Has Marvel Studios Phase 4 Gone Downhill?

Since the conclusion of Marvel Studios’ infinity saga with Avengers Endgame, the studio has struggled to regain its impenetrable stream of quality content. The once legendary Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been a worldwide box office success, becoming one of the most extensive and lucrative franchises in the history of cinema. Since its start in 2008 with Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, the MCU has certainly had its ups and downs but managed to learn from past mistakes. Successfully wrapping up the first three phases of its ever expanding universe. 

Following the 2nd MCU Spider-Man movie (Spiderman: Far From Home), Marvel began its fourth phase of movies. (Phase 1: 2008-2012, Phase 2: 2012-2015, Phase 3: 2016-2019) Black Widow’s first solo venture kicked off this phase, awkwardly releasing two years after its titular character died during the events of Avengers Endgame. A flashback adventure where Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff was undoubtedly out-shined by her new co-star Florence Pugh. From this, it was clear that the MCU had lost its sense of direction with its first movie back from the Covid-19 pandemic being a reflective look back in a post-endgame world. This only became more clear as the phase continued. 

After Black Widow, the phase continued with some of their worst reviewed movies in years, with four of their six movies released in the past year sporting some of the lowest rotten tomatoes scores in the whole franchise. With Eternals becoming their first certified rotten picture at 47%, Only Shang Chi, and Spiderman No Way Home broke into the 90% category. 

Another brand new aspect of Marvel phase 4 has been its new advent of Disney+ shows. With eight new tv shows to date, Marvel’s TV universe has become an important part of its current continuity. However these shows have come out to mixed reviews and have yet to find a formula that works for the six-episode format the company has committed to. After a semi strong start with Wandavision, Marvel has been pumping out show after show, with the next picking up only a couple weeks after the last. Each show offers something unique to the marvel universe; however, they often come across convoluted and over-edited. For example, Falcon and the Winter Soldier brought unique new action sequences but were held back by one too many plot lines. Trying to tell a story about racism in America, a new Captain America, Bucky’s grief, a new supersoldier program, secret arms dealers, and the Wakandas taking revenge on a newly freed Baron Zemo, etc… Attempting to fit all of these stories into a 6 episode formula has yet to come across as coherent or well-written. This has often led to lackluster finales where the shows fail to cleanly and effectively tie up every loose string they’ve introduced. This has been an overarching problem with the phase overall as well. Consistently, post credit scenes set up story lines yet to be continued or paid off in another show or movie. 

Many of these mixed reactions stem from different expectations from the shows. Some people like Blake’s own number one science-teacher-in-training Mr. Darius Borris expected more action and fighting sequences in line with some of the original marvel cartoon tv series. Something decidedly missing from a lot of the shows. Borris also describes in depth how shows like Loki and She-Hulk varied broadly in quality and tone between episodes. Describing how shows such as She-Hulk started out strong but decreased slowly in quality and caused him to lose interest. Only hooking him back in towards the end with an appearance from Charlie Cox’s daredevil.

Another standout factor of Marvel’s recent projects is their over-reliance on humor and silliness in place of well earned character growth and relationships. Nowhere is this more clear than Thor’s recent outing in Marvel Studios Thor: Love and Thunder. Which seemingly cared more about its screaming goats and orgy jokes than its compelling new villain played by legendary actor Christian Bale. His potentially iconic villain Gorr the God butcher already had an emotional and tragic backstory in line with some of the franchise’s greatest villains. But his screen time was severely limited. Some fans from comicbook.com called his underutilized performance as Gorr in the movie as “truly brilliant.” The writer then adds, “It’s seriously disappointing that a potential character like Gorr didn’t get enough screen time as he should’ve.”

Along with the lack of Bale’s screen time, the movie also took serious steps back with Thor’s character development. After losing countless friends and family over the course of the franchise, Thor has somehow become a more silly and idiotic version of his character. Essentially throwing away all the hard work marvel did to develop Thor into a well developed complex character over his decade of appearances.

This is yet another example of Marvel choosing to rush through a project in favor of humor and an overabundance of plot lines. Sophomore Jules Lara also thinks that “Marvel is getting too humorous and not taking anything seriously,” adding that the new phase is completely different from the original. “The new characters are cool but the concepts and executions have not been my favorite.” she finishes.

All this is to say that Marvel’s phase 4 has been a “rollercoaster” as Borris says. An interesting mix of highs and lows, overly humorous or boringly bland. Perhaps this variation in quality comes from the studio nearly doubling its output of content in the past year. Spreading their executive producers like Kevin Fiege thin, making it harder to quality check certain projects on such strict timelines and release schedules. With Phase 4’s overall runtime surpassing the first 3 phases combined. However, looking down the barrel at future releases such as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Fantastic 4, Deadpool 3, and two new Avengers movies in the pipeline. It’s easy putting aside any reservations about the studio to hop right back in that seat for another round of adventurous entertainment.

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