Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Four Explained

Marvel Phase 4 Shang Chi Thor and Wanda

From WandaVision to The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, Phase Four was the most ambitious, most difficult to explain, and most polarizing chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. Phase Four marked the first leg of Marvel Studios’ “Multiverse Saga,” with the Sacred Timeline branching out into various alternate realities that projects like What If…?, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness explored in depth. The release schedule underwent a number of changes during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the phase remained focused on overarching narratives like the creation of the multiverse and the introduction of the next big bad, Kang the Conqueror.


Phase Four expanded on Infinity Saga mainstays like Loki and Wanda Maximoff and introduced promising new heroes like Shang-Chi, Ms. Marvel, America Chavez, and Moon Knight. It also saw key Avengers pass on the torch to their successors with Bruce Banner passing on the Hulk mantle to Jen Walters and Clint Barton giving the Hawkeye name to Kate Bishop. The launch of Disney+ saw Marvel Studios extend its reach from movies to streaming series and “Special Presentations” throughout Phase Four, allowing the MCU to tell a wider range of stories and give a spotlight to supporting characters, though it made things tricky to follow at times.

RELATED: The MCU’s Original Release Plan Could’ve Fixed Phase 4

WandaVision (2021)


Set a few weeks after Avengers: Endgame, WandaVision saw a grieving Wanda Maximoff constructing an idyllic sitcom-inspired suburban life with her lost love, Vision. The series introduced S.W.O.R.D. – the cosmic alternative to S.H.I.E.L.D. – and “White Vision,” a new version of Vision grappling with his identity. Wanda’s sitcom fantasyland gave Monica Rambeau superpowers ahead of her role in The Marvels and introduced the evil Agatha Harkness, who’s set to star in her own spin-off series in Phase Five. After the series’ redemption arc was over, the post-credits scene saw Wanda studying the Darkhold, setting up her villainous turn in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier (2021)


The Falcon and the Winter Soldier explored Steve Rogers’ legacy and incorporated elements of the Truth: Red, White & Black comics to establish the dark history of the Super Soldier Serum. The series served to set up Sam Wilson as the new Captain America for Phase Five’s Avengers movies after Steve gave him his shield in Endgame. Sharon Carter was revealed to be a villain operating under the alias “Power Broker” and a disgraced John Walker was recruited by Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine for the MCU’s Thunderbolts line-up. The Contessa is being set up as a dark Nick Fury recruiting antiheroes for Phase Five adventures.

Loki Season 1 (2021)


After he stole the Tesseract during the Time Heist in Avengers: Endgame, the titular trickster spent the first season of Loki in the custody of the Time Variance Authority. A police force committed to keeping the spacetime continuum intact and “pruning” rogue timelines, the TVA will be crucial to the interdimensional storylines of the Multiverse Saga. Loki’s most significant contribution to MCU canon was the introduction of the franchise’s next Thanos-sized big bad, Kang the Conqueror, with his variant “He Who Remains.” The season ended with the creation of the MCU’s multiverse (its new central plot point) as the death of He Who Remains destroyed the Sacred Timeline.

Black Widow (2021)


Set between the main plot of Captain America: Civil War and its final scene, Black Widow filled in Natasha Romanoff’s backstory and introduced her surrogate sister and franchise replacement, Yelena Belova. The movie also debuted the spies who raised Nat and Yelena: former Black Widow Melina Vostokoff and Alexei Shostakov, better known as “Red Guardian,” the Soviet Captain America. Both Yelena and Alexei are slated for the MCU’s Thunderbolts team. The post-credits scene brought the Contessa to recruit Yelena to kill Clint Barton, falsely blaming him for Nat’s death, setting her up as the secondary antagonist in the Hawkeye series.

