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Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Isn’t Cinematic

Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Isn't Cinematic

Angela Watercutter

It’s a hallmark of Comic-Con International that Marvel Studios honcho Kevin Feige will take the stage and announce a huge slate of films—essentially laying out huge chunks of what will be hitting theaters in the coming years. Today, he did the same thing, announcing Marvel’s much-anticipated Phase 4. Only this time, not everything he hyped will see the inside of a multiplex.

All told, Marvel announced 10 projects for Phase 4, all being released between now and the end of 2021. Of those, half are going to the streaming service Disney+. That means that, in addition to huge highly anticipated movies like Eternals and a new Thor flick—now with the great subtitle Love and Thunder—the next phase of the MCU will have WandaVision, an original series where Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprise their roles as Scarlet Witch and Vision, and Loki, about, well, Loki.

Also on the menu: Hawkeye, which will introduce female archer Kate Bishop, What If…?, which will present alternate realities of events in the MCU, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which follows Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes’ adventures after Avengers: Endgame. It’s an amazing lineup, especially when you consider that all of the big movie stars are reprising their roles for the smaller screen. Olsen even noted that it provided a unique opportunity to tie in MCU stories on screens big and small. “I think [it] might be the future,” she said, seeming look past the existence of the ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (how soon we forget…).

But really, what’s not to like? The actually cinematic Marvel Cinematic Universe is clearly going into wildly different directions with movies like The Eternals, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Thor: Love and Thunder, which will introduce Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster as the new Female Thor. With all of that, it only makes sense for Marvel to continue to get mileage out of fan favorites like Loki and Wanda. (It’s also not surprising that this new era will be ushered in with a movie telling a street-level story: Black Widow.) Why put good heroes out to pasture when you could use them to lure people into dropping $6.99 per month?

What it does, though, is put the MCU on a much different timeline. Phase 3 of the universe was 11 films in three years. Phase 4 now is five films and five shows all before the end of 2021. (And there might be even more—at the end of the Marvel panel Feige pulled a Jobsian One More Thing and said there were Captain Marvel and Black Panther sequels also in the works as well as a new Blade movie.) That may seem like roughly the same amount of content, but shows and movies are very different things. Moreover, not every Disney+ show is likely to further the plot the way new movie installments do, even if they are all happening in the same universe. Adding shows in between your movie releases doesn’t necessarily bolster the narrative of the MCU so much as stretch it in all directions. One movie might lead to the next, but in between there might be a few side campaigns, which may leave the MCU feeling not as cohesive as it has in the past.

That’s fine. The existence of shows like S.H.I.E.L.D. and the also-now-defunct Netflix Marvel shows like Jessica Jones and Iron Fist always made it feel as though there were a few separate worlds. What stood out at Marvel’s Hall H panel at Comic-Con was the attempt to unify them all into Phase 4 when they could exist on their own. Giving shows to heroes of movies past is a great idea. Trying to keep them as part of any Phase when the Infinity Saga is over, though, seems odd. It could just let the movies be movies and the shows be shows. Disney+ is a great place for Marvel to build out its offerings, but hopefully it remembers that it has all the time and space in the universe.

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