Marvel Cinematic Universe – Phase 4: So Far So Good?

MCU Phase 4

After the huge climax that was Avengers: Endgame brought together all the heroes introduced so far, many wondered how Marvel was going to follow that momentum. After all, it’s hard to keep raising the stakes every time, just ask Supernatural. Phase 4 of the MCU has focused on existing heroes as well as introducing some new ones, as well as branching out into series on Disney+. After a year of no content from the franchise due to the pandemic, has the MCU peaked?

Some spoilers to follow, mainly for post-credit scenes and Loki

“Welcome to the circus”

Shang-Chi is one of Phase 4's best additions.
Shang-Chi is one of Phase 4’s best additions. // Credit: Disney /Marvel, 2021

The films of Phase 4 have been mostly focused on introducing new heroes. Black Widow, although following Natasha’s adventures in the lead up to Avengers: Infinity War, showcased Florence Pugh’s Yelena, as well as Red Guardian. Yelena is set up for a confrontation with Hawkeye in the post-credits scene. Reaction to the character is very positive, so she could be the lead in any potential sequel.

Elsewhere, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings showcased the martial arts master going up against the Mandarin. Arguably one of the best solo outings in the MCU, the film showcased new characters, as well as expanding and improving upon the Ten Rings. The controversial twist in Iron Man 3 is woven in as part of the villain’s story. Although largely standalone, cameos from Wong, Abomination and Bruce Banner helped fold Shang-Chi into the wider universe.

Eternals, while being divisive, expanded on the cosmic side of the MCU. A sequel seems likely to be set in space, as the characters search for more Eternals. Which opens up many possibilities for the future – Eros meeting Star-Lord and Adam Warlock perhaps? It also introduced Dane Whitman, who claimed the Ebony Blade to become the Black Knight. Blade, the half-human vampire hunter, also has a brief voice cameo.

A Visionary New Age of Television

What If - Marvel Studios
What If…? featured several characters we already know and love with interesting new twists // Credit: Disney/Marvel, 2021

Phase 4 is unique in that it now features TV shows. While there have been several other TV projects set in the MCU, the links have been vague at best. The Disney+ series though, are as big as the films. Delving into the aftermath of Avenger: Endgame, they have followed familiar characters who were supporting players in previous films. WandaVision is a mysterious, decade hopping sitcom, featuring the Scarlet Witch and the seemingly resurrected Vision. The globe-trotting The Falcon and The Winter Soldier explores the legacy of the now-retired Captain America. Hawkeye introduces Kate Bishop to the universe, while also giving the original archer his time in the spotlight.

While many of these have been mostly standalone, there are hints of an arc. In Loki, the god of mischief works with the Time Variance Authority to preserve the timeline. However, the finale introduced He Who Remains, who keeps the various timelines in check. With his death, things instantly start to change, with Loki returning to a very different TVA. The multiverses are starting to collapse. What If…? explores various multiverses, with changes to the existing MCU timeline having ripple effects, although it is unclear if this will tie in, as the show is animated.

The Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange is an important player in the MCU // Credit: Disney/Marvel, 2019

Phase 4 seems to be heading in a multiverse direction. With What If…? offering a simple but effective starter course in what exactly the multiverse is. Loki encountered “Variants” of himself, Loki’s from other universes during his series. These included Sylvie, Kid Loki, the classic Loki and an alligator. This sets up the possibility for multiple versions of the same character to exist. Spider-Man is set to encounter various villains (and maybe other Spider-Men) from the multiverse in Spider-Man: No Way Home. From the trailer, it looks like Doctor Strange is partly responsible for the multiverse trouble, which is likely going to be explored in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.

Scarlet Witch has been confirmed to have a substantial role in the sequel, which will likely follow the events of WandaVision. Strange seems to be emerging as a potential leader for the new Avengers team, whatever that ends up looking like. It’s possible that the sequel could end up being like Captain America: Civil War, having a large impact despite being a solo film. Or Strange could end the multiverse plotline, perhaps leading the world open to a greater threat…

While the MCU might not have headed straight into another 10-year arc after Endgame, it isn’t resting either. Phase 4 isn’t even halfway through yet, so it’s almost impossible to tell where it’s going. Returning favourites like Ant-Man, Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy will likely have their own stories to continue, as well as introduce new characters. Kang the Conqueror, a variant of He Who Remains is set to debut in Ant-Man: Quantummania. The Guardians are set to face Adam Warlock. As well as all-new heroes like Blade, Moon Knight, She-Hulk, and the Fantastic Four making their debut in the MCU. Phase 4 is doing exactly what it should be.

Also Read: Has The Marvel Cinematic Universe Reached Its Peak?

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