We saw in Avengers: Endgame the conclusion to a story that many fans have been following for over a decade. So if Marvel wants to maintain their current level of popularity, they need to give audiences something fresh and new. And that’s exactly what we saw at the Phase Four announcement. Beyond just the exciting new films and TV shows, Phase Four has the potential to be drastically different from anything we’ve seen before and usher in a new era for the MCU.
But before we start thinking about what these developments are it’s important to mention that, according to Kevin Feige, what we saw at SDCC is the entirety of Phase Four. He acknowledged that there’s always the potential for minor alterations to the timeline, but this is the full plan as it exists today.
No More Avengers
The first, and perhaps biggest, implication is that there won’t be an Avengers film in this Phase. So far in the MCU, each Phase was building up to a big team-up Avengers film which makes their absence a very bold choice. But as the title implies, Avenger: Endgame is the conclusion to over a decade of storytelling in what is now referred to as the Infinity Saga. So Phase Four marks a new era of Marvel films, one where the Avengers may not play as prominent a role.
While there aren’t any huge team-ups in Phase Four, we do see several smaller characters crossing over into a few of the upcoming projects. Wanda Maximoff’s appearance in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has the potential to foster a connection between two well matched characters who haven’t had a lot of interactions. So instead of the big Avengers team-up films, we may be seeing more of these small crossovers like we saw in Thor: Ragnarok. But while the MCU is filled with Avengers, the comics universe has no shortage of superhero teams.
Feige did tease the Mutants and Fantastic Four at the end of the panel so it’s very possible that the next major crossover events will be centered around teams we haven’t seen yet in the MCU. Both of these properties have a plethora of heroes that could sustain another “Saga” and are accompanied by villains who could give Thanos a run for his money. So if Phase Four introduces us to new characters like Shang-Chi and the Eternals, then Phase Five could potentially be a mix of characters we’ve seen before (Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and Guardians) and establish some new hero teams with the Fantastic Four and X-Men. But now that the Infinity Saga is complete with the two main Avengers out of the picture, it’ll be interesting to discover the next narrative thread that ties the MCU together.
Diversity in Personnel and in Story
One aspect of Phase Four that we saw at SDCC was Marvel’s commitment to diversity, in every sense of the word. The properties they chose to greenlight, the actors they hired to bring the characters to life, and the directors who will be helming the next era of Marvel films all point to an incredibly diverse future for the MCU. This increased amount of representation shows that Marvel is investing in fresh and new ideas. And we see that reflected in the films and TV shows that make up Phase Four.
Thor: Love and Thunder may sound like it’s not much of a departure from Thor: Ragnarok at first, but the inclusion of Jane Foster’s Thor could take the character and the franchise in a very unique direction. We’ve already seen Steve Rogers pass on the title of Captain America and now it seems like Thor will be passing on his role as the God of Thunder. The Eternals is being described as a very unique film that supposedly spans thousands of years and introduces characters with abilities that are on a cosmic scale.
Although we don’t know much at this point, WandaVision is said to be “unlike anything [they’ve] ever done before,” with Elizabeth Olsen teasing that “it’s gonna get weird.” And speaking of weird, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be Marvel’s first foray into the horror genre. The director Scott Derrickson is mostly known as a horror filmmaker and, while there were a few scary moments in the first film, it sounds like they’re leaning into it much more with the sequel. And with the inclusion of Scarlet Witch, we might get the first taste of just how much the TV shows will effect what’s going on in the films.
Is it Really All Connected?
As many Marvel fans have come to accept, the film and TV divisions have grown increasingly distant. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was the first Marvel TV show that supposedly takes place within the MCU. But the only acknowledgement of the TV shows that we’ve seen in the films is the appearance of Jarvis from Agent Carter in Avengers: Endgame. This is about as minor a connection as it can get. While the films have certainly affected the TV shows, it’s never gone the other way. However, half of the Phase Four announcement included the new Disney+ TV shows which indicates that the connection will be much stronger than anything we’ve seen before in the MCU.
Without having seen the Disney+ shows we have no idea just how much the films will be impacted and how “important” they will be. But it’s a pretty strong bet that in order to have a complete grasp of the full story, it’s necessary to watch the TV shows. At least, that’s how they’re currently being sold. For these shows to be included in the Phase Four line-up, they need to have more of a connection than Marvel Television has had in the past. Otherwise, what’s the point? Especially since the inclusion of the Disney+ shows drastically increases the sheer amount of content that Marvel is producing. And not only that, but it’s also being released in the shortest amount of time.
Shortest Phase in the MCU
Even though Phase Four is poised to be the biggest phase with 10 individual projects (5 films and 5 TV shows), it’s by far the shortest in terms of its release with the first and last film of Phase Four separated by only 18 months. To put that in perspective, Phase One was 4 years, Phase Two was 2 years, and Phase Three was 3 years. Releasing five films and five TV shows in a year and a half is an incredibly ambitious plan and something we’ve never seen Marvel Studios attempt before.
While the argument of superhero fatigue hasn’t held much weight, especially since Marvel have produced 3 films topping $1 Billion in 2019 alone, there is definitely the potential for that fatigue to start setting in. Even though Disney+ is being priced at a very affordable rate, it’s unlikely these shows will draw as much of an audience as the big blockbusters. So if the shows are heavily tied into what’s happening in the films and they don’t end up doing very well, then audiences may feel lost when they go to the theater. And with so much content in such a short period of time, Marvel is taking a big gamble on how much audiences will be able to keep up with everything they’re producing.