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It’s hard to think of Marvel Studios and its films without breaking them up into phases. Eventually, the first 23 films in the MCU collectively became known as The Infinity Saga, which encapsulated Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his quest to attain the Infinity Stones. The Avengers stood in his way. Those movies were broken up into “Phases” one, two and three, and were used by the studio -- and its fans -- to classify themes, directions and concepts. But now that we are heading into Phase Four, what do “Phases” even mean to the MCU?
Right off of the bat, Phase Four differs significantly from its predecessors because it includes television. Marvel has operated in TV before, both on ABC and Netflix. Those offerings were not a part of the MCU. Starting with WandaVision on Disney+, though, the Phases will morph to incorporate programming. A LOT more programming, There are 12 shows and 11 movies in Phase Four at the moment. So when we interviewed Kevin Feige about “Phases,” and if the concept was still in play for Marvel Studios, he explained:
The whole idea of phases was less about a forward-facing public marketing thing. Because we don't advertise anything as phases, necessarily. (It’s) more of an internal storytelling boundary for us, to help us shape overarching, larger narratives. And I think that's helpful. I think that will continue. Again, going back to the way event crossovers were working, in the comics, that they would do, like, dozens of individual titles every month and then once a year, or once every few years, come together into a bigger title. That was the whole idea in between the beginning and end to phases. I think that'll continue, to a certain extent, as well. Because it's a storytelling shorthand that we use internally to shape these overarching narratives.
The thing about each new Phase -- at least in terms of how they operated in One through Three -- is that they built towards natural conclusions, and generally with an Avengers team up. The Avengers concluded Phase One. Avengers: Age of Ultron and Avengers: Endgame came near the end of Phases two and three, though each one really concluded with “palette cleansers” of Ant-Man and Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Where would Phase Four even end right now? I suppose if you were looking at titles that could be the conclusion of Phase Four, you’d look at the announced but undated Fantastic Four movie, which is expected to finally bring Marvel’s First Family into the MCU. But there are 10 movies that come before that, ranging from traditional sequels to films that will introduce new heroes like Shang-Chi and The Eternals.
Personally, I think it’s OK for Marvel Studios to graduate beyond the idea of Phases, and just keep building its larger universe. The Phases worked for the Infinity Saga, when audiences were still learning what the Marvel Cinematic Universe even meant. But now the MCU is part of our larger culture, and the need for Phases has decreased. Either way, things kick back up on Friday with WandaVision on Disney+, and be sure to bookmark our Upcoming Marvel Movies feature for the latest projects coming to the MCU.