MCU: Phase 4 — thoughts and reflections

After Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was released in the theaters, I heard that it was the final movie of the MCU’s Phase 4.

Final Phase 4 movie? What?!?

How could this possibly be?

I’ve defended Phase 4, time and again. And I’ve watched every movie and Disney + streaming series. Back in October 2022, my fellow WordPress blogger who goes by the handle walkingoffthechessboard made the following comment on one of my posts:

I’m a huge Marvel fan but have been skeptical about their Phase 4 rollout so far. I entered She-Hulk with zero expectations, and once I got off my high horse and just enjoyed it for the comedy it is, I liked it. It only “connects” to the larger MCU in small ways (which is part of my issue with Marvel these days), but it was fun.

To which I responded:

I understand your concerns with MCU Phase 4. So far, our stories have seemed to be all over the place. I think they will eventually intertwine in weird and unexpected ways. I consider Phase 4 to be a palate cleanser for Phase 5, when the FF and X-Men join the MCU.

I’m a big enough man to admit that I was wrong.

And I was also correct. Allow me a moment to explain.

I still think that Phase 4 was a palate cleanser for what’s to come. It marked a transition from everything that came before to what’s coming next. It was a farewell to Iron Man and Steve Rogers’ Captain America and the original Avengers Initiative. Also to Black Widow, even though her solo movie and subsequent lawsuit happened during Phase 4.

There was the feeling of the camera pulling back to show us all that what we knew about superpowered people in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far was only the tip of the iceberg. That the canvas used by the creative minds behind the projects was much broader and more diverse than what we had already witnessed. The phase was proof that stories would still exist, even without all of our OG Avengers, and it laid the groundwork for the eventual introduction of the X-Men and Fantastic Four to the MCU.

But here’s where I was wrong.

There was absolutely no unifying throughline to all the Phase 4 entries. It seemed like there would be one after Kang the Conqueror was introduced in Loki, and when the multiverse became a topic of discussion in What If…? and especially in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. But . . . no.

Sure, this prepares the way for Phase 5, where our ultimate Big Bad seems to be Kang, who will be dealt with by some new version of the Avengers in Phase 6 in a couple of movies, à la Infinity War and Endgame. But taken as a whole, Phase 4 was an interlude. Maybe even an intermission. Time to reflect and ponder and wonder. To take a break from Thanos and cosmos-spanning drama for a moment, and to open our minds to alternative storytelling.

Walkingoffthechessboard ranked all of the Phase 4 entries, and you should read his post.

I don’t feel up to providing my own personal ranking at the moment, although I posted my own top ten list of MCU properties back in August 2022 that included one Phase 4 show, Hawkeye. I believe the list is still valid.

It occurs to me that I haven’t written reviews for most of the entries in this phase. The following list, by release date, includes links to reviews already written, as well as mini-reviews that I’m writing today. Since I just watched the second Black Panther movie, it’s included as well.


(January 15, 2021) Disney +

When I reviewed this series, I graded it a repectable B+. It was weird and inventive, and set Wanda up for her showdown with Doctor Strange in his next movie. I thought it was an auspicious beginning for Phase 4.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

(March 19, 2021) Disney +

Another B+. This series has much of the same aesthetic and tempo of the Captain America movies. It paves the way for Sam Wilson to assume the moniker Captain America, even though he has some genuine misgivings about doing so. The series also introduces a temporary Captain America destined to become the darker US Agent.


(June 9, 2021) Disney +

WandaVision showcased the Scarlet Witch’s reality bending powers. Then Loki introduced us to several alternate versions of the god of mischief and to the multiverse itself. Also, to Kang. So, you might see where I would begin to think all of these disparate series would be unified into a cohesive narrative during Phase 4. I enjoyed this one a lot. It took home an A.

Black Widow

(July 9, 2021)

I was glad to revisit Natasha Romanoff and enjoyed the introduction of Florence Pugh as Natasha’s “sister” and fellow Black Widow Yelena Belova, and of David Harbour as the Russian super-soldier known as the Red Guardian. There’s a lot of action in this movie, and only a tenuous connection to other series and movies. Firewater’s Report Card: a solid B.

What If…?

