5 Things the MCU Did Right in Phase 4

It’s no secret that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been struggling to find its path over the past two years.  Following the epic and climactic finale that was Endgame, it was always going to be difficult to go on from there.   We had just spent a decade and three “phases” building up toward a climax that more than delivered in terms of scale and emotion.

Then a global pandemic thwarted their plans, but in hindsight, having a solid year a half without any MCU content might have just been the breathing room that fans needed before they were ready to delve back into that world.  All that said, Phase 4 has certainly had its criticisms, as have the debut of Phase 5 with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

Yes, Phase 4 had way too much content and prioritized quantity over quality, yes it lacked any sense of real direction, and yes it did make MCU fandom feel more like homework than major events that were newsworthy.  All of these criticisms are valid, and we’re not here to try and dispute them (at least not all of them).

However, it would be an exaggerated hyperbole to state that everything about Phase 4 was terrible and that there were no highlights or things about it that really worked.  So in the interest of giving credit where credit is due, we wanted to take a look at 5 things that really worked about Phase 4.  Not 5 specific movies, rather 5 different ideas or trends that allowed the MCU to really flourish.

Different Directions
It’s been cited as a criticism, and yes there was probably a better way to do it, but the overall “lack of direction” in Phase 4 isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Not only did it give time to expand and breathe for both the MCU media and the fans, but it remedied another major criticism from the previous phases that everything had to be too connected.

Honestly, you can’t really win either way.  Because when the properties all connect, people complain that it’s not building towards anything, but then people also complained when Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness came out because you had to have seen WandaVision beforehand to understand it.  But you can’t have it both ways.

Back in 2015, there was a “controversy” surrounding Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which Joss Whedon publicly lamented that Marvel forced him to include Thor’s “magic jacuzzi” scene to tie the movie back to Guardians of the Galaxy and tease Infinity War, when Whedon felt like this scene detracted away from the specific story he was trying to tell.

Phases 1-3 are filled with these forced connections that on the one hand, helped build towards the larger narrative, but on the other made the individuals stories suffer in terms of their plots and pacing.  So while films like Shang Chi, The Eternals, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Spider-Man: No Way Home don’t focus on weaving anything larger, it allows them to be their own stories with their own narratives.

Not to say that all of their narratives were always perfect, but at least they got to be their own things.

TV Integration
With the launch of Disney+ in late 2019, it was only a matter of time before Marvel used to platform for more MCU content.  Extended TV runtimes allowed for stories like WandaVision, Loki, and Falcon and the Winter Soldier to have more time to tell their stories and further develop their characters.

It was also refreshing to see the TV series actually count as canon towards the larger MCU.  It was incredibly frustrating for fans of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Punisher, etc. to see their TV series influenced by the movies, but to see the movies completely ignore their entire existence.

Not to completely contradict our first point, it is important for stories to be their own thing.  But it was nice to see that when there were connections between media in Phase 4, the TV shows got to be part of that larger connection.

Genre Shifting
To be fair, the overall homogenization of MCU properties so they all feel similar in tone and look is still a major issue that needs to be corrected.  That being said, Phase 4 did dabble a bit more between different subgenres.

Multiverse of Madness delved somewhat into horror, WandaVision was a complete deconstruction of the evolution of TV sitcoms in the 20th century, Shang Chi felt like a martial arts movie, Loki went fully Doctor Who in terms of eccentric sci-fi, and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law styled itself almost like a romantic sitcom/legal show.

Because there was less interconnectedness between specific properties, each one was able to toy with different genres and hopefully that continues more in the future.  The whole point of a comic book universe is that different fans with different tastes will enjoy different properties, and this is the way to keep that going in film/TV.

Multiversal Implications
Following the Infinity Saga, Marvel promised that the next three phases would be known as the Multiverse Saga, and they’ve largely been delivering on that.  Not only is that an escalation from that Thanos threat, which was limited to one universe.  But in doing the multiverse, Marvel is able to utilize the elements of non-MCU Marvel films that fans really seemed to enjoy.

Without getting too much into the history that most fans already know, Marvel famously sold off the rights to properties like X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four years before they ever dreamed of having their own film studio and their own cinematic universe.  As a result Fox gave us their own X-Men franchise, and Sony did the same with Spider-Man (well technically multiple franchises with their 2012 reboot and Spiderverse).

But because of the Multiverse, it allowed several beloved actors like Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, JK Simmons, and Patrick Stewart to reprise the roles they were famous for in other studios’ films and bring them to the MCU.

When Marvel finally got the rights back to everything X-Men, we knew it would eventually mean having to recast everyone.  But for now, they’re able to use some of the actors we’re familiar with and love via the multiverse.

Introducing Kang Early
Thanos remains one of the greatest villains the MCU has ever had.  However, aside from a post credit cameo in Avengers 1&2, and a very small role in Guardians of the Galaxy (where he felt like a totally different character), we really didn’t get to know him until he appeared as the main villain in Infinity War.

As a result, that movie had the mammoth task of delivering on the buildup of 10 years, but also developing Thanos and his Black Order very quickly.  It remains something of a missed opportunity that Thanos played no role in the end of Thor: Ragnarok, as that would have been the perfect time to end on a cliffhanger for Infinity War to continue from.

Marvel clearly learned from this mistake however and introduced Kang as early as 2021 in Loki when Avengers: Kang Dynasty isn’t due out until 2025.  This is allowing fans to get to know him as a character and for him to slowly be built up as the MCU’s big bad that has the arduous task of following up Thanos.

And while Quantumania certainly had its issues, Jonathan Majors portrayal of Kang was definitely one of the highlights.  We already know that he’ll appear again in Loki Season 2, and most likely a couple more times so that by the time he’s the main villain that all the Avengers must come together to fight, he’ll be a villain that we know just how powerful, dangerous, and fascinating he is.

It will also mean that Kang Dynasty won’t have to waste any time trying to build him up, and get right to his path of destruction or whatever he has in store for them.

What did you like most in Phase Four of the MCU?  What do you hope to see in Phase 5?  Let us know in the comments!

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