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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Marvel’s Cinematic Universe: Post-Infinity Saga

Olivia Reid
The poster of the new Wakanda movie, displayed at the local AMC theater in South Bay Plaza. Photo by Olivia Reid / Mass Media Staff

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is currently one of the biggest franchises in film and has shown no signs of slowing down anytime soon. It seemed to peak when 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame” brought an end to their 11-year-long Infinity Saga, with fans questioning the direction for the next set of films. “WandaVision” kicked off Phase Four in January 2021 and paved the way for a total of seven movies, eight shows and one special.

There have been joys, criticisms, great ideas and odd choices, among other things. With “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” set to be the last project of Phase Four, it’s time to see how Marvel has handled the post-Infinity Saga.

“WandaVision” is a suspenseful story set in a sitcom world that depicts a grieving Wanda Maximoff and her attempts to come to terms with her loss during the last two Phase Three movies. Director Matt Shakman was unafraid to go dark and kept his cards close to his chest, leaving the audience dying for answers. The show fleshed out Wanda and Vision as characters and made their relationship more heartfelt than was previously shown.

Unfortunately, the mystery was more interesting than the answers provided with a somewhat underwhelming finale. Tyler Hayward made for a flat side antagonist, but Agatha Harkness and Monica Rambeau were great inclusions. It couldn’t quite stick the landing, but it makes for a strong show otherwise.

“Falcon and the Winter Soldier” provided a grounded plot of Sam Wilson struggling to handle the mantle of Captain America while faced with an aggravated Bucky Barnes in a post-Endgame world.

Satisfying writing for the titular characters made them more understandable and likable, as they both attempted to navigate this society in their new roles. With hard-hitting action, an interesting array of characters and a commitment to discussing themes of racial injustice, it is one of the MCU’s best shows in Phase Four.

The God of Mischief discovers the truths of reality and time in his universe during his self-titled show, “Loki.” The introduction of Kang the Conqueror—one of the most iconic villains that Marvel has to offer—set down the first building block for this new saga of the MCU.

The show started and ended strong, but the middle two episodes fell victim to spotty CGI and editing. It expanded upon the lore of Loki and the wider Marvel Universe, culminating in a finale that managed to be captivating with almost no action. The show also provided one of the most visually appealing moments in the MCU, an interesting concept with mixed execution.

Natasha Romanoff comes face-to-face with her past life and has a few scores to settle in her feature film, “Black Widow.” The movie provided visceral action scenes, an interesting family dynamic and a glimpse into the past of one of the original six Avengers. Yelena Belova’s wit made for her incredibly fun introduction to the MCU, and allowed her to differentiate from her sister Natasha.

The main antagonist, Dreykov, was rather inconsequential, and the adaptation of the iconic Taskmaster wasn’t too compelling. The film takes place between “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” but was released long after both. This made it difficult to be fully invested in the stakes when the audience already knew the outcome. It was a decent film released four years too late.

Marvel’s animated show, “What If…?” explored the wider Marvel Multiverse.

There wasn’t a concentrated plot for most of it, which made it a mixed bag of interesting concepts with some executed better than others. The animation was vibrant and the stories pushed the universe’s ever-expanding boundaries. It wasn’t bad or great, but a fun first attempt at animation for the MCU.

Shang-Chi gets his chance to shine in his MCU debut film, “Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings.” Boasting well-choreographed fight scenes, visually-appealing shots and a charismatic cast, it makes its mark as one of the best origin stories the MCU has to offer.

“Eternals” is a film built on the theme of love and what it means to an ensemble cast of entirely new characters. It’s easily one of the most gorgeous and controversial projects of Phase Four. The large cast left some characters neglected, while others shone. Ikaris’s arc made the group dynamic even more complex, while the antagonist, Kro, could have been so much better. The ambitious project could have thrived in a different medium, but was not a bad film.

Clint Barton’s passing-of-the-torch story, “Hawkeye” has Clint wrestling with the life he led after Thanos’s snap, while also working with MCU newcomer, Kate Bishop, to unmask a murderous conspiracy. Kate’s story is compelling and her dynamic with Clint is a joy to watch develop over the course of the season.

