With Black Panther: Wakanda Forever now in theaters, Marvel’s Phase 4 has come to an end. It was a phase marked by the introduction of several new series on Disney+ to supplement the movies, which means as far as hours of content goes, Phase Four is the biggest thing Marvel has ever done.
Phase 4 was largely pretty good, and it had some real standout moments that were better than just good. Unfortunately, it also had some low points, so here’s a look at the best and worst of this MCU era.
The Best: The Multiverse
Following the end of Phase 3, Marvel had seemingly done the impossible, so why not see just how far they could take things? One of the biggest elements added to the MCU in Phase 4 was the concept of the multiverse, and while this story has only begun to play out, it’s already given us some fantastic movies and moments.
Chief among them, of course, is Spider-Man: No Way Home and its bringing together of the three cinematic Spider-Man actors in a massive adventure. However, we also got to see Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier and even Captain Carter, in both animated and live-action forms, arrive in the MCU. The multiverse makes nearly anything possible going forward.
The Worst: Black Widow
Fans had to wait an extra long time for Phase 4 to get started due to the global pandemic. Unfortunately, once the new phase did get started, it didn’t exactly kick off with a bang on the film side of things. Black Widow was fine. It wasn’t a bad movie, but it just wasn’t the movie many were probably hoping it would be.
Being a story set earlier in the timeline, for a character that had seen a heroic death in Avengers: Endgame, fans were looking forward to a movie that would bring some catharsis and complete Natasha’s story in a satisfying way. While Black Widow does fill in the character’s history, it’s just plot, not story, leading to an ultimately unsatisfying finish to a beloved character.
The Best: Yelena Belova
While Black Widow was not the highlight of Marvel’s newest set of movies, it did have one bright, shining spot, and that’s the introduction of Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova. The Black Widow film was ultimately meant as an origin story story for her, and it certainly left fans wanting more.
Fans didn’t need to wait too long for that. Yelena appeared in the Hawkeye series as well, and her appearance was one of the most well received parts of the show. Yelena has a lot of fans, and since we know she’ll be back again in Thunderbolts, those fans are very happy.
The Worst: The Flag Smashers
For those who weren’t necessarily looking for anything too different in their Marvel TV shows, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was a bit more of a traditional superhero story, following two characters that we already knew, while also acting as an origin story for Sam Wilson as the new Captain America. However, the show also fell victim to a well known Marvel problem: the villain was a bit weak.
The Flag Smashers didn’t start out that way; they were actually quite compelling. This was a terrorist group that saw the world actually come together following the Snap, but returning to old ways after the return of half population from oblivion. The bad guys actually had a good point, which is why it was so disappointing when their leader starts killing civilians just so audiences don’t start to think that maybe the heroes aren’t on the right side.
The Best: Disney+
Without question, one of the best things that happened to the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the advent of Disney+. Not only did the streaming service allow for there to be simply more Marvel content to enjoy, but the shows allowed for more types of Marvel content than we’d seen before.
We saw experimental creations like WandaVision, the “lawyer show” that was She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, and more traditional Marvel adventures like Hawkeye. We were also introduced to a broad and diverse group of new heroes that likely would not have been given the stage like that on the big screen at least at this point.
The Worst: You Need Disney+
While Disney+ has added a lot to the MCU, that doesn’t mean it’s all good. It used to be that to follow the larger story, you only needed to watch the movies, but now, that is very specifically not an option. If you haven’t seen WandaVision, then you really have no idea why Wanda is who she is in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Disney+ is necessary to following the story.
This means that if you don’t subscribe to Disney+, you’re missing significant parts of the story. Obviously Disney wants you to subscribe, but for more casual viewers (and there are a lot of those), needing to subscribe to a streaming service to understand a movie later is just going to mean skipping the movie.
The Best: The Return of Daredevil And Kingpin
The series of more adult Marvel shows produced for Netflix were generally well received by fans, and even when the episodes themselves may not have been that great, the castings were viewed (with maybe one exception) to be perfect. But since those shows have faded from memory, it was unclear whether they were still considered canon.
In at least two cases, we now have answers, as both Charlie Cox’s Daredevil and Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin have made their MCU debut (in Spider-Man: No Way Home and Hawkeye, respectively), and even more is planned for them in the future. Now we just need to wait and see what the MCU has planned for Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Punisher… and sure, even Iron Fist.
The Worst: Wanda Vs. Agatha
WandaVision started out the run of MCU shows on Disney+ and it did so in incredible fashion. The first episode was a classic black and white sitcom starring Wanda and Vision that gave us only the barest hints of anything else going on. Each ensuing episode gave us a fresh take on a popular sitcom formula, meaning every episode was a little bit different and we were always in for something new.
Which is what made the finale of WandaVision ultimately disappointing, as the series ended with the same sort of superhero punch up that nearly every movie ends with. It’s not that the fight sequence was bad, it was fine, but for a show that did so much differently, it ended as just another standard MCU fight. This in contrast to something like She-Hulk: Attorney At Law, that gave us a wild and bizarre ending, which was exactly what a show like that deserved.
The Best: Namor
The introduction of Namor in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is quite possibly the best adaptation of a character that we’ve seen in the MCU yet. This is not exactly the same character that was introduced in Marvel Comics all the way back in 1939, but every change that has been made is absolute perfection.
From Namor’s origin story to the meaning of his name, everything is a little bit different. But the changes make the character speak to a modern audience in a way that makes much more sense than a traditional origin story for Namor would.
The Worst: Possibly Too Much MCU
One of the big complaints about Phase 4 is that, as a collection, the phase has no focus, no direction. I would argue that’s one of this phase’s strengths. It’s able to tell a wide variety of stories that are given a chance to be powerful on their own without having to be crowbarred into place to serve a larger narrative. However, I won’t disagree there is a downside to this.
Each of these stories has left the door open to more adventures, but at this point, we have no idea when we’ll actually see those stories take place. When will we see the Eternals again? Meanwhile, Kit Harrington’s Black Knight is likely going in a different direction, but who knows when that will happen. Will these stories simply never continue, or will they do so years from now after everybody has forgotten them?
Marvel’s Phase 4 has a lot going on. For the most part, it’s good, which is all it needs to be. Fans are still invested, and looking forward to Phase 5 and beyond.