Franchise Review - Marvel's Phase Four

The saga continues...(that's Star Wars. Whoops)

Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Four is the fourth set of superhero films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe produced by Marvel Studios. This set was based off of various Marvel Comics. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen. This is the first set of films in The Multiverse Saga, but the fourth overall. It acts as a sequel to Phase Three as well as The Infinity Saga as a whole. It will be followed by Phase Five.


"What is grief...if not love perservering?" - Vision (WandaVision)

Plot


After the events of Avengers: Endgame, the world is in a state of recovery. As the fate of the Avengers remains unclear, the remaining heroes try to pick up the pieces of the mess left behind by Thanos. However, when a Loki variant escapes from the 2012 timeline, he unintentionally creates the multiverse, leading to cataclysmic consequences...and a new time-traveling adversary that threatens the fabric of the multiverse. Meanwhile, familiar faces resurface and new alliances are formed.


Experimental Nature / Directing / Theme of Loss / The Multiverse / Threat of Kang / Quantity / Unfocused / Disney+ / Inconsistent Tone / Comedy / CGI / Lack of Main Character


Final Thoughts and Score


The Sweet


One of the coolest things about Phase Four is how experimental it is. The Infinity Saga was fantastic. It's one of the greatest cinematic achievements ever. A twenty-three film story is unheard of. Despite that, a lot of the films have a similar feel to them. They all feel like big, CGI blockbusters. They're quality blockbusters. They have good characters and a good story. But they're all superhero movies. They all feel relatively the same. Phase Four is not that. They take risks. WandaVision is a blend of The Twilight Zone and sitcoms throughout the decades. Multiverse of Madness is a horror movie. Werewolf by Night is a television special in the style of Universal horror movies from the thirties and forties. That is nothing like Winter Soldier or Endgame. And that's cool.


I also feel like the directing in Phase Four has been fantastic so far. That's one thing that's impressed me. Even though the quality of the films and shows have been hit or miss, the direction has been consistently good. Matt Shakman did a great job with WandaVision. Kate Herron did a great job with Loki. Jon Watts with No Way Home, Sam Raimi with Multiverse of Madness, Michael Giacchino with Werewolf by Night, and, most recently, Ryan Coogler with Wakanda Forever. There are creative people behind the camera that know how to craft cool, unique environments, that, like the rest of Phase Four, are somewhat experimental.


The main theme running throughout Phase Four is loss. That is a logical next step after Endgame, because there was a lot of loss in that film. But Phase Four takes that theme and does a great job of having it run through all of the films and shows. WandaVision and Multiverse of Madness deal with Wanda's grief after losing Vision. Hawkeye deals with the loss of Natasha from both Clint and Yelena's perspectives. Shang-Chi focuses on the loss of Shang-Chi's mother. The Eternals come together because of Ajak's death. Love and Thunder focuses on Gorr losing his daughter and Thor preparing to lose Jane. And, of course, Wakanda Forever embraces the loss of Chadwick Boseman and T'Challa. It makes for some heavy, emotional moments in Phase Four, which I always appreciate.


And, of course, since Phase Four kicks off the Multiverse Saga, we are introduced to the MCU's version of the Marvel multiverse...and it's pretty awesome. Loki does a great job of explaining and creating the multiverse, and then What If...?, No Way Home, and Multiverse of Madness scratch the surface of it. No Way Home obviously uses the multiverse in the most fun way as we get to see all of these classic Spider-Man villains and different versions of Spider-Man come to fight, but I also think What If...? is a cool exploration of the parallel universes as we see different realities and how they are created. I wish Multiverse of Madness had done more with the concept, but we still get some cool multiverse-isms in that film. I hope they explore the multiverse much more in the upcoming two phases, because there are some awesome things you can do with it.


And, while Phase Four just teases him, Kang the Conqueror is going to be an awesome villain. Jonathan Majors nailed the portrayal of He Who Remains in Loki, balancing the perfect amount of charisma while also being subtly menacing. He explained to us what's going to happen if the multiverse is created...and then the multiverse is created, and Kang his been unleashed. We got our first glimpse at the Conqueror in the trailer for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and I cannot wait for him to appear in the next few movies. Phase Four did a fantastic job of teasing him and showing us the threat he poses without actually giving us Kang himself yet.


