As under the radar as the news seems to have been, it would appear that Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, currently due out this week, is to serve as the official start of the MCU's Phase Five, which means Phase Four came to an end late-2022 with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I always assumed there to be a larger gap in between phases but that doesn't appear to be the case this time round so I thought it would be only right to spend a few moments discussing the expansive and ambitious Phase Four which may prove to be Marvel's most tumultuous phase yet.
Perhaps the most pertinent observation for Phase Four is its reliance on Disney+ and how much of the MCU content was specifically geared towards their new streaming service.
You may remember the eerie timing of Disney+'s launch coinciding fairly well with a certain global pandemic that relegated millions around the world indoors with not much else to do but dive into MCU's WandaVision, Falcon & The Winter Soldier and Loki. While the timing may have proven effective for their TV shows, unfortunately their movies were off to a difficult start with Black Widow's debut solo offering's panic placement on Disney+ causing all kinds of legal and personal issues between Disney and one of its longest-serving cast members in Scarlet Johansson. (All amicably - and financially - resolved in the end though.)
While Disney+ proved very much a lifeline for Marvel it also afforded them the opportunity to maintain complete creative control of its content via its one-stop shop representation of its shows without everything being divided amongst various networks, streaming sites, etc. The absolute positives weren't without their repercussions however so while the Disney+ gift reaped undeniable rewards, the inevitable criticisms led to ultimately "too much content!"
Let's put that into perspective as we consider that Phase One comprised of a modest six films in comparison to Phase Four which comprised of seven films, eight TV shows and two TV specials. Or to convey that in a simpler way, Phase One comprised of 744 minutes while Phase Four came in at a whopping 3501 minutes. Yes, that's a heck of a lot but when the plan is world domination then it kinda makes sense to see it all the way through.
And such was the scope of Phase Four that amidst the array of new characters we were introduced to from Shang-Chi, Kate Bishop and Moon Knight, Marvel seemed to intentionally seek to broaden their demographics beyond the archetypal comic book fan and action movie enthusiast that Phases One-Three seemed tailor-made for. Ms Marvel and She-Hulk serve as great examples of shows aimed at fairly specific female-focused demographics and respective age groups perhaps resigned in the fact that the show may not appeal to the typical MCU fan.
So while not everything may have connected with its intended audience [we'll get to that shortly], the high points were undeniable. Film-wise, it would be hard to argue for anything ranking higher than Spider-Man: No Way Home - the third in Tom Holland's outing as Peter Parker lovingly - and spectacularly - pays homage to the actor's predecessors in Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield with a universe-clashing character mash-up endearing itself to fans the world over. Dr Strange's Multiver of Madness deserves credit for the sheer boldness of its creative decisions and genuinely scary Sam Raimi-inspired frights, and of course for a jaw-dropping Illuminati ensemble! And of course the ill-fated Black Panther sequel that managed to deliver an incredible movie despite the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman that, thanks in large part to the film's wonderful cast and characters, paid loving tribute to the actor and elevated Letitia Wright into the titular role - a transition she carries out beautifully.
The era of the multiverse has naturally led to some fantastic moments like the aforementioned examples and lays the groundwork for numerous possibilities going forward but one of the most thrilling moments came in the form of episode #5 of Hawkeye which brilliantly introduced Vincent D'Onofrio's Kingpin into the narrative via the platform of a Disney+ show which pulled characters from the films, the show and Netflix's Defenders series to inspired effect doing justice to everything Marvel had developed up to that point.
But as with all things that point to a balance in life, where is good there is bad and unfortunately Phase Four delivered more bad than it had ever done so before.
Eternals served as Marvel's first perceived failure in some years revolving around a team of super-powered Eternals trying to save the world after having watched it suffer for thousands of years. A swathe of mixed reviews meant that director Chloé Zhao’s future within the franchise was uncertain as was future instalments of the Eternals franchise.
But while the failure of Eternals could be surmised as a blip - an expensive blip - the ramifications of Thor: Love and Thunder cut considerably deeper for more committed long-time fans. Where Taika Waititi scored in an inspired reinvention of the character in Ragnarok, he failed in being able elevate the character outside of his perceived comedy value and opted to hurl him further into absurdity strategically side-stepping the potential for some wonderful moments. It was perhaps an inevitable destination for the character who, in Ragnarok, ultimately loses everything from his father, the Warriors Three, Mjolnir, Asgard and what must have been thousands of Asgardians, his eye and even his hair... but ultimately delivered the funniest movie within the MCU. As entertaining as Ragnarok is, that sentence really shouldn't make any sense.
Hence the divisiveness of Phase Four containing some of the MCU's greatest moments alongside their definitive worst. That's an incredibly negative and bleak statement but it's really only said due to the incredibly high standard that we all hold Marvel to since the first Iron Man movie. Phase Four is a triumph - in scope and in achievement - and I really don't mean to imply anything otherwise.
While much of Phase Four was about establishing its new front-line of Shang-Chi, Kate Bishop, Ms Marvel, Moon Knight, Shuri as Black Panther and Sam as Captain America amongst others, Phase Five seems to be diving straight in further establishing Kang's burgeoning dominance across what is likely to generate more multiverse glory and set the path for the fifth Avengers movie.
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