Marvel’s Phase 4 was its biggest and most experimental phase yet that explored some new ideas and places to very divisive results.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special officially marks the end of Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
There were 7 films, 8 series, and 2 one-off specials within two calendar years. That is a lot.
Since the increased expansion of Marvel content, there’s been concerns over whether the brand is getting diluted and that the quality has suffered. Others would argue that Marvel is finally going into creatively bold directions by exposing fans to new characters and worlds. Whether Phase 4 is the best or worst, there are definitely things to admire.
Thanos was the endgame (pun intended) Marvel had meticulously built up to for 11 years. Infinity War and Endgame were such satisfying spectacles to the point of breaking expectations of what fans want for each project.
Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars will release in 2025 and 2026 and are meant to be the respective bookends to the Multiverse Saga. That means that somehow Marvel has to come up with a big satisfying conclusion to a Saga with characters and storylines in film and television in half the time they wrapped up the The Infinity Saga. Good Luck!
Despite what the near future may or not bring, let’s look back on what to enjoy and criticize about Phase 4.
The biggest thing that separates this era of Marvel and the past are the emergence of the Disney+ shows. There have been 8 episodic series and 2 one-off specials with each one of them feeling different.
WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki and Hawkeye further developed characters that Marvel had no time for in the films and introduced new ones that will become important.
Then there were shows like Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel and She Hulk that introduced completely new characters that felt fresh and out of the ordinary.
Marvel also dove into anthologies with the animated show What If…? that showed different versions of past events that could alter the multiverse.
Werewolf by Night was a cool homage to classic Universal Monster films. And The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special was a nice jolly time with the Guardians and Kevin Bacon.
While their foray into TV hasn’t been perfect, each show had their own themes and purpose. Genre fans could get their fill when these shows tackle a very specific niche. They were a lot of fun to experience, especially with their production value and stars.
On the film side, the stories they chose to tell have been fascinating. Of the seven films, five of them were sequels. A common theme of the sequels were the heroes having some sort of identity crisis after Endgame.
While Black Widow was set during an earlier time period in the universe, it saw Natasha coming to terms with her past and family. Spider-Man: No Way Home and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever both had themes of trauma and loss and how to move forward.
Doctor Strange in Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder had their main protagonist letting go of loved ones and taking responsibility for past actions.
The two films starring new characters were very unique and unlike what’s come from Marvel Studios before. Shang-Chi was heavily inspired by Asian martial arts epics. Eternals dealt with literal Gods and their impact on humanity throughout history.
It seems like they made it a point to put these moments in these films where the heroes are their most vulnerable self, which makes them that much more interesting and human.
Each show and film has had its purpose, but there is a quantity issue that has been a cause for concern. In 23 months, Marvel Studios has released 17 overall projects, with no plans to slow down.
Marvel Studios’ ambitious content output in the last 2 calendar years has been unprecedented and no competitor comes close to reaching that. With that amount of content releasing, it would be difficult for anyone except their hardcore fans can keep up. As more films and series keep releasing concurrently, the universe grows more and more convoluted. It’s a pretty known unwritten rule that quality suffers once quantity is prioritized.
It’s one thing if the shows were somewhat separate, but there are characters and storylines that directly overlap with one another.
If someone didn’t watch WandaVision, then the full impact of Wanda’s storyline wouldn’t be felt when watching Multiverse of Madness. Surely there were tons of people who were wondering why all of a sudden why she was acting the way she was. If someone just watches the films how would they know about Wanda having a family and her search for them in another universe?
That’s the biggest example so far, but with even more shows and films coming, it’s definitely a valid concern.
Adapting to TV
The MCU’s bread and butter will always be the films. While the shows have their moments of beauty, the studio’s transition to episodic storytelling has been a bit bumpy.
Since Iron Man in 2008 they’ve had a formula that they’ve improved and adapted upon. Their storytelling tricks seem to work best in a film narrative with a set three-act structure. While they do get a fair share of criticism about their repeating methods, the most important part is that it worked for them.
Television storytelling is totally different because the story has to be spread out across a season. It’s clear when watching these MCU shows that they’ve had issues with making the story last. A lot of Marvel’s common issues that can be easily overlooked if the film is quality are under a lot more scrutiny when the show has to last anywhere from 6-10 episodes.
The character development is great but sometimes there can be episodes where not much is going on, and that dead air simply wouldn’t happen in a film. There have been some inventive uses of the filler, but with these already shorter seasons, it’s clear there isn’t enough story for a season which comes down to pacing and scope.
When something reaches the astronomical success of Marvel, there’s always a price to pay, and it’s the visual effects workers who have suffered the most.
The case of overworked VFX workers is unfortunately nothing new, however with the volume Marvel releases, they are the biggest client for these companies.
According to these workers, Marvel is constantly changing whole sequences on the fly that require heavy CGI and give very demanding deadlines. Since a lot of companies desperately need the money they have no choice but to adhere to Marvel’s demands.
Since Marvel’s output isn’t decreasing anytime soon, all of these companies will likely be working overtime to get all these projects out in time. She Hulk may have been Marvel’s fun take on a legal sitcom, but when she’s neither real nor fake enough to suspend disbelief and enters the uncanny valley for extended periods of time, then there’s a problem.
The fourth Phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe most definitely had its shining moments but there’s a lot to be concerned about for the present and future.
After reaching so high with Endgame, it was only natural to go down when they needed to reestablish the monster that is their universe. Moreover, the pandemic greatly affected the industry, and Marvel was no exception. They likely had to rewrite and scrap so many things as well as increase the amount of content they make and ensure all these stories and characters coincide with one another.
In 2023/24 Marvel’s slate seems like it’s ready to find its footing, adjusting to a new way of storytelling. They also will most likely continue to shift dates around and adjust accordingly.
Still, with the continuously ambitious release of so much content on multiple platforms and a shorter Saga that came before, their continued dominance is not a guarantee.
What did you think of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Four? Is the MCU going in the right direction? Let us know in the comments below!