Was the MCU’s Phase Four really that bad?By Matthew Martin| November 16, 2022 Movie Blogs With the release of Wakanda Forever, the fourth phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has come to a close. A couple of months just before the film’s release, Kevin Feige held a big event that highlighted many of the upcoming films in phases five and six, christening this current era as the “Multiverse Saga.” There are some big movies coming down the line, including a pair of Avengers films, a new Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and the MCU debuts of Deadpool and The Fantastic Four. Excitement is still high, but it’s safe to say the reputation of Marvel Studios has taken a few dings lately. The studio received more criticism in this phase than they ever have before. How much of it was warranted? Was the MCU’s Phase Four really as bad as some say? BLACK WIDOW The phase started a bit bumpily, with a perfectly solid MCU movie that, in hindsight, brought very little to the table. Black Widow was a prequel movie, set in the days immediately following Civil War. It’s a shame that circumstances prevented the movie from being produced and released in a more proper chronological spot because, as it was, the movie never felt like an important piece of the puzzle. At best, it was regarded as a nice coda to the character of Black Widow, who died in Endgame, at the end of Phase Three. Critics knocked the film for its poor CGI work and ho-hum story. Looking back, time has not been much better to it. Initial Review: 9/10 – Black Widow might not be the most “essential” film in the MCU, but it’s quick-witted, well-made, tons of fun, and serves as a fitting goodbye to a beloved character in this humongous franchise. Hindsight Review: 7/10 – Black Widow is still, at times, charming and well-acted, but offers very little to come back to. SHANG-CHI This one probably should have kicked off the phase, as it delivered a proper origin story for a new hero. It was criticized at the time for having a lot going for it that was let down by a bunch of little problems (mostly contained within the plodding second act), but it started hot and ended hot, making it a film with a lot more rewatchability than others on this list. I said at the time of its release that it was the first Marvel movie that felt like it expanded the universe since Guardians of the Galaxy. One other movie in this phase tried to do that too, and it failed miserably (see below). I’ll take Shang-Chi’s really good first attempt and look forward to the next time we see the hero. Initial Review: 8/10 – Shang-Chi is not a perfect debut but there’s a lot of potential there and the hero himself will be a great character going forward. In that sense it’s a lot like Dr. Strange’s debut movie; solid but with enough seeds planted to sprout into something special down the line. Hindsight Review: 8/10 – Home viewing greatly improves Shang-Chi and that final dragon fight still rocks. THE ETERNALS This movie sucked. It still does. Initial Review: 3/10 – Eternals is the MCU’s first genuine misfire and it serves as a template for all the things not to do as we move through the post-Iron Man, post-Steve Rogers era of Marvel movies. Hindsight Review: 3/10 – Eternals was far too ambitious, too grandiose in its story, and too concerned with being epic that it forgot to be “good.” SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME The third Spider-Man movie has been somewhat of a holy grail for Sony to chase. The Tobey Maguire trilogy floundered with movie three. The Andrew Garfield movies were bad enough not to earn a third outing. What did Tom Holland’s franchise do to ensure a successful third film? They brought in Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s versions of the web-slinger to hang out with the MCU’s hero. The result was the most fan-pleasing MCU film since Endgame and one of the most crowd-satisfying theatrical experiences I’ve ever been a part of. Initial Review: 10/10 – Easily one of the best comic book movies ever, No Way Home is the kind of film the kid-version of me would never believe could happen. That it happened and managed to be a marvelously well-made film is just icing on top. Hindsight Review: 10/10 – Still Spectacular. DR. STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS The most polarizing MCU movie until the next one on this list, Dr. Strange’s first solo-sequel went through a rocky production that saw its director change and its plot be reshuffled more than once. The end result is one that has Sam Raimi’s fingerprints all over it but if you’re not a fan of his brand of filmmaking you probably thought it was a disaster. I loved it. That was not a consensus opinion. I still love it. That is still not a consensus opinion. Initial Review: 9/10 – Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness might not have been the cleanest, most finely tuned “film” I’ve seen, but it was bonkers and I loved every bit of it. Hindsight Review: 8/10 – I will deduct a point as a concession to the other 50% of the MCU fanbase that derides the film. It’s a polarizing movie, but it plants a number of seeds that are likely to sprout on the road to Secret Wars, making it a movie that might become critically important down the line. THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER This movie is the MCU’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It’s a battleground on which no brave soul will dare stand in the middle. You either love this or you hate it. My first impressions were that was as good as Ragnarok, or maybe just a hair below it. Others said it was a franchise killer. I think that’s outlandish. There are flaws here, notably with the too-brief runtime and the lack of attention given to the villain, but there’s too much fun to be had for me to hate it. Initial Review: 9/10 – Thor: Love and Thunder offers emotional closure to the mighty hero, provides viewers with a great (if mildly underutilized) villain, and brings the laughs and the pathos in equal measure. Hindsight Review: 8/10 – In hindsight, I really wish we had more of the God Butcher to digest. Even just ten more minutes of butchering in the first half would have given the film enough teeth to mitigate the criticism that it was more concerned with being funny than it was with living up to its potential. It’s not the disaster its most ardent critics say, however. BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER We haven’t had the time yet to digest fully the latest Black Panther outing, but while the film is receiving great reviews, the criticisms all seem unified: “The movie is a fitting and well-done tribute to Chadwick Bosemen, at the expense of being a particularly great comic book movie.” Most are willing to accept that tradeoff. I’m not willing to concede there even was a trade-off. I think Black Panther is an excellent comic book movie. That it’s also a well-done tribute to the late star of the franchise is gravy. Initial Review: 10/10 – Wakanda Forever is not just the best Black Panther sequel we could have gotten, considering the circumstances, it’s a fantastic comic book movie and Black Panther sequel, regardless of the circumstances. Well done to all involved. Hindsight Review: Same (check back in a year or so) * * * * * This has been a messy and uneven phase; that much is obvious. The seven movies we got averaged out to a 77%, good enough for an 8/10, but that doesn’t tell the whole tale. The film releases looked like this in the eyes of the viewers: “fine, good, terrible, great, polarizing, polarizing, great.” If you’re a producer in charge of crafting a story over the course of multiple movies, what do you take away from this phase, in terms of the response from the fans? What do you double down on and what do you shift away from? It’s hard to see a consensus other than fans love the multiversal stuff as long as it feels like universes colliding (Spider-Man), and like it less when it feels tacked-on and half-baked (Dr. Strange). Fans are a bit restless with the non-stop quips and jokes at the expense of good drama (Thor) but don’t necessarily want a bunch of 2.5-hour birthday parties for Eeyore, either (Black Panther 2). ¯\_ (ツ)_/¯ Maybe the model going forward is found in the two movies that landed near the beginning of the phase: Shang-Chi is a good template, being bright and fun and occasionally serious, but Eternals is not the template, being overindulgent and dour, and far too meandering to get into. This phase reminds me of the quality of work Pixar slid into after John Lasseter revived Disney’s in-house animation department. The studio’s near-perfect track record took a hit, and though they continued to pump out great movies (and still do), they lost the benefit of the doubt they had between Toy Story and the ignominious release of Cars 2. In other words, the MCU will be fine. It will continue to make and release great movies, but don’t expect every phase to be a string of Iron Mans or Winter Soldiers. Instead, just expect to have fun and you will rarely be disappointed.