The cast of characters is surprising but fun and leads to some decent action scenes. Unfortunately, there was some serious missed potential to explore Clint’s character and it is one of the more forgettable projects of Phase Four.

After a magical spell goes awry, Spider-Man has to track down villains from other universes before they can unleash havoc in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” While the plot hinges on some odd character decisions, it serves as the satisfying culmination of Peter Parker’s current arc.

He is driven on by Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, serving as the most intense and ruthless villain Tom Holland’s Peter Parker has faced by himself. It is a well done spectacle that manages to blend nostalgia, fun action and intense stakes.

In another TV series, “Moon Knight,” Steven Grant learns that the life he leads is nothing like he knows, and he must learn to navigate his Dissociative Identity Disorder with Marc Spector. This show tells a self-contained and fulfilling story that explores a mythical side of the MCU and leaves the viewer curious until its satisfactory end.

However, it could have benefited from an extra episode and some of the CGI stuck out. Arthur Harrow had a lot of promise as antagonist, but it wasn’t reflected in the show. Also, Marc Spector’s Jewish heritage wasn’t addressed much, which undersold the representation. Overall, it is still one of the MCU’s stronger shows.

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” spans the multiverse, as Stephen Strange tries to protect America Chavez from Wanda Maximoff’s rampage following the events of WandaVision. While holding the reins on the “multiverse” aspect, it explored themes of happiness for Strange and Wanda alike and delved into the main character’s need to be in charge of every situation.

Director Sam Raimi brought a unique horror feel to the film, with a distinct editing style. America Chavez was an interesting debutant with a lot of room to be used in future stories. The biggest drawback was Doctor Strange not getting much opportunity to showcase the expansion of his powers over time.

Kamala Khan has to balance life as a high school student with strict parents and newfound superpowers in her show “Ms. Marvel.” The first two episodes were vibrant with ultra-creative visuals, but the middle dragged it down significantly. The six-episode format caused a lot of problems for the show, as it was unable to accommodate the two different antagonists. Neither were particularly interesting, and only one gained significance in the finale.

The visual creativity almost completely disappeared after the first two episodes. Kamala’s time in Pakistan and her training should have had more time devoted to it. There was a lot of potential unrealized. However, it did tell a touching story about family with a lot of feel-good moments and strong Muslim representation. While it could have been so much better, it was still pleasant.

Thor journeyed to rediscover himself after the events of “Avengers: Endgame,” in his most recent feature film, “Thor: Love and Thunder.” Jane Foster reappears for the first time since 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World,” and she was more interesting than her original debut. The chemistry between Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth is strong, and Christian Bale, while underutilized, gives a phenomenal performance as Gorr.

This movie was par the course for an MCU movie. Nothing too bad, but nothing amazing—just okay. The CGI was good outside of one scene; Thor’s power set was randomly expanded with little explanation. Also, Director Taika Waititi’s signature comedic style was overdone at times.

”She-Hulk Attorney at Law” is a fourth-wall-breaking sitcom that introduced lawyer Jennifer Walters and her experience as She-Hulk. The writing and CGI were inconsistent in quality, and there was no consistent plotline throughout the season. It was fairly average with some fun moments, both with Jen and returning characters. It’s the weakest project of Phase Four, but it’s not bad.

“Werewolf by Night” is another self-contained foray into the MCU’s mythical side, this time involving Jack Russel’s quest to protect a friend. His partnership with Elsa Bloodstone feels organic. It leaves the audience wanting more but not in a dissatisfactory way, with its black-and-white color grading and consistent homages to the monster films of old.

The final addition to Phase Four is “Black Panther Wakanda Forever,” a beautiful story of grief and cultural unity that pays tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman in the most fitting way. It is a worthy successor to the first “Black Panther” that masterfully passes on the title of the Black Panther.

Everything about this film is incredible. The plot, the character writing, the acting, the themes of grief, the visual effects, the soundtrack. It is one of Marvel’s absolute finest, not just in Phase Four but across its entirety. There is an irrefutable amount of heart poured into this film.

Overall, Marvel’s Phase Four provided a satisfying continuation of their Cinematic Universe. All shows and movies mentioned above are available for streaming on Disney+, except “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” which is currently in theaters.

About the Contributors
Adam Shah, Contributing Writer
Olivia Reid, Photo Editor