Los Angeles (AFP)

Two years ago, after a string of successes and astronomical recipes, the Marvel superhero films had taken what was to be a short hiatus.

When this absence from the big screen, prolonged by the coronavirus pandemic, ends on Friday with the release of "Black Widow", Hollywood will have its eyes riveted on Marvel Studios to see if they still have the baraka.

"I would say that they are (...) at a rather crucial turning point", judges Kendall Phillips, professor at Syracuse University and specialist in pop culture.

“The central question is: can Marvel repeat the feat?”.

"Black Widow" finally gives Natasha Romanoff, the Russian killer turned superheroine played by Scarlett Johansson, her own spin-off.

The film's release had been put on hold in May 2020, with parent company Disney waiting for theaters to reopen.

It will be the first of the string of new Marvel films due out by the end of 2023: no less than 12 feature films expected, not to mention the TV series released during the pandemic or to be broadcast soon.

- "If it weren't for the Covid" -

Even for a franchise that has historically given three big Hollywood productions a year (including "Avengers: Endgame," which briefly overtook "Avatar" as the highest-grossing film in history), it's a breakneck pace. .

# photo1

And this big comeback is expected while spectators' appetite for dark rooms remains uncertain.

Despite the recent success of "Without a Noise 2" and "Fast and Furious 9", only 80% of movie theaters in North America are open, box office receipts remain well below figures ahead -pandemia and fears related to Covid-19 variants are real.

"I'm sure 'Black Widow' would do 10-15% more this weekend if all theaters were open and it wasn't for the Covid," says David A. Gross of Franchise Entertainment Research, who specializes in the analysis of the film industry.

“But this is the world we live in”.

Marvel's comeback is also complicated by the loss of several of its stars.

Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans have left their roles as Iron Man and Captain America.

As for Chadwick Boseman, he died of cancer last year.

His role in "Black Panther" will not be reassigned for the sequel scheduled for next year, which will have to strike a balance between honoring the actor's legacy and capitalizing on the nearly 1.4 billion worldwide debut film. .

In the absence of the three stars, the next films will unfold the story of lesser-known characters from comics, such as Shang-Chi, as well as the "Eternals".

Some of these characters have been promoted to leading roles in recent Marvel series on the Disney + streaming platform, such as "WandaVision" and "Loki".

"In the very, very long term," Mr. Gross said he fears that this multiplicity of adaptations will "dilute the value" of films.

But "I would never bet against Marvel. They basically exceeded every expectation," he says.

- "Marvel is back" -

For Professor Phillips, part of Marvel's success is that studios are creating "event" movies that appeal to the average viewer, who has never read Marvel Comics, has not watched the cartoons, did not play video games ".

"What is complicated is that they have to try to keep these people with them, to attract a new generation, all this while not having" any more famous characters, he explains.

# photo2

Taking over from "Captain Marvel", released in 2019 and which had marked by giving the first role to a woman, "Black Widow" will be the first film in the series to be entirely directed by a woman, Cate Shortland, with two women in leading roles: Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh.

Analysts are anxiously awaiting to see if this will be the first film since the pandemic to surpass $ 100 million on its first weekend.

That would be far less than the $ 350 million from the release of “Avengers: Endgame,” and the feature's simulcast on Disney + could have a negative impact on revenue.

But if he can beat the 70 million recently racked up by “Fast and Furious 9,” he'll send the message that “Marvel is back, they're in theaters, and that's where fans want to see Marvel in. first, ”says marketing firm Comscore expert Paul Dergarabedian.

© 2021 AFP