Through 30 movies, 8 streaming series, and 2 special presentations, the MCU is the largest cinematic story ever told. That story is divided into a variety of genres and tones to weave a tapestry of heroes, villains, and popcorn.
While on the surface Phase 4 is a step back from its climatic predecessor, a closer look highlights a rebuilding season. Revamping the roster of characters, exploring new corners of the universe, and planting the seeds for another successful saga. The Multiverse Saga.
While The Infinity Saga was known for its connectivity between virtually every movie, The Multiverse Saga is focusing on defining different pockets that can be brought together for (seemingly) Avengers: Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars.
Here is a look at the 8 different branches of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
1. MCU Cosmic
The Cosmic branch of the MCU is oftentimes the most easily defined because the criteria are simple: off-world = cosmic eligibility. Many of these characters begin their stories on Earth but venture into space to tell their stories among the stars.
The foundation for this branch has been being laid since Phase 1 of the MCU, with Thor being the literal and figurative bridge between Earth and what is beyond our atmosphere. Full circle, Thor was the first MCU hero to receive a fourth movie as the franchise introduced Valkyrie, Korg, Zeus, Hercules, Love, and Eternity to cement this franchise as the true cinematic Journey Into Mystery.
While Thor laid the first brick of the house of cosmic MCU stories, The Guardians of the Galaxy were the first group of characters that went beyond the nine realms and introduced a flurry of new worlds to audiences. This looks to continue in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 as some of the more traditional MCU cosmic characters like Adam Warlock look to enter the fold.
The Eternals are the latest space squad to enter the MCU. Despite the majority of their debut story being told on Earth, the end of Eternals has sent these space-god-robots into the unknown of the cosmos to answer their crimes and find more like them. This is surely going to be the vehicle project to dive deeper into one of the MCU Cosmic branches' most storied villains, Thanos.
Finally, Nick Fury & Captain Marvel have started in the parking lot of a Blockbuster and are now front and center for protecting Earth from cosmic attacks. These characters are the closest in proximity to the Earth-bound branches, but make no mistake. Fury and Carol Danvers are the frontline of the MCU Cosmic team and are sure to be put to the test Spring & July 2023 with Secret Invasion and The Marvels respectively. Monica Rambeau has also graduated from the tortuous Westview and has been called up to join Fury in the intergalactic big leagues.
2. MCU Supernatural
This is the newest branch in the MCU with the least number of seeds planted.
The star of this team that has been subtly introduced in Eternals is the much-anticipated Blade. Blade seems to already be recruiting Dane Whitman on a journey into the supernatural, while this underground Midnight Suns-type team will seemingly be acting in the shadows.
Moon Knight is the first project dedicated to this branch and put a ton of focus on establishing the religious/supernatural side of things for Marc Spector. The surprising note is the with the cliffhanger in the series finale, Moon Knight does not seem likely to reappear until season two of the show.
Next is the first ever Marvel Studios Special Presentation, Werewolf By Night. This was a more elseworld example of this branch as it introduces Jack Russell and his swamp thing friend Man Thing.
The focus on the classic monsters of the spooky in the Vampire (Blade), the Mummy (Moon Knight), the Knight (Dane Whiteman), the Werewolf (Jack Russell), and the Swamp Monster (Man Thing) sets the tone for this branch in such a fun way.
There is a ton of meat on this bone and Blade is the perfect catalyst to have a Guardians of the Galaxy-level meteoric rise through the ranks of the MCU.
3. MCU Avengers
The MCU Avengers is the cornerstone branch of the franchise. This is the branch that started it all and is also the branch that has seen the most turnover of the already-established branches.
The one consistent from the earliest days of the Avengers is Bruce Banner/Hulk. Many wondered what would happen with the founding Avenger after Endgame showed Professor Hulk in full form also taking a big hit from the snap that brings everyone back. But after seeing him be a part of the introduction of Shang-Chi into the Avengers branch, and having a high profile cliffhanger in She-hulk, it is safe to say everyone's favorite rage monster is still a captain of this team.
Wong and Captain Marvel are also a part of that journey but seem to be splitting work between Avengers duties and other branch activities. Like the soccer player who kicks field goals for the football team.
