Marvel phase four is a huge story about one idea

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the final film in phase four of Marvel Cinematic Universe, following six other movies and eight TV shows on Disney+, plus a few holiday specials. On Wakanda foreverpremiere in hollywood, Marvel’s Kevin Feige summarized stage four thus: “The cause [Wakanda Forever] anchor phase four … is because the phases are about introductions. And phase four – think about all the characters we’ve met here. And now, finally, in the finale here of phase four, we’re looking at it in phases, we meet a whole new kingdom and a whole character that is the very foundation of what we do at Marvel.”

Each new phase of the MCU certainly adds new characters to the mix. Phase two introduced the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man. Phase Three had Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and Black Panther. And Phase Four has had more than its share of new Marvel heroes and villains, including Shang-Chi, Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight, The Eternals, plus a new Black Widow, a new Hawkeye, a new Captain America and (i.e Wakanda forever) a new Black Panther.

So Kevin Feige is certainly not wrong that phase four contained a lot of introductions. (He’s the guy overseeing all these movies and shows, he should have a pretty good idea what they’re about.) But another theme has dominated every single Phase Four movie and show, even the ones that weren’t necessarily about about introducing “new” heroes and villains. This theme appeared in the first few Marvel series Disney+. As the pandemic subsided and Marvel began releasing movies in theaters, it continued there, and in every single thing the company has produced in the last three years for both the big and small screens. Marvel has dubbed phases four, five and six of their ongoing universe “The Multiverse Saga”. Unofficially, this first phase of the saga has been about one thing: defining one’s identity.

Time and again, Phase Four’s heroes (and even a few villains) have struggled with existential questions like “Who am I? Who do I will have to be? Am I obligated to continue the choices I’ve made so far in my story? Or can I change my path?” These questions go hand-in-hand with the notion of a “multiverse” where there are an infinite number of variations of each person: a good Doctor Strange, an evil Doctor Strange, a zombie Doctor Strange, a lactose-intolerant Doctor Strange, a Doctor Strange harboring an irrational hatred for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and so on. These “variants,” as Marvel calls them, allow the studio to turn allegorical identity crises into literal battles over the future of the MCU.

The malleable nature of identity has been one of the most important and pervasive themes in Marvel Comics since the company’s earliest days. Spider-Man hid his secret identity to protect Aunt May and often found himself struggling to decide which of his two roles – hero or humble science geek – was his true and authentic self. The mutants of the Marvel Universe were constantly encouraged to define themselves—as the X-Men or members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants—and to grapple with how those allegiances placed them within or outside the boundaries of the rest of modern society. .

Marvel’s early films, on the other hand, rarely explored this idea. Tony Stark finished first Iron Man defiantly reveals his armored alter ego. From that moment on, the MCU largely abandoned the concept of secret identities as a source of tension and suspense. Everyone knew that Tony Stark was Iron Man and that Steve Rogers was Captain America and that Doctor Strange was a doctor turned wizard who lived in an impossibly posh mansion in the middle of Greenwich Village. (Seriously, who is his realtor? Can you imagine how many Infinity Stones you could buy with the proceeds from selling the Sanctum?) With very few exceptions, Marvel’s early movie heroes rarely questioned their superhero destinies or struggled to juggle the needs of their public and privacy.

That changed dramatically with phase four of the MCU. Here’s a movie-by-movie and show-by-show overview of how it happened.

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If superhero stories are power fantasies, then Phase Four of the MCU has been a fantasy of reinvention. Its heroes shed personalities like snakes shed their skins, discarding former identities and allegiances for new (and occasionally conflicting) ones. Whether that fantasy resonates with the audience is up for debate; while Phase Four has featured one of Marvel’s biggest hits (Spider-Man: No Way Home) it also included one of its biggest critical and commercial flops (Eternal). Perhaps it’s Marvel itself, which has already cycled through 30 films, many classic story concepts and dozens upon dozens of its best characters, to whom the idea of ​​reinvention seems particularly appealing.

It will be interesting to see if this idea continues into phases five and six of the MCU, or if it will ease into the background of other thematic concerns. The first film in MCU Phase Five is Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumaniawhich stars Jonathan Majors as Kang the Conqueror, a variant of a character who previously debuted in Loki TV series — so these concepts won’t completely disappear from the MCU anytime soon. It could well be that in the end we also look back on the entire Multiverse Saga as Marvel’s unofficial Identity Saga.

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