these earlier versions and made them subordinate to their own.

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