The Sour


Unfortunately, Phase Four is the worst phase of the MCU yet.


The first three phases were simple. They worked together to build up to Infinity War and Endgame. There was a clear end goal. Phase Four is not simple. There are sixteen projects (and The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is technically in Phase Four, so seventeen), which makes it the biggest phase by a good bit. But it's also the shortest phase. It's been almost two years since Phase Four started. Phases Two and Three both took place over three years. Phase Two had six movies. Phase Three had eleven. And Phase Four has seventeen movies and TV shows over two years. The entire Infinity Saga has twenty-three movies! Phase Four has almost as many movies / shows as the first ELEVEN YEARS of the MCU!


Because there are so many frickin' projects, the whole phase feels unfocused. Avengers: Secret Wars comes out in about three and a half years. We've barely built up to that, because Phase Four is so unfocused. There's a reason for that that I'll get into in a second, but the lack of focus makes this phase so frustrating. None of these projects feel connected. Sure, WandaVision leads into Multiverse of Madness and Black Widow leads into Hawkeye, but that's about it. This is called the Multiverse saga, and four of the seventeen projects in this phase have to do with the multiverse. That's a problem, especially when only one of those four projects actually advances the plot forward. As fun as No Way Home is, it doesn't really advance the plot of the Multiverse Saga forward. Neither do Multiverse of Madness or What If...?. Only Loki. That's it.


The NUMBER ONE reason that Phase Four is such a mixed bag is Disney+. Disney owns Marvel. Disney created their own streaming service. They then said to Kevin Feige "Kevin. We need original Marvel content on our streaming service to get more subscribers." So, because of this, we got a barrage of shows that are not great. The only one to stick the landing was Loki. All of the good / decent shows feel unnecessary. And then all of the bad shows are baffling. Like She-Hulk? C'mon, guys. We can do better than that!


This phase is also really inconsistent. Quality-wise and tonally. I've already touched on how the quality varies from project to project, so I'm focusing more on the tone here. There are serious projects. Obviously, Wakanda Forever is serious. WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier both can get serious and dark. And then you have films like Thor: Love and Thunder or shows like She-Hulk, which just feel like things created by Cartoon Network. It's nuts how wild the tone of this phase is.


And, backing off of that, the comedy in Phase Four is one of the worst parts of it as a whole. In almost every show or movie, they have jokes that undercut the tension. I've already touched on She-Hulk and Love and Thunder, but other projects, such as Shang-Chi or even Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel would exchange tension and heavy moments for a quip or a one-liner. What makes it even worse is that the Marvel comedy, which usually does make me laugh, isn't that good. I don't think I laughed once during She-Hulk. It's just frustrating that this is the route they decide to go after Endgame.


And, oy vey, the CGI. It's horrific. A lot of the shows try to use the same amount of CG that the movies have, and that just doesn't work, because the budget is smaller. Now, the budgets for the TV shows are still huge for TV, but they aren't the size of film budgets. And even in the movies, the CGI is awful. Love and Thunder has become a meme for how horrible some of the CGI is. Both Black Widow and Shang-Chi lose their way in the final battles because of terrible CGI noise. It's so annoying.


The final huge reason why Phase Four is a bit rough is because it lacks a central character. Or any central characters, for that matter. The Infinity Saga hinges on Iron Man and Captain America. Their dynamic MAKES that saga fantastic. They are the glue that holds the whole thing together. There is no Iron Man in Phase Four. There is no Captain America. We don't know who our main protagonist is, and that's a problem. And I could see that being the problem for the rest of the Multiverse Saga, because we don't have any Avengers movies to confirm who our main character is until the end of Phase Six. So that has me worried.


Final Thoughts and Score


As much as I appreciate the experimental nature of Phase Four and the ideas that it presents with the multiverse and such, I have been extremely frustrated with this phase, even if I do enjoy some of the projects. But this has not felt like the MCU that I know and love.


