There’s been a lot of talk recently about the Marvel Cinematic Universe beginning to lose its way; despite the box office success of Thor: Love and Thunder, fans and critics are starting to grow impatient with phase 4 of the MCU.
To be fair, it must be hard to follow up the Infinity War saga; Marvel told a story that contained just enough connective tissue to keep viewers coming back, a simple tale of a team coming together to face an existential threat.
Those post-credit scenes teasing Thanos trying on the Infinity Gauntlet and muttering villainous catchphrases to himself reminded viewers why they should stick around; when he finally arrived and pulverized the team, his inevitable defeat proved surprisingly satisfying, delivering on years of build-up.
In contrast, phase 4 seems to be meandering, with its central villain, Kang the Conqueror, making a single appearance in the Disney+ series Loki (and it wasn’t even him – it was a multiverse variant). While Kang already feels like he could be a far greater threat than Thanos, he hasn’t appeared since, and the glut of phase 4 content is busy introducing new characters, most of which are relatively obscure.
Shang-Chi proved a strong introduction to the titular character, while Loki and WandaVision managed to tell interesting standalone stories while contributing to the greater narrative. Otherwise, phase 4 feels largely forgettable, treading water and building up the Marvel mythos, without a Thanos-like threat hanging over the standalone adventures.
Indeed, Marvel rarely allows villains to return; their most interesting antagonists tend to be disposed of in their introductory movie – there are a few survivors, here and there, one of the most memorable being Vulture. But Vulture last showed up in a confusing Morbius post-credits scene that doesn’t even seem canon – who knows if he’ll show up again?
Marvel comics were famous for constantly upping the stakes, almost like Dragon Ball Z, introducing bigger and stronger villains, until eventually the heroes were facing off against Lovecraftian entities like Galactus the planet eater; the Eternals did experiment with the cosmic side of the comics, but bungled the execution.
Phase 4 seems to have overloaded the audience with content, the beginning of Marvel’s foray into television; catching up with it all is starting to feel like homework.
Post-credits scenes aren’t teasing the arrival of Kang, but introducing new actors into the franchise, often playing fringe characters that are hard to get excited about. Starfox and Hercules just aren’t as intriguing as the old favorites; X-Men and Fantastic 4 are the next big names to enter the MCU, and the mere thought of them seems to be fueling much of the Marvel hype.
Hopefully, Kang starts to make more of an impact in the next few entries, because phase 4 needs a strong villain to focus on; without that threat, the momentum is starting to slow down.