RELATED: Black Widow’s Complete MCU Timeline Explained

What If…? Season 1 (2021)


After Sylvie created the MCU’s multiverse in the Loki finale, the first season of What If…? blew it wide open. Every episode of the animated anthology series took place in an alternate world of the MCU: one was infested with zombies, one was invaded by an Infinity-powered Ultron, one was destroyed by a heartbroken Doctor Strange. The interdimensional adventures of What If…? introduced key multiversal players like Captain Carter (a Super Soldier version of Peggy Carter who later made her live-action debut in Multiverse of Madness) and Star-Lord T’Challa. Unlike the hypothetical stories of the comics, the MCU’s What If…? episodes are multiversally canonical.

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings (2021)


After Iron Man 3 depicted the Mandarin as an impostor and the Ten Rings as the name of a terrorist organization, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings introduced the real Mandarin, Shang-Chi’s estranged father Wenwu, and the real Ten Rings, an ancient mystical weapon. The mid-credits scene introduced Shang-Chi into the larger Avengers ensemble, with Wong, Carol Danvers, and Bruce Banner examining the Ten Rings he inherited from his dad. The post-credits scene revealed that Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing had taken over the Ten Rings as their new leader despite her promise to shut it down, so she’s poised to become a villain in the future.

Eternals (2021)


The Eternals movie introduced 10 of the eponymous ancient aliens into the MCU ensemble, and seven of them are set up for future storylines: Thena, Druig, and Makkari have gone to space to find other Eternals, Sersi, Phastos, and Kingo have been taken by Arishem to judge humanity, and Sprite has been turned into a human so she can finally age out of her childlike form. The mid-credits scene introduced Thanos’ Eternal brother, Eros, who could be key to the fight against Kang, and the post-credits scene saw Dane Whitman being given the Ebony Blade by an off-screen character (identified as Blade), teasing his transformation into the Black Knight.

Hawkeye (2021)


The Hawkeye series introduced Clint Barton’s successor, college-aged archer Kate Bishop, as well as the antihero Echo, who’s set to get her own series on Disney+. Kate is primed to join the MCU’s Young Avengers line-up alongside characters like Ms. Marvel and America Chavez. Yelena returned in the hope of killing Clint to avenge Nat and forged a fun dynamic with Kate along the way, teasing further team-ups between the new Hawkeye and new Black Widow. The last couple of episodes of Hawkeye brought Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin into the mainstream MCU as the series’ big bad, setting him up to potentially fight Spider-Man or Daredevil in a future project.

RELATED: Hawkeye Secretly Revealed A Massive Multiverse Saga Problem

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)


Marvel Studios got meta with its multiverse in Spider-Man: No Way Home, which brought back Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Men alongside Tom Holland (as well as a handful of their villains) after a Doctor Strange spell gone wrong. No Way Home established the universes of their previous Spider-Man franchises as alternate dimensions in the MCU’s multiverse – along with Sony’s Marvel universe, thanks to a mid-credits cameo by Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock, who left behind some Venom symbiote for a future storyline. Charlie Cox made a cameo appearance as Matt Murdock to give Peter Parker much-needed legal advice, finally confirming his placement in the mainline MCU.

Moon Knight (2022)


Marvel’s first full-blown psychological thriller, Moon Knight, added another ancient mythology to the growing roster of gods in the MCU with Egyptian deities like Khonshu and Taweret. The series split its time between menacing mercenary Marc Spector, the human avatar of the Egyptian moon god, and his mild-mannered alternate personality, Steven Grant. The mid-credits scene introduced a third personality, Jake Lockley, a limo driver who is even more cold-blooded than Marc. Moon Knight didn’t have many connections to the wider MCU, but Oscar Isaac has confirmed (via that he’s in the midst of discussions with Marvel Studios about Moon Knight’s return.

Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness (2022)


Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness followed up on WandaVision’s post-credits scene with Wanda fully corrupted by the Darkhold and willing to kill to become a mother. Multiverse of Madness introduced interdimensional traveler America Chavez as Stephen Strange’s latest teenage protégé and Clea, Dormammu’s niece (and Strange’s wife in the comics), who teased the “incursion” that could lead to the creation of Battleworld in Avengers: Secret Wars. After trying to seize America’s dimension-hopping power, Wanda saw the error of her ways and sacrificed herself to destroy every incarnation of the Darkhold. Since she didn’t die on-screen and a sympathetic Earth-838 variant exists, Wanda could return in the future.

