With the release of Thor: Love and Thunder last week and the conclusion of Ms. Marvel this week, we are six movies and seven TV series (that's counting the animated What If... ?) deep into Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While we’re not exactly sure whether every upcoming project we know about will be part of Phase Four or if some will become part of Phase Five, we're maybe only halfway through the first post-Infinity Saga phase. Regardless, Phase Four will certainly have more content in it than any phase before it. And yet, we’d all be hard pressed to describe what Phase Four is “about.” I find this to be one of the best things about the current MCU, but I feel like I’m the only one.
There seems to be a general feeling that the current MCU is unfocused, that we don’t really know where it’s going, and I would not disagree with that statement. While a few larger plotlines have clearly been introduced and will be dealt with in the future, most of the MCU stories recently have been very much their own thing. People seem to want to know when we’ll get the next Avengers movie, or at least see indications that one is coming, but I’m quite happy just getting more Marvel stuff that I enjoy watching.
Phase Four Of The MCU Doesn’t Need To Be About Anything
It’s certainly true that the MCU's current phase has been all over the map as far as the stories we’ve been getting. We’ve seen a lot of origin stories for brand-new characters, like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings or Eternals on the big screen, and the introduction of Kate Bishop in Hawkeye, Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel on the small screen.
Even movies we’ve seen for characters we already knew, while they have fleshed out those characters, don’t really give us an impression how they will fit into the larger tapestry of the MCU. Black Widow was a prequel story for a character who died and we don’t expect to see again. Thor: Love and Thunder sends the Asgardian into a very different direction that feels much more small scale and personal.
There have been hints of bigger stories. The multiverse is a thing now. Eternals ended on a sort of cliffhanger. Shang-Chi’s 10 rings have an unknown cosmic origin. Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine is out recruiting potential heroes for… some reason (probably the Thunderbolts). All this stuff is happening and it will likely become important at some point, but which of these stories may become the core of a larger narrative, we have no idea. Some of these pieces may end up connecting to each other, but it's very difficult to see how right now.
But the truth is I don’t care. I don’t need or want Marvel movies to spend their time worrying about the future of the bigger storyline. All they need to do is tell interesting/fun/exciting stories now. For the most part, I think Phase Four has done that. We’ve seen creatively-told stories in WandaVision, as well as a diverse cast of brand new characters that will only add to the MCU as a whole. While some of the recent Marvel projects are obviously better than others, I would consider the vast majority of them good and a few absolutely great.
Most Phases Of The MCU Had No Specific Direction And Were Still Great
We look back at what was retroactively called the Infinity Saga and we see a broad and cohesive story, an incredible achievement for a franchise that was more than 20 movies long. However, it’s important to realize that we only see that this all with the benefit of hindsight. The fact is that the first three phases of the MCU didn’t have as much of a focused direction as we now think.
Even the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was really just a collection of origin story movies. The only real connections were made during post-credits scenes, and even they were just surface level nods. As the audience, we all knew that the plan was for all the heroes to come together in an Avengers movie, but the individual movies were never about that. No steps were taken to actually form the Avengers until we got to that movie.
Phase Two was even more all over the place. While we had the post-credits scene in The Avengers, the finale Phase One movie, telling us Thanos was coming, none of the movies that followed were about that. They introduced the concept of the Infinity Stones in a couple of the entries, and two of them featured Thanos, but there were more that had nothing to do with Infinity Stones. One of those was Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is widely regarded as one of the best films in the entire franchise to this day, and you can skip it entirely and still make sense of Infinity War and Endgame.
Marvel’s Wider Story Will Become Clear Soon Enough
None of this is to say that I don’t love the Infinity Saga, It’s great. It’s an incredible achievement in cinematic storytelling and I’m excited to see what Marvel Studios is planning next. Assuming, of course, the company knows what it's planning. It's never been entirely clear just how much of the MCU is planned in advance versus how much is built as these movies are made.
It’s possible even Marvel doesn’t know exactly what is coming next. Many of the movies that we know are on the way still haven’t been written, never mind the stuff that is currently in the development phase. We're expecting to learn a lot more about the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the upcoming San Diego Comic-Con and D23.
Even so, if Marvel is planning another long running storyline that will take 20 or more movies to complete (and with Disney+ now in the mix, it will likely be even bigger), then it will probably be some time before we even have a hint of what the next Infinity Saga-level story is. I look forward to it, but until then, I will simply look forward to the next movie or TV series. I hope it’s great all by itself.
CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.
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