Seen ‘Wakanda Forever’ yet? What a tour de force of acting and gritty, raw storytelling it is. The release of that film signals the ending of phase four of the Marvel journey, (with a little ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ cameo still to come as the epilogue), a phase that started with the much delayed ‘Black Widow’ in July 2021. The pandemic played havoc with the scheduling of some of Marvel’s phase four TV shows and films and there has been some critical ‘unrest’ amongst a fan base still grieving over the double-whammy ending of ‘Infinity War’ and ‘End Game’.
The ‘Infinity Saga’ was a masterpiece of storytelling and franchise building 11 years in the making so there was always going to be a reaction and kick-back to what followed it but some of the criticism that has been levelled at Marvel for their phase four content has been a little mis-judged and mis-guided from a fan base spoilt by films like ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and ‘Thor: Ragnarok’. We thought it would be good idea and a timely reminder to detail some of the highlights of what is the beginnings of the ‘The Multiverse Saga’.
The Widening of the Universe
Kang and the TVA lost control of their branches and the universe cracked into multi-dimensions during phase four. This will form the basis of the story to be told across phases five and six. Phrases like ‘incursion’ are going to become common parlance and we also got a glimpse of alternate realties like Earth 838 in ‘Dr Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.’ We had celestials in the ‘Eternals’ and the wonderful under-water city state of ‘Talokan’ in ‘Wakanda Forever’ too, meaning that the MCU is forever expanding into bigger and bolder areas.
What a great idea this turned out to be! The TV shows have been as good as, if not better, than the films in phase four. From ‘Wandavision’ through to ‘She Hulk’ we’ve been treated to a range of styles and tones that have been able to break your heart or make you laugh from the bottom of your belly. New characters like Kate Bishop and Kamala Khan have been resounding successes whilst already established characters like Scarlett Witch and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon have seen their storylines advanced into new and exciting areas. We’ve seen the re-introduction of Daredevil and broken the fourth wall with She Hulk, giving us a look at the real power behind the throne / algorithm of the MCU in K.E.V.I.N.
‘Secret Invasion’ is the next show up. It promises to herald in phase five in style with a more traditional bells-and-whistles style Marvel escapade!
The sheer diversity of heroes and villains being lined up for phases five and six is mind blowing. There are rumours that Kevin Feige wants some sort of ultimate gathering of every hero from every part of the MCU in the ‘Secret Wars’ film and if that’s the case, we wish him luck because there are now so many. All ages, nationalities and shapes are coming through the MCU as they move away from all-white-all-the-time heroes. The re-imaging of *Spoiler Alert if you haven’t seen Wakanda Forever yet* Namor’s Atlantis in ‘Black Panther 2’ into the city of Talokan, which was founded by indigenous peoples fleeing the Spanish invaders is further evidence of Marvel’s sensitivity towards different nationalities and their willingness to showcase awkward and potentially difficult historical events.
The Kids are Alright
If there was a Young Avengers movie produced tomorrow it could well be an all female affair as Kate Bishop, Cassie Lang, Kamala Khan and Riri Williams battle to save the world with help from such mentors as Jennifer Walters, Shuri and Yelena Belova. We’ve had a couple of glimpses of Billy (Wiccan) and Tommy (Speed), Wanda and Vision’s kids and ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ even ended with our titular Asgardian hero becoming a foster father too. Add in Skaar, the newly introduced son of Bruce Banner right at the end of ‘She Hulk’ and it just leaves Nova missing before we can really assemble some sort of ‘next generation’ Champion’s-style team. Rumours of a show featuring Vision being in the works might well bring Tom King’s iconic Vision comic to the small screen which would potentially complete the squad by introducing the world to Vivian too.
The next generation of heroes are coming through the ranks and there’s a post credit scene in ‘Wakanda Forever’ that might even be sowing the seeds of the generation to come after that too!
We’ve still not really recovered from ‘WandaVision’ if we’re being honest. Throw in the continuation of that story in ‘Dr Strange and the Multiverse of Madness’, Marc Spector’s Dissociative Identity Disorder, the ‘mind wipe’ ending at the culmination of ‘No Way Home’, the issues of ageing and isolation that were touched upon in ‘The Eternals’ and basically the whole of ‘Wakanda Forever’ and you’ve got some really heavyweight content that isn’t normally associated with blockbuster franchises.
Not everything is just capes and magic in the MCU. It isn’t in the comics, which is why the brand and the franchise have been so successful over the years. Nothing is off limits for Marvel and that’s one of the reasons why we love them so much. Phase four has been a strong one for heartbreaking events, and let’s not even get started on Aunt May.
Deep Cut Characters
Just like all the great rock bands when they are putting their concert set lists together, you have to make content that satisfy your hardcore fans and the casual observer too. Marvel has introduced the super-fans to some really obscure characters from the comic universe that tickle our need to set ourselves apart from the casual, run-of-the-mill Saturday night cinema go-er.
The Midnight Angels! Starfox! 838 Reed Richards! Man Thing! Dane Whitman! Leap-Frog! These are the characters that only the real comic fans would know without resorting to Google. Phase four has done a good job of throwing hardcore fans some bones to keep their nerd-like need for deep cuts alive and bubbling.
C’mon! If someone had told you five years ago that there would be Spiderman film featuring Holland, Maguire and Garfield it would have seemed like the most implausible and improbable suggestion in cinema history but they only went and did it.
In some respects, the actual reveal during ‘Spiderman 3: No Way Home’ was almost anti-climatic because there had been so much speculation around the possibility of it happening that when it actually did occur a whole bunch of people just went, ‘knew it would,’ which seemed to lessen the effect a little.
As phase four comes to an end, let’s reflect on the enormity of what Marvel (and grudgingly, Sony) pulled off in ‘No Way Home,’ which for some people was one of the great cinematic reveals of all time.
The Mutants Are on the Way
It’s happening, folks! The seeds are being sown across phase four for the introduction of the X Men into the MCU. Ms Marvel is a mutant. Namor is a mutant. We’ve seen (and laughed at) Mr Immortal in ‘She Hulk’ too. We’ve also had the announcement of Deadpool 3 in which Ryan Reynolds seems to have single-handedly convinced Hugh Jackman not to slink off into the night but to reprise his role as ‘Wolverine’ for one cough ‘final’ time!
Don’t forget we also got to spend some quality time with Earth 838’s Charles Xavier too but how Marvel integrate the mutants into the 616 universe is still yet to be seen. An incursion maybe? Will we get the lion share of Fox’s X men coming into the MCU already fully formed, bringing those films into the MCU cannon or will we see a whole new set of characters learning their powers from a sort of hard reset? Given that Wolverine seems to be coming in fully formed I’d suggest it would be the former, but you just never know what K.E.V.I.N. and the algorithm has in store for us, and that, there, my friends, is the beauty of the MCU.
So, let’s reflect on the ending of Marvel’s ‘difficult’ phase. There were always going to be problems in following up ‘The Infinity Saga’: the most successful and popular cinema franchise of all time. With Tony Stark and Natasha Romanoff dead, Steve Rogers living out a ‘normal’ life with Peggy and the Avengers gone, Marvel were always going to find the next instalment in their saga a tricky one to execute. A need to expand the universe and to introduce new characters for us to fall in love with was always going to be more of a marathon, rather than a sprint and phase four has turned out to be exactly that.
I think, with all all the excitement to come in phases 5 and 6, including events like two more Avengers films, the introduction of the Fantastic Four and the multiversal shenanigans of Kang, phase four will be ultimately seen as a seed-sowing, holding phase but it is also a phase greater than the sum of its own individual parts.