With MCUs Phase 4 officially about to end and Phase 5 to start next month with Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania, fans are still scratching their heads about where they think the Marvel Cinematic Universe is taking them. After the completion of Final game back in 2019, many ardent followers of the MCU began to really wonder how the studio was ever going to top the spectacle they had managed to create, and whether it would be worth it to continue the journey after such a satisfying ending.
But when all was said and done, nothing was going to stop Marvel from trying to replicate the success they found with their first 3 cinematic phases. So on they pushed for phase 4 – and it was interesting to say the least. Not only did it contain the most projects per MCU phase (17 to be exact), but it also lasted the least physical time (only 2 years). With so many projects packed into such a short time frame, it was understandable that audiences and fans expected to get a better idea of where Marvel planned to head the cinematic franchise… unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.
Despite the amount of content released over the past two years, the MCU feels more cluttered and unwieldy than ever with countless new heroes, villains, and even secondary/tertiary characters that fans can also try to pay attention to on. That said, putting aside the backlash from overzealous fans, the MCU might not be as messed up as it seems to the everyday viewer. While Phase 4 was by no means perfect, it had absolute direction and vision that loyal observers may have been too close to the picture to fully see.
Phase 4 should be compared to phase 1
As already mentioned, Phase 4 has felt a little messy to some viewers due to how clumsy the schedule has become. Again, 17 projects over 2 years as opposed to 23 projects over 11 years – that’s a lot of new content. But despite how much new content has come out during Phase 4, part of the problem is that fans had been spoiled by Marvel during the first three phases. Endgame was just that – one Final game. This meant that Phase 4 would be a new starting point, not a de-escalation point (Black Panther pun intended) and not a true continuation from Phase 3. If anything Phase 4 was meant to be the new Phase 1.
Now what exactly does that mean? Well, in retrospect, it means that Phase 4 should actually feel a bit messy and clunky – just like Phase 1 was. Think about it – Phase 1 was a messy mess and the original Iron Man and Avengers are the only projects that really jump into anyone’s mind. Iron Man 2 was a poor follow-up to the introduction of the MCU. The original Thor and Captain America movie was relatively well liked, but is nowhere near the top when it comes to MCU projects. The Incredible Hulk was so criticized that another Hulk had to be recast (although there was also drama behind the scenes). And all of these respective movies contained easter eggs/breadcrumbs that (at the time) seemed random and out of nowhere, while in reality (after multiple projects were released) most of them ended up paying off in some way, shape, or form . With all of this in mind, despite Phase 4 releasing three times as much content as Phase 1, it’s completely understandable why it feels a bit disjointed because the phase it was trying to emulate did too.
Content output is overkill
Since it must now be understood that Phase 4 should have mirrored Phase 1 more closely in terms of its content, the question still remains as to why it has received so much more criticism and backlash than Phase 1 ever did. Well, the answer is quite simple – there has been far more content put out for people to criticize. Again, let’s look at the facts Iron Man and Avengers were really the only A+ projects to come out of phase 1… that’s a whopping 33% for the phase. But it was only six projects spread over a period of 4 years with plenty of gaps in between, so fans could look forward to the next project – a luxury phase 4 was not given. Instead, Phase 4 began producing project after project, releasing a new one almost every single month, most of which were TV shows that lasted much longer than a typical MCU would.
So when audiences found something they didn’t like about any of the new projects, it made expectations for the next project skyrocket. And when those expectations weren’t met, the process continued in a vicious cycle to the point where if an MCU show or movie released in Phase 4 wasn’t an A+, fans would whine and complain that it was terrible. While that’s an argument that fans on the internet can spend countless hours debating, the sad truth is that Phase 4 has felt like a messier mess than it actually is, simply because there’s an excess of viewers who just waiting to pounce on any inaccuracy or continuity error they can find.
There was no cumulative decisive event (Avengers movies)
Despite all the arguments above, this is where Marvel really shot themselves in the foot for Phase 4 (and why it felt directionless and a mess). Before Phase 4, audiences had gotten used to the MCU formula – introduce/revisit a bunch of standalone characters in standalone projects, and see them all come together in one cumulative event to see how their unique stories could weave into one massive comic book film narrative. While this was obviously meant as a treat for fans to see all their favorite heroes on one screen, it had a more important storytelling quality that allowed the entire MCU to feel like a true interwoven universe where the actions of one project could /would/ should influence the others… but phase 4 did not.
Spider-Man: No Way Home supposed to be the cumulative event missing from Phase 4 with the true inclusion of the multiverse into the MCU (that might have been how Marvel executives saw it), it wasn’t the icing on the cake that MCU fans really had need . While the film itself was a culmination of past heroes and villains, it did not combine any of the new heroes that the MCU had begun to introduce, and neither did any other film. Thus, it left a gap in the phase where all the heroes’ actions affected each other, and instead felt like a dozen and a half independent projects that had no connection. Because of this, not only did the phase feel like a mess, but audiences have had a hard time accepting that the new MCU has any “real” consequences, as it seems none of the heroes’ actions will affect any of the the others.
Where it’s all heading towards phase 5 and 6
In conclusion, it’s completely understandable why Phase 4 felt like a mess from the outside looking in. It had far more projects than an initial phase should have had, and produced them all in such a short time without a cumulative event. Thus, the Marvel Cinematic Universe now feels like Marvel Cinematic Standalone Projects. But that doesn’t mean that Phases 5 and 6 won’t turn things around.
Most viewers have already heard that the MCU is ramping up to several major cumulative event movies (Thunderboltsmany Avengers) and these projects should give Marvel some room to get their universe back on track – but keep in mind that Marvel may not have ever left that track in the first place. Again, Phase 1 felt like a bit of a mess, and loose ends were easily handled and cleaned up in the following years. So while Phase 4 may have seemed like a mess to some viewers, it’s entirely fair to assume that Marvel has had a plan all along to ensure that Phases 5 and 6 are cleaned up.