The third Ant-Man came out in theaters this past week, and due to family commitments I haven’t been able to venture over to the movie theater to see it. I have, for the most part, managed to stay Spoiler Free thus far (though it has only been out 6 days at this point, so I’m not going to pat myself on the back just yet). What I do know is this movie will launch the next Phase of the MCU (Phase 5), which is supposed to better bring into focus the direction for the future films and give movie-goers insight to exactly what the big story is going to be.
What’s odd is that for the last 2ish years, I’ve heard one of two refrains about Phase 4. The first is that is has no direction, no cohesiveness, and whatever the “Multiverse” aspect of things may or may not be, doesn’t feel like anything to excite people over.
The second is that other people love the idea that we got some stories that don’t push the BIG STORY so hard, and instead let the movies and characters feel a bit more self-contained (or one-shot, if you will). Which is something those people loved about the early phases of the MCU experiment.
From my perspective, though, this is no different than any other build up to a comic book crossover event. Just because some Events are more telegraphed than others, shouldn’t diminish them.
Way back when, there was a comic crossover called Infinity Gaunlet (might sound familiar). But the thing is, for a person collecting comics monthly, I didn’t necessarily know that some of my comic book reads were leading to that story. All I knew was Silver Surfer was dealing with this guy named Thanos who seemed to be up to no good. Thinking back on it, I don’t remember there being any Avengers issues or Spider-Man issues where the Infinity Gauntlet was a thing. Instead, Thanos popped up in a couple of comics, had a little 2-part mini series (Thanos Quest), and then we got the big crossover.
The thing about comics and the story-telling within is that they have to tell an ongoing story, month in and month out. Sometimes that means you might get long, multi-part storylines which last for years and other times you get a 20-22 page comic that tells a single story.
We also seem to have short term memories when it comes to how Marvel rolled out some of these early Phases.
Phase 1 was always leading up to the Avengers being formed… right?
In retrospect, it is very obvious that’s where the direction was heading. No, what Phase 1 had to do is introduce us to “new” characters. Iron Man was a big risk. Thor was a big risk. Captain America was a big risk. The Hulk was a big risk (though he certainly had the most name recognition back in 2008, which is a weird thing to say 15 years later). Any big flub and we might not have gotten any of these movies.
They had to set the stage with characters we knew and liked. They even reused Loki from Thor so that we’d have a villain we understood in Avengers.
Phase 2 was leading up to Civil War, right? Again, the answer is a bit more complex. We had continuations of the Big 3 Avengers, we had a sequel to the Avengers movie in Age of Ultron, but we also had two of the quirkier MCU debuts during this time: Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. Phase 2 is the one that I see Phase 4 mirroring as much as anything else.
Phase 2 had 4 sequels and 2 brand new characters (or team in the Guardians case). Phase 4 has 4 sequels and 2 brand new characters (or team in the Eternals case). It also has the weird outlier/bridge prequel movie of Black Widow.
Guardians was definitely the big break-out of Phase 2, and I feel like Shang-Chi is likely that for Phase 4.
So I look at Phase 4 as trying to do a few things. Whether they succeeded in some or none of those things, I’m not always sure. I think they needed to wipe the slate clean in the aftermath of End Game. If they’d immediately jumped into the next big story, people wouldn’t have known how to handle it. We all needed to have a bit of space to reflect on the 20+ movies we’d seen. Phase 4 is trying to put some new characters out there while still being able to tell the continuing stories from our favorites. And, it needed to hint at the bigger picture, which the Multiverse is obviously tied into that.
My hope is that all of this will be very clear in a couple of years when Phase 6 is complete. At that point, we’ll look back at these movies and go – Oh, now I see what they were doing.
Just in time to start complaining about Phase 7 (and the X-Men?).
John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.
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