Unfortunately, I have to go Sour. Age range is 9+.


SWEET N' SOUR SCALE

Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)


"Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Four"


Fun Factor: 7.5/10

Acting: 8/10

Story: 3/10

Characters: 8/10

Quality: 5/10


Directed by Matt Shakman

Directed by Kari Skogland

Directed by Kate Herron

Directed by Cate Shortland

Directed by Bryan Andrews

Directed by Destin Daniel Crettin

Directed by Chloé Zhao

Directed by Rhys Thomas, Bert & Bertie

Directed by Jon Watts

Directed by Mohamed Diab, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead

Directed by Sam Raimi

Directed by Adil & Bilal, Meera Menon, and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy Directed by Taika Waititi

Directed by Kat Coiro and Anu Valia

Directed by Michael Giancchino

Directed by Ryan Coogler


Rated PG-13 for superhero violence and action, language, disturbing themes and images, thematic elements


Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange / Strange Supreme / Sinister Strange

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch

Tom Hiddleston as Loki Laufeyson

Tom Holland as Peter Parker / Spider-Man

Chris Hemsworth as Thor Odinson

Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova / Black Widow

Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson / Falcon / Captain America

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow

Simu Liu as Shang-Chi

Benedict Wong as Wong

Oscar Isaac as Marc Spector / Steven Grant / Moon Knight

Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan / Ms. Marvel

Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters / She-Hulk

Letitia Wright as Shuri

Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine

Paul Bettany as Vision

Kathryn Hahn as Agatha Harkness

Jett Klyne as Tommy Maximoff / Speed

Julian Hilliard as Billy Maximoff / Wiccan Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau / Photon

Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier

Erin Kellyman as Karli Morgenthau / Flag-Smasher

Wyatt Russell as John Walker / U.S. Agent

Daniel Brühl as Baron Helmut Zemo

Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter / Power Broker

Sophia di Martino as Sylvie Laufeydottir

Jonathan Majors as Nathaniel Richards / He Who Remains / Kang the Conqueror

Owen Wilson as Mobius M. Mobius

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ravonna Renslayer

David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov / Red Guardian

Olga Kurylenko as Antonia Dreykov / Taskmaster

Rachel Weisz as Melina Vostokoff / Iron Maiden

Tony Leung as Wenwu / The Mandarin

Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky / Abomination

Jeffrey Wright as Uatu / The Watcher

Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter / Captain Carter

Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton / Hawkeye Ross Marquand as Ultron / Infinity Ultron Gemma Chan as Sersi

Richard Madden as Ikaris

Angelina Jolie as Thena

Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo

Salma Hayek as Ajak

Don Lee as Gilgamesh

Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos

Lia McHugh as Sprite

Barry Keoghan as Druig

Lauren Ridloff as Makkari

Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop / Hawkeye

Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez / Echo Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk / Kingpin

Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker / Spider-Man

Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker / Spider-Man

Marisa Tomei as May Parker

Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan

Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn / Green Goblin

Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius / Doctor Octopus

Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon / Electro

Rhys Ifans as Curt Connors / Lizard

Thomas Haden Church as Flint Marko / Sandman

May Calamawy as Layla El-Faouly / Scarlet Scarab

Ethan Hawke as Arthur Harrow

F. Murray Abraham as Khonshu

Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez / Miss America

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Karl Mordo

John Krasinski as Reed Richards / Mr. Fantastic

Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier / Professor X

Anson Mount as Blackagar Boltagon / Black Bolt

Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau / Captain Marvel

Natalie Portman as Jane Foster / The Mighty Thor

Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie

Christian Bale as Gorr the God Butcher

Taika Waititi as Korg

Russell Crowe as Zeus

Jameela Jamil as Mary McPherran / Titania

Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock / Daredevil

Gael García Bernal as Jack Russell / Werewolf by Night

Laura Donnelly as Elsa Bloodstone

Danai Gurira as Okoye

Tenoch Huerta as Namor the Sub-Mariner

Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda

Winston Duke as M'Baku

Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia

Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams / Ironheart