5 Problems Facing The Marvel Cinematic Universe In Phase 4
Now that Spider-Man: Far From Home is over and Avengers: Endgame is but a distant memory, Marvel has officially finished Phase 3 of their 50-Phase Plan for intergalactic domination. They're now going into Phase 4, in case you were thinking they were going to give everybody a break from superheroes for a bit. But now there are totally new challenges, and if Marvel's not careful, fans may see this next round of movies the way Game Of Thrones fans see Season 8. Think about how ...
If You Want To Follow The Plot, You Better Watch The TV Shows
The first movie of Phase 4 is a solo Black Widow joint that takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, and the second is The Eternals, a space adventure. So the soonest cinematic followup to Far From Home won't come until 2021, with Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings. So what are you supposed to do until then, sit around and bide your time by rewatching all 23 movies?
The answer is yes, that's what Marvel wants you to do. That's what they always want you to do. But in addition, they want you to pony up for Disney +, where they're going to be releasing a slate of new shows. Before you start comparing this to the now-cancelled Defenders shows on Netflix, it's important to point out a key distinction: The Netflix series referenced the movies here and there, but weren't deeply intertwined with them, while the Disney+ shows will be totally tied to the films, featuring characters like Loki, Scarlet Witch, and Falcon. If their plots factor into later movies, you'd better have watched them. And you better hope they're good, or you've received some very nerdy homework.
What Can The Shared Universe Build Toward Now?
The first three phases of the MCU were about one thing: bringing superpeople together and making billions off it. That is to say, each concluded with an Avengers movie, which allowed the heroes introduced in the other movies to cross over and come together. As Phase 4 looms, there is no such announced mass team-up. With no new Avengers, you risk stuffing supposedly solo movies with too many characters, and that dilutes what is supposed to be an individual effort.
In Phase 4, they'll presumably be shuffling heroes into solo movies ala Captain America: Civil War and Thor: Ragnarok. It has already been announced the Scarlet Witch will appear alongside Sherlock in Dr. Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. That kind of cross-pollination sorta went well in instances like the Hulk in Ragnarok, but it can't work every time. Look no further than Civil War, which was overrun with so many heroes that it was a Captain America movie in name only. The single most interesting revelation in it (though we didn't know it at the time, and neither did he, whew) was that Cap frenched his own great niece, right? I could be wrong. I want to be wrong. Damn you, Endgame!
Also, what made the phases distinct was that they each built up to a movie wherein the characters joined together to fight a foe who was more powerful than any of them could handle individually, which was satisfying. That's not happening here. With Black Widow taking place in the past and both The Eternals and Shang-Chi introducing new characters, Marvel has pretty much painted itself into a corner with big tentpole crossovers. Admittedly, it's a tent, so they could just lift the flap to get out, but who thought I'd carry the metaphor this far?
Who Is The Narrative Center Of The MCU Now?
It sure looked like Spider Man would anchor the MCU after his struggles in Far From Home and that jaw-dropper end credits scene. But Sony and Marvel then broke off rights negotiations over who gets to make more of those sweet nerd-billions, so apparently not. Sony has again assumed full control of the franchise, and retains Tom Holland for two more movies. Unless something changes, that means no more crossovers with the MCU.
The first Phase 4 movie is a prequel, and the next introduces new space-based characters who aren't ideal as centerpieces, so that brings us to Shang-Chi. Good luck making him, a character who only came about because Marvel couldn't acquire the rights to a 1970s TV show, the grand unifier. So we're left waiting until Phase 5 for somebody to be the center of this thing, unless ...
Thor: Love And Thunder doesn't come out until 2021, but Jane Foster assuming the Thor mantle could be just the right combination of humanity meets daunting power and responsibility that propelled Tony Stark as the center through the first three phases. Everybody start holding their breath.
How Many Inhuman Forces Have Infiltrated Earth In The MCU, Anyway?
Earth is getting pretty crowded in the MCU. There are a slew of alien civilizations living amongst humans already, plus The Eternals is slated for 2020, and then a Blade reboot will inject vampires onto the scene. Now it's almost as if human beings are the minority on Earth by this point. Seriously, think about all of the different secret alien groups that Marvel has to shoehorn into a sensible timeline and reconcile with their overall intertwined narrative.
First you have the Inhumans, although I suppose their canonicity is in question at this point, since no one liked their TV show and Disney owning Fox means the MCU no longer needs a stand-in for the X-Men. Then you've got the Asgardians, who act as their own sovereign community, which must cause some geopolitical strife. Now you're looking to add in a race of immortal beings who lived on Earth since the beginning of time (a la the Eternals) and ... geez, can anyone even keep track of who's just a normal human anymore?
The MCU continuity is already messy enough. If you tell us that during all the events of Infinity War, there was a secret group of vampires just hanging out at Starbucks sipping on blood-orange-infused tea, then heads are liable to explode. Here are just a few of what could be an infinite amount of questions regarding how confusing this gets: Why didn't the Eternals or the vampires try to stop Thanos? Do the Eternals and the vampires know about each other? What about the Skrulls? Are there Skrulls posing as vampires? Are there vampires posing as Skrulls? Are there Eternals posing as Skrulls posing as vampires? Why are we getting all of this instead of a Ronin movie?!
My point is that it's impossible to follow, and if we can't follow it, then we are no longer able to keep ourselves grounded in a movie world that is quickly becoming sillier than the Buffyverse.
Can They Resist The Urge To Bring The Old Stars Back?
There's nothing wrong with Marvel retooling their roster with a brand-new set of faces. In fact, it's a good thing. Robert Downey Jr. deserves to go back to being the third-best Sherlock Holmes of our time. But what happens if those fresh faces aren't up to snuff -- or even if they are, what if the studio panics because box office numbers don't outshine the GDP of the Congo? Well, they're going to call the old folks out of retirement, and we know this because it's what studios always do.
Just look at the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy. Yes, we got Rey and Finn and humanoid Fox McCloud, but we also got Luke, Leia, and Han as major characters. Star Trek has done it too, with both movies and TV. Heck, even Fuller House did it. (We're all just lucky Lori Laughlin didn't have to bribe more kids into college.) When you're trying to sell something new, it always helps to put an old familiar face on the box.
And that's all well and good, provided you're a producer trying to make a buck and not a movie fan with an ounce of aesthetic discernment. Because if you are any kind of Marvel movie fan, you can probably see how hard it will be to bring back the old heroes gracefully and not create the wettest fart noise you can imagine in the process.
But don't think for one minute they haven't laid the groundwork. Remember, Captain America is not dead, he's just old. If the Phase 4 movies tank, it seems totally probable that we'll see Steve Rogers returning as some kind of sage Obi-Wan character, offering advice to Tony Stark's daughter, who has donned the Iron Man armor after watching some helmet-cam videos that Tony made to train her in his place.
Hey, who said you could exhale? You get back to holding your breath for Jane Foster.
Chris is a contributing writer for The Onion, and would appreciate you finding all the problems with Deck Z: The Titanic. Dan is funny on twitter sometimes @realdanduddy, and hosts The Bachelor Zone Podcast, where you can hear him give a sports-style breakdown of all things happening on The Bachelor.
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