It’s no secret that the MCU is different these days. After three truly excellent phases packed with 29 films that made up the Infinity Saga,  and a very tiny amount of misses (Thor: The Dark World, Ant Man and the Wasp,) Marvel was on the greatest roll of movie after movie in cinematic history. It had to end sooner or later. And that’s not to say that Marvel movies are done by any means, but they have certainly gotten a lot worse. For the first time, some of these films they are churning out aren’t even worthy of a second viewing. Now, that’s something that was never a part of the first three phases, with even Thor: The Dark World having its moments, and reasons to rewatch it.

But things have gotten strange, to say the least. Phases one through three were leading up to something. They had a clear direction every step of the way. At the end of the very first movie, (Iron Man, back in 2008,) Nick Fury popped up in a Post Credits scene to talk about the Avengers. Then in the very next movie, The Incredible Hulk, Downey Jr. showed up at the end to meet with General Ross. Thor ended with Loki on earth using mind control on Professor Selznick (a pivotal plot point in the Avengers movie that followed soon afterwards.) Things continued this way all the way up until we reached the Avengers, which was the single goal of the entire phase. To reach that moment. And it was clear from the beginning of the phase, all the way until they reached it.

 

Marvel was smart enough to know they needed to continue this way. They needed another clear goal. And so the Avengers wasn’t just Loki finding a threatening army in outer space and using it on earth, but actually getting that army from a higher power… Thanos. The Avengers ended with meeting the character who would be the big bad for the next two Avengers movies. By introducing Thanos, it wasn’t just about getting to him now, in this movie, but about getting these six infinity stones first. In this way, even if a movie didn’t feature Thanos, like Avengers: Age of Ultron, they could still connect the movie to the bigger picture, by dealing with the Infinity Stones (Thor’s bath in the cave scene, or Vision being created from using the Mind Stone.)

We may have complained about the bath scene at the time, and how it felt disconnected from the rest of the movie, but now with what we are getting from Marvel (no connections at all between movies,) we would gladly embrace something like that which gave us a small sense of where we might be headed. Because right now, we just aren’t getting that at all. Movies end with a tag that introduce a character who will most likely be the villain in the next film of only that series. Shang Chi ended with his sister taking over the Ten Rings. The Eternals ended with introducing Eros. Doctor Strange 2 ended with introducing Cleo. And Thor Love and Thunder ended with introducing Hercules. They are all trying to go for that Thanos moment of introducing a new character, but they are also missing the bigger picture… Thanos wasn’t a character for any one specific hero, but for all of them. He was the force that connected all of these movies together. And with the way the MCU is now using post credits scenes to just tell us about the next film in each individual series, there is no apparent connection between any of them.

So, what exactly are they giving us in Phase 4? If the movies aren’t connected, but then what are they? The answer is, they are risk taking films. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. For years, people complained about all Marvel movies being the same. People said they followed a formula, (and this included a sky beam in the final act… a beam of unregulated energy shooting up into the sky,) and a villain who looked very similar to the hero (Iron Man, Ant Man, Black Panther.) But these movies were still working. If the villain looked similar to the hero, that’s because their storylines involved the same kind of powers and the characters were on somewhat of the same path. It wasn’t really such a big deal. Unfortunately, people like to complain and find fault, and Marvel heard the complaints loud and clear.

So they started giving their directors an over-abundance of creative freedom. No more being tied down in any way. No more limits. This resulted in one okay movie (Black Widow,) one good movie, (Shang Chi,) and then three movies in a row now that just didn’t hit the mark like they should have.. The Eternals, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, and Thor: Love and Thunder. These five films make up the new MCU, (also known as Phase 4 of the MCU,) but the landscape is even more crowded now because of Disney Plus shows. And that’s another problem. Where is the continuity among the shows? How do they blend into the movies and vice versa?

This all started off promising with the first movie of Marvel’s phased and 4, Black Widow, ending with a post credits scene that featured a new character played by Julia Louis Dreyfess, who then appreared in the Disney Plus show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. In fact, Dreyfess’ one post credits scene where she spoke with Yelena Belova, (Black Widow’s sister,) led not only to that Falcon and Winter Soldier moment, but also to a major plot point in the Hawkeye series. Everything seemed to be on the right track. Even Shang Chi featuring Wong in a number of scenes, and ending with a post credits scene that featured both The Hulk and Captain Marvel was a good move. But then after those first two movies,  Black Widow and Shang Chi, things started falling apart.

