What Went Wrong in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Four?
The Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Four has become one of the biggest talking points in the fandom. It was always going to have a massive task to follow the most profitable phase of the MCU, Phase 3 ($13 Billion). It was also the final chapter of two of the biggest characters in the series, Ironman Captain America and Black Widow.
What Were the Challenges?
When it comes to phase four, the MCU needed to kick some new characters into the leading role, but the problem was not enough of the new characters had a built-in fanbase.
In Phase Four we got the following new characters:
- Yelena Belova
- The Eternals
- Moon Knight
- Ms Marvel
Compared to Phase Three
- Doctor Strange
- Black Panther
- Captain Marvel
The number might not be too far apart, but the iconic figures of Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Black Panther have a built-in fan base.
The Eternals could easily have been included as the alternative Guardians of the Galaxy. Making this decision a smart one gives us a large group of characters in one group. Yelena is the simple replacement for Black Widow. Shang-Chi is like Black Panther, targeting a different audience to give Asian representation in the universe.
If we break this down, we can see that this is similar. The biggest difference comes from how they were introduced. Captain America: Civil War let us meet Spider-Man and Black Panther. This gave the audience two characters to want to get behind, without requiring an origin story. Phase Four relied on the origin stories of the new characters. So, if things are missed, they could see a character struggling to make an impact.
Phase 4 was the first phase that introduced TV Series instead of odd little shorts. We have been given seven different TV series this year, four of which expand on supporting characters and three are even more characters added to the universe.
This has worked two ways. First, it gives the characters extra time to get to meet and get familiar with. 6-8 episodes give us a closer origin story while expanding the people that help the established figure we have met before.
The second side of this is a weakness. The universe has been created in the movies, in a place to which everyone has access. The TV shows are locked behind Disney Plus if people don’t want another streaming service or the time for 6/8 hours to watch. It becomes difficult to connect to the movies being released around it.
There have been seven movies in this phase with only Black Panther: Wakanda Forever left to be released. It would be fair to say it started well, with the following:
- Black Widow – This gave Scarlett Johansson a chance to have her own solo movie, one she deserved in the universe. It offered a fresh approach, that was more of a spy movie compared to a superhero movie.
- Shang–Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – A fresh movie that brings us a new character, in a new bigger universe. It is a fun movie that relies on an end-credit scene for how big the series could go.
- Eternals – Eternals might well have gotten the weakest reviews and kept itself as far away from anything established. It did give a host of great new characters that have plenty more to give us.
- Spider–Man: No Way Home – This is the only one in the universe that uses a connection from a previous movie. Peter Parker has his identity revealed at the end of Far From Home. He has lost his father figure in Tony Stark and turns to the one person who could help him, Doctor Strange. The movie might well end up turning into a festival of Spider-Man movies past and present. It still left us with a massive cliff-hanger for Spider-Man’s next adventure.
The Weak Films
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – This is where things started to go wrong. Having previously seen Doctor Strange use his powers to help Spider-Man. The movie goes in a very different direction throwing in Wanda, who in the movie world, hasn’t been seen since Endgame. Which gave no hints of this new darker side to her character. Even though it would have made more sense for Doctor Strange to go on a journey after his mistakes in No Way Home.
- Thor: Love and Thunder – Following on from Doctor Strange’s failure to continue the story we previously saw them in, comes Thor: Love and Thunder. Thor agrees to team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy at the end of the Endgame. The movie throws this idea away within 10/15 minutes of the movie, to put Thor back on a soul-searching movie. This makes the movie feel disconnected from the rest and almost makes it look like it wants to be a solo movie only.
The Covid Pandemic that is still affecting parts of the world is a major factor in the problems phase four has faced. It wasn’t only the MCU that struggled, cinema, in general, had a tough couple of years. This is a factor out of the studio’s control, but the effect is clear.
It was two years between Spider-Man: Far From Home ending Phase Three and Black Widow kicking off Phase Four. Spider-Man’s two-and-a-half-year difference would have been one of the most natural between films. Having a large gap between what was one of the best conclusions in any franchise series in Endgame, would have left fans wondering what could happen next.
Chadwick Boseman’s Tragic Death
Chadwick Boseman’s sudden death at 43 years old put another spanner in the works for the MCU. Black Panther gaining such a following was the major hit in Phase Three. This threw out the questions about Wakanda Forever. Will they re-cast or who should become the Black Panther character? This only got more complicated with a new mandate on set, with the favourite to step into the suit Laticia Wright, having issues with the vaccine rules.
Everything around this is out of their control and on the promising side. The first trailer for Black Panther Wakanda Forever looks excellent, so hopefully, it can end the phase with the strength it deserves.
Evolution of Cinema & Streaming
Covid created a new wave in cinema and streaming. There has been a shorter date between cinema releases and access to streaming. This offers new habits for the audience who are more willing to wait the 45 days between releases to watch at home, with their Disney Plus access. Meaning the box office returns are going to be lower than previous outings.
It seems like the MCU has only struggled because of its previous success. The Universe has tried to do something more, moving away from only offering movies and not taking risks on every new character. The TV series offer a cheaper option to expand the universe.
On the positive, it has created a better representation of the product. This was an issue that was challenged in the previous phases of the universe and they have been addressed very well.
This hasn’t been the best phase in the franchise, but it can hardly be called bad. It has a lot to go up against after what was the best phase in the universe. It had to do a lot of rebuilding and evolution with changes in media consummation.