(August 11, 2021) Disney +

As a fan of Marvel’s alternate history comic book series, I approached this series from an appreciative place and wasn’t disappointed. I loved the animation and the further exploration of the MCU multiverse. After Loki and this show, I thought Phase 4 would focus on this storyline. While it would continue to touch upon the multiverse, the purpose of the phase was revealed to be something else entirely. B+

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

(September 3, 2021)

Although I was never a huge reader of the comic book character (Power Man and Iron Fist was more my jam, and my introduction to John Byrne), I enjoyed this movie. I’m still not sure how Shang-Chi will fit into the Phase 5 mosaic, but I’m on board for more hijinks with Simu Liu and Awkwafina. B


(November 5, 2021)

My least-favorite Phase 4 movie. I know I’m not alone in this opinion. It’s not that I think the movie was a failure, because I don’t. I recently revisited the Jack Kirby source material as well as the Eternals saga in the pages of Thor’s comic book back in the day. I was never a huge fan of any of this, although Kirby’s artwork was always impressive. The movie recreates the experience pretty accurately, I think. C


(November 24, 2021) Disney +

I sincerely hope Jeremy Renner recovers fully from his recent accident. Full stop. Selfishly, I want him to be able to return as the Clint Barton Hawkeye again because I feel he really came into his own during this series. Hailee Steinfeld was a bonus. A

Spider-Man: No Way Home

(December 17, 2021)

The multiverse rears its ugly head again, making me believe everything is connected. This one seemed to be striving for something epic, and there were many parts of it that I loved. But overall, it fell just short of great for me. B+

Moon Knight

(March 30, 2022) Disney +

I think I liked this one more than the average Marvelite, which is saying a lot because I was never a huge fan of the character, who seemed like a cut-rate Batman to me. Oscar Isaacson puts on an acting clinic, and the story is engaging despite all of the Egyptian stuff I could do without. A

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

(May 6, 2022)

I wanted to like this one as much as I liked the first Doctor Strange movie. It was spoiled for me, just a little, because my sixteen-year-old granddaughter saw it before I did and was devastated by the demise of one of the characters. Still, it was just okay for me. B

Ms. Marvel

(June 8, 2022) Disney +

This was aimed at a younger demographic than the one I’m in, I think. Still, I enjoyed the story and the MCU’s commitment to diversity that I hope it represents. A-

Thor: Love and Thunder

(July 8, 2022)

I liked Thor: Ragnarok. This one aimed for the same sweet spot but missed. B-

I Am Groot (shorts)

(August 10, 2022) Disney +

Cute but not necessary. C+

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law

(August 18, 2022) Disney +

Much better than I thought it would be. Fun and often funny, with some uber-meta things I probably could have done without. Still an overall win. A

Werewolf by Night

(October 7, 2022) Marvel Studios Special Presentation Disney +

I liked this one. After Doctor Strange was introduced, it was inevitable that other supernatural elements seeped into the MCU. Solid B.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

(November 11, 2022)

In the first movie, I enjoyed Chadwick Boseman’s performance as T’Challa, who was the Black Panther in the comic books of my youth. I was saddened by Boseman’s real-life death the way all MCU fans were. I feel some of the rave reviews of this movie were influenced by this as well. It’s definitely a Marvel movie, with a lot of dazzling special effects and a plot that seems purposefully convoluted. The real stars of this movie are the strong female characters, including the introduction of Riri Williams, a gifted MIT student and inventor who happens to be young, black and female. I’m told that in the Marvel comics she’s known as Ironheart, the female version of Tony Stark’s Iron Man, but I’ve never read those comics. I believe she’s scheduled to get her own Disney + series, and I’m down with that. Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner finally enters the MCU. Atlantis is replaced by Talokan, and Namor is given a Meso-American pedigree. All of which is okay with me. Even though the character has existed since the Timely Comics days of the late 1930s, it would be difficult to translate the character faithfully to the screen without everyone thinking he looks like Spock from Star Trek. Since they kept his improbable foot wings, I’ll give them a pass. Part of me thinks they should have held the character in reserve for the next Fantastic Four movie, but maybe he’ll return. In all, a good movie with tons of spectacle. B

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

(November 25, 2022) Disney +

Fun fluff. B-

I said I wasn’t going to provide my personal ranking of these shows. And I didn’t, although you get a pretty good idea how I ranked them from my report card grades. Hawkeye was indeed my personal favorite of Phase 4, but it was in a tight race with Loki, Moon Knight and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, with Ms. Marvel following closely behind. All Disney + series.

My list is a little different from that of my friend Mr. Chess. That’s part of what makes MCU fandom great, in my opinion. Everyone can have a unique takeaway from Marvel’s diverse offerings.

I didn’t hate anything. Not even Eternals.

I’m looking forward to Phase 5. By the way, it looks like I was wrong about the Fantastic Four and X-Men as well. They don’t show up until Phase 6.

‘Nuff said. Excelsior.


One thought on “MCU: Phase 4 — thoughts and reflections

  1. I enjoyed being mentioned here, and I also enjoyed checking out those reviews of yours which I had not seen yet. I saw Quantumania already, and I’ll be interested to see your thoughts on it. Since then, Marvel also announced they are slowing down their release schedule. In my opinion, I think that’s a very good thing. Hopefully, this will allow them to really dig into the details of producing each theatrical and streamer going forward…and give us the very best they have each time out.

    Liked by 1 person

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