Why Does This New Phase Feel So Disjointed?

Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for Moon Knight and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of MadnessPhase 4 of the MCU has covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time. When the new phase was announced by Kevin Feige at Hall H at Comic-Con in 2019, these new series and movies were meant to fill in the gaps of the post-Avengers: Endgame era of pre-existing characters, with titles like WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldierand Hawkeye. Simultaneously, the new phase of Marvel has introduced new characters with their rich backstories and mythologies to explore and enrich the expanding universe. New characters such as Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), Marc Spector (Oscar Isaac), Sersi (Gemma Chan), and the rest of the Eternals have joined the Marvel sandbox; plus, A-list stars like Harry Styles spirit Charlize Theron are also joining in the fun of the Marvel world.


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So far, across five movies and six series on Disney Plus, audiences have traveled across time and the multiverse. On Earth-616 alone, we’ve traveled from New Jersey to Egypt and from Madripoor to London. The stories being told have been complex and challenging, exploring themes of grief, mental illness, and family trauma, just to name a few. (Who says “theme park” movies can not be serious?) With each new title, there’s an intimacy to their stories, one where you feel like you’re really getting to know them and their sector of the world. What’s made Phase 4 so strong is also its weakness– while we’re getting to deepen new and old characters alike, the expansive universe these characters live in feels isolated and disjointed.

For over a decade, Marvel Studios has made a name for itself from the serialization of its movies, creating a cinematic universe for their characters to co-exist and interact with. From Iron Man thaw Spider-Man: Far From Home, Marvel built an empire from their Infinity Saga, weaving storylines and characters together leading to a record-breaking climax. Starting with six characters, they built out their Avengers team; and from there, they’ve added characters like Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), lending their stories as part of the Infinity War storyline with Thanos (Josh Brolin) waiting at the goal post. The titan-sized hole left by the finale of Avengers: Infinity War spirit Avengers: Endgame is too big to ignore. You can not replicate this right off the bat; you have to work your way back up to that scale again. Based on what we’ve seen in Phase 4 so far, the stakes have ranged from small to the size of the multiverse, with no clear threat or villain they’re leading towards. Each character lives in its own bubble (or Hex, if you will) with very little overlap.

Take Moon Knight for example– the six-episode series introduces Marc Spector to the MCU; he has Dissociative Identity Disorder with multiple personalities. Marc is an avatar for the Egyptian god Khonshu (F. Murray Abraham) and protects the travelers of the night as Moon Knight. While the series itself is a great exploration of this new character (and deserves to live on its own), the implications of the series have little impact on the larger MCU narrative. The post-credits scene of the series is usually reserved to tease a connection to the overarching story of the phase; instead, it conveniently finishes off Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) after Jake Lockley, Marc’s third persona, shoots him.

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Also, part of the season takes place in London, which was recently visited in Eternals; both Sersi and Dane Whitman (Kit Harrington) work at the Natural History Museum in the city. At the end of the movie, Arishem the Judge (David Kaye) is seen from the sky in London before he kidnaps Sersi, Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), and Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry). Surely an event like this would be fresh in people’s minds, or even the drone attack from Spider-Man: Far From Home? As it happens, there’s not even a brief mention of what would’ve been a massive event in a major global city. Outside a reference to the Ancestral Plains from Black Pantherthe entire series lives independent of the cinematic universe.

Another reason why Marvel Studios has been successful over the years has been the way they’ve created layers to their characters with each of their appearances. This happens by honoring each storyline and building upon it in order to discover new details about them. For example, the Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) we measure in Captain America: The First Avenger is transformed by the time his arc completes in Endgame, making Captain America one of the best characters in the MCU. When a preceding storyline is not acknowledged, a character arc can suffer.

The Hawkeye series connects with Black Widow through the character Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh). Yelena is on the warpath to kill Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), who she believes murdered Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson). Though her storyline is continued in this series, it’s buried between the introduction of Echo (Alaqua Cox) and the Tracksuit Mafia, not to mention the return of Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk. Her arc and its impact on both her and Clint is weakened. Even with Echo getting her own Disney Plus series, her corner feels more on the fringe compared to other new MCU characters.

The lack of continuity of character arcs and connection to the overarching story is most apparent in Marvel’s latest movie, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. WandaVision does directly connect with the events of Doctor Strange 2 since Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) has been studying the Darkhold and her search for her sons across the multiverse is the catalyst for using Gargantos to hunt down America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). When we do start to connect the pieces of WandaVision spirit Doctor Strange 2, Wanda’s growth from the series is put aside in order for her to be the villain. After everything WandaVision introduced, the Scarlet Witch’s arc takes what was strong from the series and cheapens it to further Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his story; her storyline is closed up with her sacrifice, removing her from the playing field. It’s also worth noting that the events of Multiverse of Madness happen after Spider-Man: No Way Home, in which Strange cast the spell that ripped open the multiverse. For a catastrophic event like that, there is hardly a mention of this interference, and even less so of its consequences.

To take the Doctor Strange 2 example a step further, the Loki series directly impacts the multiverse after Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) kills Kang variant, He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors), disrupting the Sacred Timeline into multiversal madness– yes, that was intentional. Her actions here are massive enough to break open the multiverse; should not there have been a reference to this in Multiverse of Madness? Plus, with Kang unleashed, he’s on the table to also wreak havoc across the MCU. We know Kang will be the primary villain in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Instead of introducing a deep-cut comics character played by an unannounced actor for shock value, Doctor Strange 2 could’ve used its mid-credits scene as an opportunity to overlap and connect these similar story threads together to advance the new saga.

As of now, Phase 4 is like a puzzle whose pieces have been dumped on the table. These pieces are still being flipped over while a couple of edge pieces are being sorted with little connecting. While the stories themselves are personal and rich, the overall story is so expansive we do not know where it’s leading. There’s a lot of potential on the field but the stakes aren’t there yet.

On the ground level of Earth-616, there’s strong evidence to suggest that it’s leading towards Young Avengers, Thunderbolts, West Coast Avengers, even Midnight Suns. It would be great to see Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) and Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) team up to create their own criminal empire, instead of operating in their own spheres independent of each other’s existence. In theory, all of these team-ups are exciting, but with too many teams, there’s a higher chance for many of these storylines to slip through the cracks unless they’re interwoven in meaningful ways. From the galactic side, there are a plethora of options to take Thanos’ spot as the new Big Bad. We have Kang, the Celestials, and an Egyptian pantheon of gods (RIP Illuminati-838). There are powerful players on the table but seemingly no hierarchy or connection to each other. Who is the bigger threat? Who could cause the most damage to the MCU as we know it? The only person who knows that for sure is Kevin Feige.

The reason why Marvel Studios has been the powerhouse in Hollywood for the past decade is the way they’ve been able to follow through with their stories. We do not need all the answers now, and this is not the creative team’s first rodeo. However, looking down at the table of all the Phase 4 titles so far, all the pieces are just lying there. Maybe this is a lesson in audience expectations, but when a studio has built a cinematic universe off the back of each movie with a through-line story for over a decade, the lack of one in Phase 4 makes it feels incomplete.

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