If I had to describe Avengers: Endgame using just one word, it would be “tragedy”. The film literally killed off half the characters that today’s loyal fanbase likely grew up with. What else if not tragic?
Now before we get into the debate of everyone will die one day, there has to be an end and so on, let’s get this straight: the problem is not with the end of one phase and the beginning of a new one. It is just that Phase 4 of the MCU really just seems more of a compensation or damage control for the royal mess of the Endgame rather than a new beginning.
There are many reasons for this. Now that we’ve seen at least some amount of what Phase 4 has to offer us, I think it is safe to make up our opinions about it and point out some of the genuine weaknesses.
Having said that, opinions change and it is totally valid to say that I might be being a bit too harsh a little too early. But yet, compared to the grand legacy of the MCU, Phase 4 seems to be a bit of a let down, as of now.
1. The Problem of Weak Characters
The most important aspect of any franchise driven by superheroes is the superheroes themselves. Be it the DCEU or the MCU, the characters are the ones who bring in the fanbase, and storylines are built around them.
So, the larger-than-life persona of the heroes is of utmost importance. Unfortunately, it is here that Phase 4 of MCU falters the most. The MCU fanbase is used to seeing cosmic Marvel characters such as Thor, Loki, Captain Marvel, and Thanos. These are characters who have an extraterrestrial connection—be it in their origin or their powers.
Compared to such cosmic Marvel characters, Eternals, who are being portrayed as the central characters of Phase 4, are weak and underdeveloped. The radiant superhero aura that one can associate with Thor or even Iron Man is largely lacking in the Eternals.
MCU does not have Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, or even Natasha Romanoff in the universe any longer. These characters had the upper hand because of the character development and the significant amount of time assigned to their background story.
None of the Eternals have the same vibe and neither the ability to create the dopamine rush that we could feel in our hearts when Steve or Stark entered the frame. Marvel characters are known for their unparallel screen presence—think about The Hulk or Captain America in any scene, like literally any one and you know what I mean.
I don’t think such a presence can be associated with any character from Phase 4, including Spiderman, who was about to become the next Tony Stark but never made it. So, the lack of character development and the spark of earlier MCU heroes is what is becoming the nemesis of Phase 4 of MCU.
2. The Messed-up Timeline
Personally, I feel another reason why Phase 4 is weaker than the earlier phases is the messed-up timeline. If you think from the POV of someone who is just getting introduced to Marvel, they will have to go through all the earlier phases to get the heck of it.
While it is always good to know about earlier films while exploring a franchise, films like The Avengers, Iron Man, The Winter Soldier, and Thor: Ragnarok were good standalone films as well. The same cannot be said about the shows in MCU Phase 4.
Let alone new fans, the timeline of the MCU has become a confusing mess even for OG fans considering how there are numerous timelines and universes now. This also takes away the thrill of a clash between supervillains and heroes. In the back of your mind, you already know that even if your favourite hero dies in one timeline, they can return from another one.
The idea of various timelines also has some strength to it, but Marvel is unable to use it clearly. For example, giving up Thanos so easily despite him having an extra-terrestrial origin. Since Thanos is not human, he could easily be alive in another timeline or universe. Thanos’ presence in the MCU was one of the biggest attractions for Phase 3.
I mean, we all know that the loss of one supervillain is worse than the loss of two superheroes. We still have heroes, but I don’t think MCU still has a villain as strong and influential as Thanos.
3. Phase 4 Storylines Are Not Well Developed
It seems like MCU has intentionally taken the responsibility to ruin potential storylines and interesting plot developments. The biggest example of such waste of potential is Loki. For a character with enormous potential such as Loki, the series was way too short and nothing was explained well.
We can definitely wait for Season 2 to arrive and blow us all away, but Season 1 did not meet the high expectations of MCU fans after Endgame. If that was not enough, there is the royal disappointment called Hawkeye.
Both Loki and Hawkeye are characters with a lot of scope. Since Loki is a god, the idea of him being alive in various other universes is actually a great one, but it needs to be brushed up further. In case of Hawkeye, the build-up of Kingpin versus Hawkeye took weeks and it all just came crashing down in one episode.
So, storylines in Phase 4, despite having potential, are not being explored as much. For instance, the build-up that MCU created before Infinity War is one of the best examples of development of a meaty storyline.
3. Way Too Many Shows Compared to Movies
Another reason for Phase 4 not being up to the mark is that there are actually way too many shows in comparison to films in Phase 4. I won’t blame them on this one, considering the current situation with regard to the pandemic has increasingly shifted modes of entertainment to the OTT platforms.
If this was five years ago, there would probably be one film centering around Loki rather than a series. But while shows have their pros, there are also some cons. The most important one being the lack of grandeur which one can experience in theatres.
For instance, Daredevil is one character who has a lot of potential for becoming iconic, but for a franchise such as MCU, three seasons in a web series cannot be as impactful as a movie trilogy. There are anyway too many filler episodes in Daredevil. If we take out these filler episodes, the content could be a solid 2.5-hour film, which would probably make a better mark.
COVID-19 can be considered responsible for much of the content of Phase 4 being transferred to OTT platforms, but even then, the shows were not adequately well planned and developed. There are way too many nostalgic references and not much solid content.
If at all the storylines had to be developed via shows, the seasons should have been longer, which is also not the case. Think in terms of Hawkeye or Loki and the duration of Season 1 in each case.
Also, OTT platforms are also not accessible to everyone in various parts of the world. Fans may not always have ready access to platforms. So, the lack of big releases in Phase 4 may also be a contributing factor behind it being weaker than earlier phases.
4. The Dependance on Nostalgia
Phase 4 of the MCU is trying hard to compensate for the loss of strong characters in Endgame by drenching the fans in nostalgia or a sense of deja-vu. How else can the sudden appearance of Matt Murdock and Venom in No Way Home be explained?
MCU also introduced Kingpin in Hawkeye’s season finale, all of which is designed to give us a boost of nostalgia to overshadow the lack of direction and plot.
Instead of dropping constant references to the bygone legacy and forceful establishment of connections (for instance, the whole Venom connection seemed forced), MCU should focus more on direction and story development.
5. Are We Being Too Harsh on Phase 4 Too Early?
I know I just went on a rant about everything that MCU is doing wrong in Phase 4, but there’s also another side to it. We can’t deny that it might be a little too early to consider Phase 4 a letdown.
First of all, we are going through a pandemic, so the availability of theatres and other platforms is a thing, which was not an issue for Phases 1 to 3. Secondly, some of the most awaited Marvel movies, such as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, are yet to release.
Shows like Loki are all set to return for another season as well. So, maybe with time, MCU will deliver. The loss of characters like Steve Rogers and Tony Stark is definitely a huge setback for the MCU but there are characters with a lot of potential in Phase 4, even compared to DCEU.
All things considered, MCU is still better than DCEU. But the point here is not comparing MCU to immediate rivals like DCEU but rather to mainstream Hollywood or proper Hollywood action films.
In comparison to being at par with much of the greatest mainstream cinema in Hollywood, MCU really needs to step up their game. Trust me, it is them who are responsible for this because they let us get used to the greatness of Iron Man on one side and Thanos on the other.
After all of that, Phase 4 seems a little childish for OG fans. I rest my case.
6. About Marvel Cinematic Universe
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is an American media franchise and shared universe centered on a series of superhero films and TV series, independently produced by Marvel Studios and based on characters that appear in American comic books published by Marvel Comics.
The franchise includes comic books, short films, television series, and digital series. The shared universe, much like the original Marvel Universe in comic books, was established by crossing over common plot elements, settings, cast, and characters.