MCU Phase 4

MCU Phase 4

Andy Behrman '24

In May 2008, Iron Man was released, beginning one of the most expansive, profitable, and arguably greatest cinematic universes of all time. Reviving the once thought dead superhero movie genre, Disney would make 30 interconnected films, raking in over $25 billion worldwide, including the second highest grossing movie of all time, Avengers: Endgame. Acting as the climax of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far, with the vast majority of character arcs that fans had watched develop over the course of over a decade being successfully resolved, Endgame seemed like a perfect ending to the MCU. With Spider-Man: Far From Home acting as a sort of epilogue to Phases 1 through 3, Marvel had a satisfying conclusion.  There was just one problem, however: the MCU is the highest grossing movie franchise ever, making more money than the GDP of most small towns. Therefore, The House of the Mouse planned to milk this IP dry, leading to the mixed bag of Phase 4. With Black Panther: Wakanda Forever now released, bringing Phase 4 to a close, how will this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe be remembered and how will it impact the MCU going forward?

After taking a brief hiatus due to the pandemic, Phase 4 of the MCU began with Black Widow, which wasn’t bad, but felt like a movie that should have happened five years prior. Black Widow already got a satisfying conclusion in Endgame, and it felt like a pretty generic Marvel movie with nothing too special or worth remembering. The same could be said about most of the Phase 4 Marvel movies such as Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Dr. Stange: Multiverse of Madness, all of which were good movies, but forgettable. I bet most people who watched Shang-Chi can’t even remember the name of the villain without looking it up.  

Then there’s Thor: Love and Thunder. This really should have been impossible to screw up. They had a Thor movie directed by one of the best comedic directors of his generation, Taika Waititi, who had directed the commercial and critical success, Thor: Ragnorok. Not to mention that the film included the Guardians of the Galaxy, the return of Natalie Portman as Dr. Jane Foster, and Patrick Bateman himself, Christian Bale. Yet, Marvel managed to make one of the most mind-numbing, God-awful, sorry excuses for a film we have seen in a while. With an excessive number of jokes that usually didn’t land, CGI that looked like it was made in the early 2000’s despite a blank check for a budget, and the jarring shifts in tone, Thor: Love and Thunder is easily the worst Marvel movie so far. Notice how I said “movie”, though, because there is arguably a worse show.  

Disney+ launched in November 2019.  With it came a demand for more content, creating an extreme overload of Marvel shows within the span of a few years. Some were really good, like WandaVision and, surprisingly, What If, even if it did’t come close to the content of Netflix or HBO. Then there are others that I just didn’t have any interest in watching, like Hawkeye. And finally, there’s She Hulk. I didn’t watch this one either, so I won’t talk about it too much, but reviews haven’t been the best.  

Looking back on Phase 4, I think the main problem of the MCU might be oversaturation.  In the span of two years, Marvel has released ten movies and TV shows, and the superhero genre has seen dozens upon dozens of movies since the release of Iron Man in 2008. Some noticeable clichés, most notably the CGI battle in the climax, which nine out of ten times will involve a sky beam, have been starting to develop. This is why DC has started to become much more experimental with their superhero movies, producing some of the best recent superhero movies like Joker and The Batman. Another thing that’s worth mentioning is the MCU’s push to set up future sequels. For instance, in order to be fully caught up with the new Daredevil series, you’d first have to sit through an entire season of She Hulk. Likewise, there is a growing need to watch hours of movies in order to catch up to Phase 4. Or maybe, like the Western movie genre, the MCU might just be a dying franchise that will always live in the shadow of Endgame.

But then there’s Spider Man: No Way Home, which is hands down the best movie of Phase 4 and arguably the best Spider-Man movie ever. With an all-star cast, a well-written plot, and the return of older iterations of the masked webslinger, this movie brought out the best parts of the MCU. With the jokes landing, but not conflicting with the more serious moments, the movie was firing on all cylinders and became the highest grossing movie of 2021.  

Phase 4, in retrospect, was not all bad. It had its good moments, and most of the movies were enjoyable. Marvel still dominated the box office, and even Thor: Love and Thunder made over $700 million. Every phase of Marvel has had its mediocre and forgettable movies.  Phase 1 had The Incredible Hulk, Phase 2 had Thor: The Dark World, and Phase 3 had Captain Marvel. However, more than half of Phase 4 was mediocre and forgettable, and the cracks have begun showing in the franchise. Marvel has made some of the greatest blockbuster movies of all time and defined cinema throughout the 2010’s, but Phase 4 makes it seem like Marvel peaked at Endgame. I hope I’m wrong though.