All Hail Your Kang
Looking Ahead at the MCU
For a while now the discussion around the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. has centered on its lack of direction. Once Avengers: Endgame wrapped up the "Infinity Saga", fans were left wondering what was next for the cinematic universe. Thanos was dead, the big bad we'd been following for years was gone, so now we would need some new direction to take the franchise.
I think the higher-ups are Marvel knew they would have to create a new villain with a new saga to go along with it. I'll credit Kevin Feige and his team with realizing they had to give us something more. It's just that whatever seeds they started planting took a long time to grow. Were we getting the Multiverse (as hinted at, and then discarded, by Spider-man: Far From Home) or was that a distraction and something else big was on the horizon?
We do have answers, but before we get to that it is important to note that fans are starting to get a little fatigued with the various MCU machinations. The general chorus Online has been, "where is this series going?" (This is a thought we've also raised here, repeatedly, on the podcast.) In and around a few shows and movies that seemed to be building up the Multiverse -- Loki, What If...?, Spider-man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness -- we have a lot of shows and movies that don't seem to relate to anything bigger going on.
This is not to speak to the overall quality of what Marvel is putting out right now; I've liked many of the works they've devised, like WandaVision, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Hawkeye, but it's fair to say that there hasn't been much connective tissue between any of these works. We're got a lot of superheroes, yes, and some interesting adventures, but not a lot of information about where the series was going.
And that's to say nothing about the amount of content Marvel now expects fans to consume. In the first Phases, we got at most three movies a year, and that reached its peak with 11 films total across all of Phase III. Phase IV, though, already has 13 works out so far, in just a year and a half, with four more expected before the phase ends. You don't have to watch all of them to follow the major beats of the universe, but if you were confused how Wanda went bad for Doctor Strange 2 then clearly you didn't follow all the shows on Disney+Disney's answer in the streaming service game, Disney+ features the studio's (nearly) full back catalog, plus new movies and shows from the likes of the MCU and Star Wars..
What Marvel needed to do was give us some clue as to what the plan was, where things were going so we knew what to invest our time in. Finally, at Comic Con 2022 we got the road map and it lists:
- She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (Phase IV)
- MCU Halloween Special (Phase IV)
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Phase IV)
- The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (Phase IV)
- What If...? (S2) (Phase V)
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (Phase V)
- Echo (Phase V)
- The Marvels (Phase V)
- Loki (S2) (Phase V)
- Blade (Phase V)
- Ironheart (Phase V)
- Captain America: New World Order (Phase V)
- Agatha: Coven of Chaos (Phase V)
- Thunderbolts (Phase V)
- Daredevil: Born Again (Phase V)
- Secret Invasion (Phase V)
- Fantastic Four (Phase VI)
- Avengers: The Kang Dynasty (Phase VI)
- Spider-man: Freshman Year (Phase VI)
- Armor Wars (Phase VI)
- Wakanda (Phase VI)
- Wonder Man (Phase VI)
- Avengers: Secret Wars (Phase VI)
So what does this mean for anything? Lord only knows. We do know, for starters, that Phase IV isn't going to cap with anything even close to an AvengersMarvel's answer to DC's Justice League, this team features many of Marvel's biggest superheroes working together to protect the world and avenge its evils.-like film. Feige did say that we wouldn't see a true Avengers film for a while after the release of Endgame and that seems to bear out here. Still, its weird that we don't have any kind of crossover at all. Instead we get the second Black Panther and two holiday specials near the end of the year. That's it. This means that while Phase IV was laying all this groundwork on new heroes it isn't actually building to anything, which does drain some momentum out of the phase.
There are Avengers-style films on this list eventually. Phase V will cap (more or less) with the Thunderbolts in movie theaters while Secret Invasion will cap the TV side of things. If you know who the Thunderbolts are, maybe this will seem cool, although I doubt most movie-goers know or care. Marvel is going to have to do some solid build up to get people invested here, for sure.
We do eventually get two Avengers films in Phase VI, one to show (presumably) the rise of big bad Kang (the multiversal villain) and then other, then, doing a riff on Marvel's big crossover comic Secret Wars. That's cool, and it's good to see we will eventually get some pay off somewhere for all of this, but it does speak to another issue: how does the Multiverse tie into all of this. This is supposed to be the "Multiverse Saga" but right now, from this list, the Multiverse seems like an afterthought.
Some films and shows will likely tie into the Multiverse. What if...? season two and Loki season two are givens, as is the multiverse side-story Spider-man: Freshman Year. The rest of them hardly seem to support the overall story though. Agatha: Coven of Chaos? Probably. Daredevil: Born Again? Maybe if you squint the right way while watching it. Armor Wars? Likely not.
This speaks to an overall concept issue with the "Multiverse Saga". It has a lot of big superheroes, and possibly even a lot of cool ideas in it, but as far as actually getting us invested in "what's next" for the MCU, this hardly gives us a road-map to care about. The original three phases were focused, building their interconnected stories to steadily get us invested in Thanos and his evil quest. You could see how any of these would link up and built on each other. Now, though, we don't get that sense at all. This seems like an aimless mess of films and shows all mandated to be released by 2025. It doesn't really seem to work.
If we ignore people like me, who will watch everything because we have to write about it for blogs like this, how many people are going to spend any time thinking about this road-map? This is a random collection of heroes and worlds assembled to, well, assemble. It's a lot and yet says very little and I just don't see how audiences are going to invest in this, not the way they invested in the "Infinity Saga".
I'm not saying this is the death of Marvel or the MCU. I'm just thinking that Marvel is really going to have to step up their game and increase the quality of their films and shows to get people to buy in. It's too early to say superhero fatigue has truly set in, that this is the end of Marvel's movie dominance... but with road-maps like this I also don't see things swinging back upwards for the studio for some time.