Last Minute MCU Phase 4 Speculation
I’m a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, both as entertaining media and as an entertainment industry achievement. That said, Phase 4 feels like a steep drop from the highs of End Game. It has since its 2019 announcement. The logo arrangement still looks like fan made clickbait to me.
I’m not as critical of some of the entries as others. I enjoyed that Eternals felt like a Phase 1 movie in tone. The sensationalism of Multiverse of Madness worked for me despite its flaws. I even enjoyed Love And Thunder once it hit its stride. And other than Moon Knight, which I just could not get into and haven’t watched past episode 3, all of the Disney+ series worked for me.
On their own.
What I miss from Phases 1-3 is the cohesion and sense of momentum towards a destination. If Marvel designed Phase 4 to be a break from the shared universe formula, that would be one thing. Instead, it feels like it’s working towards multiple overlapping goals with a vague goal line. I finished too many shows and movies with more confusion than excitement for what was to come. However, the post credit scene at the end of Ms Marvel might have finally connected enough dots that I get what’s going on. Since Kevin Feige alluded to a San Diego Comic-Con announcement that will reveal how the Phase 4 clues connect, and San Diego Comic-Con is this weekend, I thought I’d throw this theory out there while I had the chance.
What Is Phase 4?
At some point, Marvel chunked its 20+ movie, 10+ year plan into Phases. Phase 1 starts with Iron Man and ends with Avengers. Makes sense. Phase 2 runs from Iron Man 3 to Ant-Man, the first movie after Age of Ultron. They managed to squeeze Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy into the same phase as Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, making Phase 2 the swingiest Phase in terms of quality. But then Phase 3 went from Captain America: Civil War to Spider-Man: Far From Home (again, not ending with the Avengers finale for some reason). It really felt like producer Kevin Feige made a deal with the devil to pull off that 11-movie rush of quality.
Where Is Phase 4 Going?
A post-credit scene in Iron Man set Phase 1 and the entire MCU into motion. An unannounced Samuel L Jackson appears as Nick Fury and says they’re putting a team together. Phase 1 ends with the first appearance of Thanos, revealed to be the puppet master of the first phase. And Age of Ultron (the spiritual ending of Phase 2 in my opinion) ends with a Thanos saying “Fine. I’ll do it myself,” setting him up as the villain of Phase 3.
Phase 4 hasn’t had a mission statement like that. And with so much content in one Phase, it feels disconnected. However, I think that may be because of the order Phase 4 released. It was supposed to start with Black Widow, but Covid delayed the MCU movies. So instead it kicked off with WandaVision. As much as I enjoyed WandaVision, revealing that Pietro wasn’t the Quicksilver of the X-Men universe pulled the carpet out from under the idea that this would be a multiverse focused Phase. That started the Phase on the wrong foot.
The Black Widow post credit scene features an unannounced Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine saying she’s putting a team together. Even if Black Window’s largely forgotten, what a start to Phase 4 that would have been! It’s like an evil version of the original post credit scene, which sets up the themes of this Phase.
Theme 1. Replacing The Avengers
The majority of Phase 4 media features either a new young hero, or a corrupt version of an established Avenger.
In the movies:
- Black Widow introduced Yelena Belova as a new Black Widow.
- Shang-Chi introduced Shang-Chi and reminds us that Abomination, an evil Hulk, is still around the MCU.
- Eternals introduced Starfox and Black Knight, who have both Avergersed in the comics. It also included a scene in which the Eternals discuss who will replace The Avengers.
- Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness introduced America Chavez.
- And whether or not this was the original plan, Black Panther 2 will introduce a new Black Panther.
In the series:
- WandaVision established Monica Rambeau’s super powers and introduced a new Vision.
- The Falcon and the Winter Soldier established Falcon as the new Captain America, introduced USAgent, and featured what was supposed to be Val’s second recruiting scene.
- Hawkeye introduced Kate Bishop.
- Ms. Marvel introduced Kamala Khan.
- She-Hulk will be introducing She-Hulk.
- Ironheart will be introducing Riri Williams.
- Armorwars will be introducing one or more new armored villains, possibly Justin Hammer in the position Normal Osborn filled during the Dark Avengers comic.
Theme 2. The Multiverse and the Cosmos
The majority of the other titles deal with the multiverse, or with MCU creation myths.
- Eternals set up a new corner of the MCU cosmology, expanding the Celestials that have been hinted at since the first Guardians of the Galaxy.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home established that the universes created by the other studios are fair game.
- Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness established that dreams are alternate universes peaking in. It introduced a character who could universe hop. It also introduced alternate versions of some established characters, including Captain Marvel Maria Rambeau, who I’ll get back to.
- Thor: Love and Thunder gave us insight into the other gods of the universe and showed us that Valhala isn’t just a legendary concept.
- We don’t know much about Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. I wouldn’t be surprised if it linked the Quantum Realm to not just time travel but dimensional travel.
- Loki introduced the idea of unchecked alternate reality versions of characters, called Variants. It looked like it created the multiverse, although that version of the multiverse hasn’t been referenced outside of this series;
- What If..? was all about the multiverse, including the idea that the lines between universes are wearing thin.
- Moon Knight introduced an avatar of a god.
Tying It All Together
As it stands, the combined good Avengers, old and new, outnumber the established Dark Avengers by a lot. USAgent, Abomination, White Vision, some kind of new Iron Man, and Yelena (who’s a wild card on that team) are no match for the remaining established Avengers combined with Shang-Chi, Monica Rambeau, Kate Bishop, Kamala Khan, She-Hulk, and Riri Williams. But suppose a new cosmic threat -probably Kang- needs the attention of Thor, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, Hawkeye, War Machine, Ant-Man and the Wasp. That leaves a power vacuum for Earth’s replacement mightiest heroes. That’s where Val’s team comes in, opposed by the new young heroes, lead by the new Captain America.
Here are a few contributing factors that I see making it happen:
- Wong: He’s the current Sorcerer Supreme, and shown up in strange (heh) places. He’s friends with Abomination? Participating in fighting tournaments? He’s also analyzing Shang-Chi’s rings with Captain Marvel and The Hulk;
- Captain Marvel and The Hulk: Nick Fury’s not putting a team together this time, but Captain Marvel and The Hulk, along with Wong, create a bridge between the new heroes and what’s left of the Avengers;
- Val and America: The MCU hasn’t connected Val to Abomination yet, but if she recruits him to her team, she’s one step away from Wong. Wong is one step away from America Chavez, and therefore one step away from the multiverse. Imagine Val using America to recruit Sylvie from Loki, and going to Earth-838 to recruit the survivors of the Illuminati, Baron Mordo and Maria Rambeau.
- Maria Rambeau: Multiverse of Madness implies Maria dies being crushed by a statue. Given her power set and how graphic and clear every other Illuminating death was, I suspect she survived. Maria would give Val’s team a power boost, create a nice dramatic dynamic with Monica Rambeau, and could give Carol Danvers closure since she missed Maria’s death in WandaVision.
Phase 4 Is Salvageable
Phase 4’s quality hasn’t been up to the same standard as Phases 1-3. Maybe it’s burnout. Being produced during the pandemic, and rushed to make up for time lost when theatres closed probably hurt it as well. Uncertainty around the meaning of certain post credit scenes doesn’t help.
Even with the two themes, I think Marvel could have avoided confusion by using a new term instead of Phase 4. Giving the Phase two subtitles, like The Next Avengers and The Cosmos, would have set up anticipation better.
For all the dangling threads, I think there’s still a chance that Marvel ties them together well enough for a strong Phase 5.