The MCU’s Phase 4 has had the most divisive reception since the media juggernaut’s 2008 launch. Today we’ll look at possible reasons why Phase 4 caused such a public schism. But first, let’s place it in context with the rest of the MCU.
Love and Thunder
Phase 4’s box office was disappointing compared to Phases 2 and 3 but the dip is explainable. Firstly, Phase 4 had fewer films than Phase 3. Marvel’s 2021 film releases also had to entice people back to cinemas after the pandemic. Even with that disadvantage Black Widow, Shang-Chi and Eternals all did respectable business. And Spider-Man: No Way Home became Marvel’s third highest-grossing film. Meanwhile, 2022s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness outperformed its predecessor. Thor: Love and Thunder also did well for a more modestly performing subseries.
Regarding critic and fan reactions 2 Phase 4 projects (at the time of writing) have rotten RT ratings (Eternals and She-Hulk). While this represents an increased negative reaction to prior phases, which had 3 rotten ratings across 34 projects, it hasn’t increased by much. On IMDb 4/6 Phase 4 films are rated below 7 stars. The most of any phase. Additionally, only 1 of this phase’s 8 shows is rated above 8 stars (Loki). These are harsh reactions, but the site also shows that Marvel’s series are generally divisive. Only 3 of their 18 shows have ratings above 8 stars. And while Phase 4’s films were generally disliked, they were only disliked slightly more than Phase 1. Which has 3/6 films rated below 7 stars. So Phase 4 when judged in context is hardly a complete loss.
Age of Trolls
One other thing to bear in mind is that several Phase 4 projects were review-bombed and targeted for negative criticism before even being released for focusing on telling socially conscious stories with more diverse casts. Slightly compromising review site data.
This makes it harder to review Phase 4’s impact because it’s blighted by such toxic discourse. And, just to restate the obvious, telling socially conscious stories based around diverse, marginalized voices is not the problem with the MCU. Anyone who thinks it is has no place in any discussion about media.
Far From Perfect
There are however legitimate criticisms that could explain some audience dissatisfaction. One common complaint is the MCU’s recent oversaturation. With 14 big projects released from 2021-2022, there simply hasn’t been enough room to let fans breathe before another project comes along. Which could have resulted in franchise fatigue.
Additionally, the sheer number of projects, straddling different genres, characters and timelines, has made it harder for fans to identify their purpose in relation to the Multiverse Saga’s overarching narrative. Although prior phases had confusing moments each project felt like a contained story that slowly progressed the overarching plot. But the sheer volume of new elements being sprawled across different mediums in such a short time may be making it harder to keep audiences invested.
And this saga’s reduced time frame (five years, compared to the Infinity saga’s eleven) has led to Marvel putting more pressure on their workers. Which results in many things feeling rushed, undercooked or unfocused.
New MCU Order
Overall Marvel’s Phase 4 was affected by many factors, such as the pandemic fallout and targeted hate campaigns, making it hard to claim the era is a total dud from audience and box office perspectives.
Of course, Marvel does have problems. Its brand oversaturation, scattershot approach to storytelling and reduced timescale have resulted in much less polished productions in a universe that feels less comprehensively thought out and has created a sense of fatigue which failed to invest many in future projects. If left unresolved these issues could produce even worse results for audiences and workers.
If Marvel is to regain its footing it must focus on quality over quantity and give its workers more time to produce better work. Though Phase 5’s schedule makes that seem unlikely. For those unhappy with the way Marvel has been going (for legitimate reasons) vote with your wallet, encourage others to do likewise, and support the workers campaigning for better conditions. Don’t let Marvel take its workers or audience for granted.