People have started to notice that the luster is starting to fade a bit from Marvel projects. I mean granted, that always means billions of dollars and the dominance of pop culture conversation, but here in Phase 4 things look a little…different. Supposedly, we’re now halfway through that phase, the first where Disney Plus TV series join blockbuster movies, and things have been a little weird.
I want to try to understand why all of these projects don’t really seem to have worked as a cohesive unit. There might be a few here and there, but overall Phase 4 feels bad in a number of ways, and it’s hard to know exactly where it’s going, even based on all the projects that we have seen so far.
I’ll do it in order here:
WandaVision (January 2021) – Perhaps an indication that things were going to get a bit… weird here in Phase 4, WandaVision remains one of the best projects of that era, a fantastic exploration of grief and mourning, even though what it ended by being to make Wanda the antagonist of the next Doctor Strange movie. Now she would be dead, but that seems unlikely, although we don’t know when or how she will return.
Falcon and the Winter Soldier (March 2021) – This show is back in the news right now based on a THR article that seemed to question whether Sam would take up the mantle of Captain America when… that was literally what this whole show was about. But it kind of goes to show how relatively pointless it feels, given that the end of Endgame has Cap handing him the shield, and in general it seems to be the least well-received live-action series so far. day on Disney Plus.
Loki (June 2021) – Another strong entry for Disney Plus, one that culminates in the birth of the Multiverse, which is at least a partial thread type of holding some of these upcoming projects together, and also introducing us to Kang, though it’s still an open question if he’s really meant to be the ultimate big bad in the phase. Sounds like yes, but I’d say the reliance on the multiverse was kind of a weak plot point in this phase, because once you open that door, it’s hard to create meaningful stakes.
Black Widow (June 2021) – A project that should have existed a long, long time ago, with Natasha from Scarjo who didn’t have it before after she died in Endgame, making it one of the only flashback MCU movies, and a very weird way to kick off an entire phase at the box office. The movie mostly served as an introduction/passing the torch to Yelena, who has always been underused. But more on her later.
Shang-Chi (September 2021) – Arguably the best or at least the second best movie of the entire phase so far, Marvel has really done something big by turning a relatively unknown hero into a big new force in the MCU. But while Shang-Chi will no doubt be a key presence in any “super team” that comes together in the future, he has yet to significantly crossover with any of these other projects. A sequel is coming that might change that, but it’s odd that such a great feature and character has felt overlooked since release.
Eternals (November 2021) – The very first “rotten” MCU movie must have sounded alarm bells all over Disney. I’m very much an Eternals apologist, but even I’ll admit it’s far from the best in the MCU other than visually, and I think Marvel had very high hopes for this super team that could now be hunted down to because of the film‘s performance. It also continues a trend from Phase 4 of trying to create new superstars from lesser-known characters. It worked for Shang-Chi, but it didn’t work to the same extent here.
Hawkeye (November 2021) – Hawkeye is a prime example of how well the MCU executes with no real indication of what his larger plan is supposed to be. Hawkeye has done a great job passing the torch to the enigmatic Kate Bishop, but as we approach a year later, we have no idea when she’ll be seen again, with no season 2 announcements or no indication that she’s forming the Young Avengers or joining the new, good Avengers team or whatever. And they resurfaced Yelena here in a way that seems like a perfect season 2 could be Kate and Yelena doing things, and that doesn’t seem to be happening either, because perhaps Yelena will instead be attached to an anti-Avengers “Thunderbolts” project.
Spider-Man: No Way Home (December 2021) – What most people would probably consider the best movie of this phase, but kind of a “cheat”, making the idea of the multiverse work because it draws in Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire Spider-Man from other universes, which is impossible not to appreciate. But even that movie ended somewhat awkwardly with a big memory wipe that must now make the Peter Parker we’ve invested three movies in start over, every time he reappears.
Moon Knight (March 2022) – An experiment on what happens when you take a fan-favorite character, despite not being a blockbuster, and give them a series totally disconnected from the rest of the MCU. It works…well, but again, you have all the same questions about a second season, and if not this, where Moon Knight might reappear after six episodes of an intro. No answers yet.
Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (May 2022) – Another controversial multiverse entry, showing just how chaotic things could get using this plot point. But it serves as a sort of weird mix of retaliation from a former Avenger (Strange), sacrificing a long-time fan-favorite character as a villain (Wanda), and introducing someone new. and likely destined to slip into the Young Avengers Squad that doesn’t yet exist (America).
Ms. Marvel (June 2022) – Currently the highest rated MCU project of all time, as much as I love it (and especially Kamala Khan herself), this looks like a series that A) probably should have been a blockbuster movie and B) probably should have debuted as one of the first introductions to this new phase, as there are few better new heroes to build than Kamala, as we’ve seen here. And then after this week again, we’ll be in an odd position where a show that looks set to have a second season just might turn into a guest spot for Kamala on The Marvels next year.
Thor Love and Thunder (July 2022) – Reviews have gone down badly on this one, and while audiences love it more, it’s not exactly the highest rated out there either, and the Ragnarok magic isn’t there. This raises the somewhat awkward question of what to do with the main remaining Avengers of the Last Phase, and it doesn’t seem like a question she answers very well.
The main issues I see:
- No clear direction at this point on forming a new Avengers team and facing a unified villain threat
- The introduction of the multiverse makes everything a bit low-stakes
- A bunch of Disney Plus shows that straddle a fine line between some sort of TV series, but mostly low-budget movies that are cut into six 30-50 minute episodes, with unclear hints about their future
We’ll see where things go from here.