The Eternals featured not a single connection to anyone. Yes, Eros is Thanos’ brother, and I believe there is a quick mention of that, but Thanos is dead and long gone. What is the connection to where we are now, or where we are headed? How could they make that movie, which is essentially about gods, or at least about space ships and aliens, and not show any of the guardians of the galaxy? Or Thor? Remember when Iron Man 2 ended with a scene about Thor’s hammer? Not a scene that was setting up Iron Man 3, but a scene that would lead to the very next movie. That was sharing the wealth. Looking at the bigger picture. Now a days it’s like these movies are being selfish with their post credits scenes, only using them to further their own storyline and paying attention to no other heroes in the MCU (ever since that Shang Chi post credits scene, which was the last one to get it right.)

The Eternals was a mess and a disaster. Then came the new Spider Man movie, which was fantastic. Only it didn’t connect much to the MCU. Yes, it featured Doctor Strange, but there was clearly something going on here in multiple Marvel projects with a multiverse, and the through line wasn’t being made clear. There was Wanda-Vision on Disney plus, then Loki on Disney plus, then Spider Man: No Way Home and then Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, and all of these stories involved the multiverse opening, but it was never established what caused that. In Spider Man, they showed that the cause (for that movie only, apparently) was Peter Parker tampering with Doctor Strange’s spell. But what about everything that Wanda had done in Wanda-Vision? What about Loki and the way his series ended with the branching of different timelines?  Spider Man didn’t feature any references to any of this (perhaps because that was Sony movie more than an MCU movie.)

Marvel made the claim at one point that there was a three project multiverse storyline, which started with Wanda-Vision, moved onto Spider Man: No Way Home, and concluded with Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Now this might have been cool if it was actually true. But it wasn’t. Spider Man had no connection to Wanda Vision. If they somehow made the situation where the multiverse opened up, related to the spells and events of that series, then we might have really had something. But the movie was afraid to do that, for fear of people who hadn’t seen the show, and so they gave us something right there, in that movie, which could explain the multiverse opening (Spider Man’s spell tampering.) Then when Wanda appeared in Doctor Strange, there was very little connection to her series. No Vision. No Agatha Harkness. Just a mention of her kids. That was it.

And while Marvel was majorly failing again and again with their lack of connections, they were also giving the directors way too much freedom. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness was perhaps the biggest example of that. The movie was more horror and grotesque than anything Marvel had ever done before. Somehow throughout the entirety of Phase 1, Marvel found a way to be violent and serious and dramatic, and yet still something that didn’t cross the level of what was suitable for kids. The closest it got to crossing the boundary was Thor losing an eye and having a clear black mark in the eye socket during Ragnorak (they probably should have used an eye patch there.) But with the new Doctor Strange movie, all bets were off. Strange became a zombie for the entire final act of the film, missing skin from his face, as he gave speeches to other characters. It was another blunder, and not in keeping with anything close to the MCU.

And that leads us to Thor: Love and Thunder. It’s better than the last two MCU movies (Eternals and Strange,) but it’s still not anything special. It’s the third best of the Thor movies (out of four, with only one movie being worse… Thor: the Dark World.) The humor is there, but the amount of fake out deaths and lack of stakes really hurt the movie.The action is fine, and the soundtrack is great, but with no consequences or connections to other movies, there’s a lot that could have been better. And once again, we get a post credit scene with no connection to any other Marvel series. Just another one that shows what can happen in the next adventure of Thor. The sharing of characters between movies is gone. It’s a thing of the past. Why couldn’t Eros or one of the Eternals turn up in this movie? Why would that have been so hard? And yes, the Guardians of the Galaxy are there at the beginning (and only the beginning of the film,) but that’s because the Russo Brothers who did everything right with their films (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, and the two final Avengers Infinity Saga films,) left their movie with Thor and the Guardians together. In other words it wasn’t Taika Waititi who had the good sense to bring Thor and the Guardians together, but the Russo brothers, back when they were still in Phase 3. That really tells you something right there.

So what’s next for Marvel? Hopefully some connectedness. Soon. After the entire series of Moon Knight went by without any connection to other MCU films or characters (another opportunity to bring in the Eternals would have been with that film, considering they are all gods,) we are finding ourselves going further and further down the rabbit hole, and away from the brand that Marvel once established. A new big bad or threat needs to be revealed soon, and it has to be someone who will cross through different films, not just ones that feature the same hero. Marvel is still the place to be and the name to beat with Superhero movies, but if they don’t start showing us where this might be headed soon, it might not be able to stay that way.