A Look at the Main Theme of Phase Four of the MCU
Well, after almost two years, Phase Four of the MCU has come to a close. Now that it has, though, it’s time for people to look back on it and ask the important questions. How does it fare against the MCU as a whole? What were the central themes to it, if there were even any themes at all? Did it keep the momentum going after Avengers: Endgame?
I’m going to be honest with you: I thought Phase Four was hit-and-miss. On the one hand, without the seeming lack of a cohesive story, Phase Four seemed a bit all over the place. Some content reached new heights of success, while others stumbled out of the gate. If you look hard enough, you’ll see that Marvel’s trying to build to something worthwhile with the Multiverse Saga. However, I don’t think that’s the main theme of Phase Four. I would argue that the main theme of Phase Four is something else: legacy.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
The Old Guard Steps Out…
It’s been fourteen years since the MCU first began with Iron Man. In that time, it’s become bigger than anyone could’ve imagined, bringing to life characters that, until now, only existed in comic books, TV shows, and video games. However, whereas these mediums meant that people could keep reusing characters as long as they wanted, no matter how much time passed, the real world doesn’t allow that luxury. Actors and directors get older; they move on to other projects; they retire, or, God help us, even die. The bottom line is they can’t keep playing the same characters forever. So, just like in real life, the old must give way to the new. They have to leave their legacy behind for others to follow after.
As sad as it may be to know we may never see Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man or Chris Evans as Captain America again, this does present a new opportunity for the MCU. With so many of the original heroes now dead, retiring, or off on their own journeys, there’s room for new ones to step into the spotlight. Marvel had already started that process in Phase Three with the introduction of Spider-Man, but Phase Four is where the next generation really began to come into focus.
…And the New Guard Comes In
It started small in WandaVision. That show introduced us to Tommy and Billy, Wanda Maximoff’s sons, who also got powers like her. They may have ceased to exist at the show’s end, but given their comic book history, I doubt we’ve seen the last of them. From there, the ball got rolling even further. Throughout several MCU mini-series on Disney+, we saw a bevy of characters taking up the mantle of their predecessors. Natasha’s adoptive sister became the new Black Widow. Sam Wilson first rejected, then accepted, his role as the new Captain America. And Hawkeye found a worthy successor in Kate Bishop.
From there, new heroes continued to be introduced. Kamala Kahn became one of the first confirmed Mutants of the MCU and took up Captain Marvel’s image. Moon Knight became a complex anti-hero. Thor became an adoptive father to Gor’s daughter, Love. Jennifer Walters became the She-Hulk, and the Hulk learned he had a son!
Even Spider-Man got in on the legacy theme. No Way Home wasn’t so much a story about his legacy but the legacy of the Spider-Man films that came before it. That, and it gave us back Doc Ock, Tobey Maguire, and the Goblin. Peter’s now just one of many Spider-Men out there in the multiverse.
Legacy of Heroes
Lastly, we have the end to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The latest MCU film gave us Riri Williams, AKA Ironheart. With her homemade suit following in the vein of Iron Man, Riri looks set to take up Tony Stark’s role as the next armored hero. Meanwhile, Shuri eventually takes up the late T’Challa’s mantle as the next Black Panther, but she may not need to hold it forever.
While everyone thought that Shuri was now the last of her family, the ending revealed otherwise. As it turned out, T’Challa and Nakia secretly had a son, also named T’Challa. Nakia raised him in Haiti in secret, away from the pressures of royal life and potentially paving the way for another T’Challa to take up the Black Panther mantle in the future. That one actually made me laugh and cry!
The point I’m trying to make is that Phase Four of the MCU did a lot of passing the torch to a new generation. And while this means that we may see less of the characters that started the MCU, it allows them to do what the comics can never truly do: let the older generation go to make way for the new. However, though they might be retired or stepping back, the legacy of those who came before will define the MCU until Disney decides to stop making content for it.