Before the pandemic shuffled release dates around, Phase 4 was laid out carefully and the disrupted schedule may have impacted the Phase as a whole.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe originally had a very different timeline for its Phase 4 projects than how they actually wound up being released. The MCU is a carefully crafted franchise that has to balance all of it's interconnected stories and characters, sometimes years before they are actually revealed. Because of this, the MCU knows that release order of projects is critical and will frequently announce the expected release dates years in advance at events such as Comic Con or D23. However, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in their Phase 4 release order.
Phase 4 has been a struggle for the MCU. While some blame Marvel fatigue, the lack of clear direction Phase 4 had, or the fact that there were no Avengers team up movies, another factor may be at play. The release order of Phase 4 projects was not how it was intended to be. If Marvel had released Phase 4 as it was originally announced, it may have helped many projects succeed by ensuring the overall narrative worked in the initially intended manner.
The original release dates for Phase 4 had the MCU movies and shows slated for the following dates.
In July 2019, Kevin Feige announced Phase 4 at San Diego Comic Con and most of the corresponding release dates. Some projects, such as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and Moon Knight, were still unannounced at the time which is why, although they were included in Phase 4, they were not in the official lineup until after these projects had already been shuffled around.
Less than a year after the announcement of Phase 4 was made, COVID-19 disrupted the carefully thought out plans, forcing Marvel to rethink their release dates and even rewrite many of their scripts. Instead of pushing Phase 4 back indefinitely, as no one knew if or when movie theaters would open back up, Marvel made the choice to release their Disney+ shows first. They then did a hybrid with Black Widow by offering it on streaming and in the theaters when it made its release in the summer of 2021.
The current MCU Phase 4 did fix criticisms from prior phases. But Phase 4 was meant to kick off the Multiverse Saga – which it did, albeit weakly. The original Phase 4 did a much better job of setting up the multiverse as a whole and keeping narrative threads. The phase kicked off with a familiar faces to establish the impact of Endgame while furthering their stories to expand on them later, before slowly introducing the MCU multiverse and its next Endgame with new characters and more magical, metaphysical concepts. The existing MCU Phase 4 kicking off with WandaVision was exciting, but ultimately muddied these narrative lines more early on.
The releases of Loki, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and What If? back to back is a perfect example of this. Right now, What If? seems disconnected from Marvel's other projects, despite hints of it showing up in Multiverse of Madness. But the three projects being released within weeks of each other could have better set up the multiverse in a more cohesive way, and Multiverse of Madness may have performed better as a part of Phase 4 as a result.
Many projects in Phase 4 were also rewritten to accommodate MCU date changes and reshuffled schedules. For example, Valentina Allegra de Fontaine's introduction to the MCU has also been messy, as she was first supposed to appear in Black Widow with subsequent appearances streamlining her character and cementing her into the MCU. Instead, she has popped up at random times and her place within the MCU still hasn't been made clear. America Chavez was also supposed to make a reappearance in Spider-Man: No Way Home back when it was going to be released after Multiverse of Madness, but after the release dates were flipped, she was cut from the story.
Spider-Man: No Way Home was already one of Marvel's biggest successes in Phase 4. But if it had been released after Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it may have saved Multiverse of Madness and done even better itself. Doctor Strange's behavior in No Way Home seemed odd, as he blamed Peter for the spell gone wrong and was ruthless with the movie's villains. If No Way Home had followed Multiverse of Madness, this would have made a lot more sense. Doctor Strange had just witnessed a friend turn to the dark side and try to take advantage of a young superhero for her own gain.
In fact, the original release order might've helped the narrative of Multiverse of Madness even further. WandaVision's ending was impacted by rewrites that cut out a lot of darker final battle scenes that better set up Wanda's villain arc. The Marvel Cinematic Universe certainly would've looked a lot different if the MCU's Phase 4 had played out like it was supposed to, and audiences have hopes that Phases 5 and 6 will not be disrupted so that the MCU can get its overarching plans fully back on track.
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Mariah Mayhugh is a self proclaimed Marvel nerd, award winning children's book author, and advocate for epilepsy/disability representation in the media. When she isn't writing for Screenrant, Mariah spends her time serving her county as Miss El Paso County 2022/2023, dancing, advocating for epilepsy awareness in her home state of Colorado, or working on her dystopian thriller novel "The Banding."