After seeing Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and enjoying it, I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and sort of reminisce about the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe experience. It does make me feel kind of old to think the first entry of the MCU came out more than a decade ago. While a lot of the mystique has generally died down, Marvel movies still manages to rake it a ton of money each and every time. Even “box office disappointments” like the Eternals, Black Widow and Shang-Chi still smashed a lot of box office records when you add in the worldwide ticket sales.
Even if this is the case, I do know a lot of fans, including myself, who are now suffering from “Marvel fatigue”. From my point of view, I’m just not super eager when it comes to the latest entry of the MCU. Contrast that to the early days, each entry was an event. Now, not so much. I can even pinpoint as to when this all started. The start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 4.
Just in case you’re totally unfamiliar with the idea of the MCU Phases concept, it can basically be simplified by thinking of them as a collection of movies which ends with a big, climactic event where all the characters band together to make one massive finale… before moving on to the next batch of movies to do it all over again. It’s a neat, little formula which entices you to keep on watching each movie as there’s this big continuous story you have to follow before everything comes to a head with everyone banding together. Oh, sure, you can say I’m wrong since, technically, Phase 2 ended with Ant-Man and Phase 3 official final film was Spider-Man: Far From Home and not with any of the Avengers flicks. Well, I think of them as mostly epilogues because we all know the “big moment” always comes from the big team up Avengers film!
Anyway, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is currently running on Phase 4 and, in all honesty, I’m not feeling as excited with each entry as I did when it came to the previous ones. I can’t really say I’m suffering from MCU fatigue or anything like that. It just seems like something is off with Phase 4 and I believe there are several reasons for that happening. Not everything is Marvel’s fault or is caused the grand architect of the MCU, Kevin Feigi. One of the issues they faced with Phase 4 was, well, the timing of it all. Phase 4 officially started with WandaVision during the start of 2021. You know what else was happening during that period? Well, the entire world shut down, making it almost impossible to get excited over anything! If you’re reading this from the future, just look up what I’m talking about because, just to be safe, I don’t want to mention any specifics because it can be triggering for a lot of people.
This wasn’t too much of a problem for WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier or other other Marvel Cinematic Universe television shows on Disney+. It was a problem, however, for the theatrical releases! With entire populations afraid to go out, Black Widow and Shang-Chi’s box office didn’t really make the expected numbers they might have got if everyone felt safe to go out or if movie theaters didn’t have to limit the number of viewers because of safety regulations. In short, it was a very rocky start for Phase 4’s theatrical releases.
Marvel was doubling down on the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe experience, though. As mentioned, not only were they making big budget movies but big budget television shows as well. While this may be a good for Disney, Marvel’s parent company, as this became a reason to subscribe to Disney+, it’s not so good for the countries which can’t subscribe to the streaming service because it’s not available in all territories! It’s possible to circumvent this by spoofing your IP address or by more unsavory means but it just means extra work and I’m not sure every MCU fan is tech savvy or dedicated enough to go through all of the hoops necessary to watch things like Moon Knight, especially since they don’t know who the heck Moon Knight is!
Phase 4 also has the huge disadvantage of coming after Phase 3, which ended the Infinity Saga. This was an ultra big story regarding magical objects known as the Infinity Stones and whoever manages to gather all of them essentially controls all of reality. The entirety of Phase 1 up to Phase 3 was all about the Infinity Saga! A couple of the major heroes, namely Iron Man, Black Widow and Captain America, ended their superhero lives after the Infinity Saga. This did lead to supporting characters getting their own projects, such as Wanda, Vision, Falcon, Winter Soldier and Loki, but only for the small screen.
Marvel instead made the decision to introduce some new Marvel heroes by giving them their own blockbuster movies. The problem is a lot of these new heroes aren’t well-known outside the comic book community. I myself have not heard of Shang-Chi. In fact, I sort of mixed him up with Iron Fist because they both had martial arts powers!
This might not have been a problem early on. After all, Phases 1 through 3 did introduce new characters into the MCU like Doctor Strange and Black Panther. However, these characters are popular enough to be recognized by non-comic book fans such as myself. It just seems like Marvel was really digging deep through their obscure heroes pile as they decided to make an Eternals movie, a really niche team that only real hardcore comic book readers are familiar with!
However, those issues I’ve mentioned isn’t the biggest problem of the MCU’s Phase 4. The main issue is there seems to be no direction to where these films are headed. Like I mentioned earlier, Phase 1 all the way up to Phase 3 was the entire Infinity Saga. Everything was leading up to the big battle between all the heroes from the MCU against Thanos, the villain who actually acquired all of the Infinity Stones. Everything was leading up to that climactic battle. You felt the need to watch each entry as every Marvel movie added a little piece to the grand story and you just knew it was going to all come together… and it all did with Avengers: Endgame.
With Phase 4, I can’t see an endgame (pun intended). There’s no overarching story between the films and television shows. There can be some crossover, like with Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and WandaVision. You may even see secondary characters like Wong appear in Shang-Chi. That’s all well and good but it doesn’t seem like there’s an actual need to watch every movie or TV show because they all essentially come across as standalone projects. The Eternals movie came and went. Did it really have to come before Spider-Man: No Way Home or Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness? No, because nothing that happened in Eternal affected what happened in those movies or the other television shows! Maybe it’ll all make sense by the time Fantastic Four and Blade, the last films slated for Phase 4, but, right now, there’s no overarching plot to really hook me in.
It certainly doesn’t help how much is slated to come out during Phase 4. Last I checked, Marvel and Disney have a total of 12 movies and 16 television shows as well as 1 TV movie special! That’s not even counting the television shows like What If…? and Loki which are getting a 2nd season! At a minimum, that’s a total of 29 items Marvel and Disney are expecting you to watch in something like 3 to 4 years! The entire Infinity Saga had 23 films for around 10 years! That’s a lot of movie and TV time and that may be time I just don’t have anymore.
It’s not like I’m trying to dissuade anyone from watching the newer Marvel Cinematic Universe outings. If they still excite you, good on you. Me? I’ll still probably watch most of the movies if people say they’re good as well as the television shows that I think will be good. I just don’t see the point to see each and every Phase 4 item.
What’s your personal take on how Marvel is handling Phase 4? Let me know in the comments section below!