Ms. Marvel (2022)


Ms. Marvel’s portrayal of its title character broke away from the comic book lore and made Kamala a mutant. This marked the first confirmation of the existence of the mutant species in the MCU ahead of the X-Men’s highly anticipated debut in the franchise. The djinns’ home, the Noor Dimension, confirmed that dimensions and parallel universes are different in the MCU’s worldbuilding, so the multiverse has spiritual alternate dimensions in addition to alternate worlds. Brie Larson’s mid-credits cameo appearance as Carol Danvers spontaneously switching bodies with Kamala in the season finale set up their team-up with Monica in The Marvels.

RELATED: Ms. Marvel’s MCU Power Change Explained

Thor: Love And Thunder (2022)


Thor: Love and Thunder saw Thor take on Gorr the God Butcher after he swore to slaughter all gods. The movie introduced the gods’ homeworld, Omnipotence City, and gave major roles to Zeus and his son Hercules. Hercules was sent to kill Thor in the mid-credits scene, teasing a storyline for Thor 5. Jane Foster sacrificed herself to defeat Gorr and joined Heimdall in Valhalla in the post-credits scene, adding the Asgardian afterlife to MCU canon. Love and Thunder ended with Thor adopting Gorr’s resurrected daughter Love. As it turned out, “Love and Thunder” was the name of a new father-daughter superhero duo to join the Avengers.

She-Hulk: Attorney At Law (2022)


Bruce Banner’s blood fused with his cousin Jen Walters to turn her into the titular superhuman in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, a superhero action series crossed with a fourth-wall-breaking legal procedural sitcom. Jen represented a mix of familiar MCU characters, like Wong, and franchise newcomers, like Leap-Frog. She-Hulk gave Cox’s Daredevil a much larger role than No Way Home, leaving behind the gritty tone of his Netflix series and establishing the more fun, comic-booky tone that the character’s upcoming Disney+ show Born Again will exhibit. She-Hulk deconstructed the entire MCU as Jen hopped across the Disney+ library, confronted K.E.V.I.N. on the Marvel Studios lot, and reshaped her own season finale.

Werewolf By Night (2022)


The MCU’s first “Special Presentation,” Werewolf by Night – a Halloween special styled after classic black-and-white B-movies – saw a band of monster hunters convening at the Bloodstone Temple. Werewolf by Night was mostly disconnected from the wider universe and it was unclear whereabouts it took place on the timeline. The special did introduce a few key horror-themed Marvel characters to the ensemble, like Man-Thing, Elsa Bloodstone, and the Jack Russell version of Werewolf by Night. The special ended with Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing teaming up and Elsa claiming the manor for herself, setting up a horror-tinged MCU niche that could incorporate Blade and Moon Knight.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)


After the untimely passing of Chadwick Boseman, Ryan Coogler retooled Black Panther: Wakanda Forever to revolve around the grief over T’Challa’s death and Wakanda’s struggle to move on from the loss of their king. T’Challa passed away off-screen in the opening scene and his sister Shuri took over the mantle of Black Panther. Wakanda Forever introduced Namor, ruler of the undersea kingdom of Talokan, as more of a sympathetic antihero than a straightforward villain. The movie also introduced Riri Williams, a prodigious American college student with a flying suit of armor, who is set to star in her own Disney+ spin-off series, Ironheart, after forging strong connections in Wakanda.

RELATED: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Gives T’Challa A Complicated Legacy

The Guardians Of The Galaxy Holiday Special (2022)


The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special ended Phase Four on a lighthearted note. It marked the first MCU appearance of Cosmo the Spacedog, the latest addition to the Guardians’ roster. It also confirmed that Mantis was the daughter of Ego, making her Quill’s half-sister, after a scene to the same effect was cut from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Going into their final big-screen adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the team has a stronger bond than ever. Now that their sibling secret is out in the open, Quill and Mantis might grow closer in the threequel.

MORE: Guardians Of The Galaxy Holiday Special Breaks MCU Canon 5 Times

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