Sam Wilson/Captain America is the focal point of this branch in the short-term with Captain America: New World Order being the next MCU project that suggest an Earth-based threat, Avengers-esque threat.
James Rhodes/War Machine and Okoye were glue-pieces of the Avengers roster during the blip and all signs led to that continuing. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has brought Shuri into the limelight as the new Black Panther, who will surely play a part in a future Avengers story.
The best guess for another addition to this branch would be She-Hulk. Her ending in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law sends her in a direction where she can really pop up at any moment. When a hero or villain needs legal counsel, Jennifer Walters is on the case.
Best bet? Joining her cousin and Wong on the Avengers side of things
4. MCU Street
Existing alongside MCU Supernatural is another small-scale faction with big-name players. MCU Street is being developed right in front of our eyes with Hawkeyes: Clint and Kate leading the way. The events of Hakweye gave fans a look at the corner to corner actions of the MCU and how players like Echo and John Walker can become players within the lower ranks of crime across the world.
Other names like Yelena Belova, Bucky Barnes, and the rest of the Thunderbolts roster are a mix between the Street Branch leaning into the Avengers branch. Look for some of the biggest emotions and personal stakes in this corner of the universe, as it isn't about saving the world, it is about saving yourself.
And of course... the face of this branch... Matt Murdock. Receiving a 16-episode series after two impactful cameos on No Way Home and She-Hulk, Daredevil is set to lead this corner into the oncoming conflict at the end of the road.
While Kang is the villainous figurehead for the Multiverse branch, we see players like Wilson Fisk playing a similar role here on the streets of the MCU.
Spider-Man: No Way Home was a revolution in comic book movie storytelling that flipped the MCU on its head by seemingly resetting one of its biggest names. Spider-Man is still very much a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and will continue to be the face of the franchise. But the decision to erase the existence of Peter Parker as the ultimate sacrifice and leave Spider-Man remaining to tell a new story post-Homecoming trilogy makes Spider-Man his own branch.
Who knows who Peter will run into and what stories will be told? But the idea that fans were able to experience a three-movie origin story and are JUST NOW seeing what the next adventure for the most popular superhero name around is exciting to say the least.
It is unknown how this will work, but the possibilities are endless.
6. MCU Young Avengers
For the first time in its existence, the MCU has so much going on that one team of Avengers is not enough. A developmental team has to be opened to take advantage of the young talent who may not be ready for the big leagues just yet.
The Young Avengers have not been announced, and there is no official indication that this is something that will be happening in the MCU any time soon. However, that is only if you disregard everything happening on Disney+. Cornerstone members of the Young Avengers roster have been introduced in supporting roles from shows like WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
The two leading candidates for Young Avengers right now are Iman Vellani's Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel and Dominique Thorne's Riri Williams/Ironheart. Ms. Marvel puts Kamala Khan on the board and she is getting a huge chance to take another step forward with a co-leading role in The Marvels. Ironheart is taking a reverse approach as she was introduced in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and will get a chance to expand her story in her own series, Ironheart.
7. MCU Multiverse
This is undoubtedly the fastest rising branch in the league and it's all about to go ahead in full force. The Multiverse in the MCU was introduced with Doctor Strange, teased in the last project of the Infinity Saga, and has been center stage ever since. WandaVision, Loki, What If..?, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Multiverse of Madness have all planted the seeds leading to Secret Wars.
These are the players directly involved with exploring the Multiverse and why it may be in Madness. But we cannot forget that Loki and Sylvie may have been at the forefront of this Multiversal story dealing with He Who Remains, aka... Kang.
Kang is the Thanos of the Multiverse in the MCU and his involvement with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantamania brings Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne into the Multiverse branch.
This is the branch that holds the most weight in the MCU and will surely set some rules that will lead to these divisions of the universe coming together at some point.
8. MCU Mutants
And our final branch is the one people have been waiting on the most. Mutants.
This is such an interesting branch because it simultaneously has been such a big part of Phase 4, but is also likely the focal point of the post-Multiverse Saga Era.
While the X-Men have not made their way to Earth-616, Patrick Stewart's return as Professor X has introduced the idea of X-Men and mutants in the MCU.
When everyone thought that was enough, Ms. Marvel gave audiences one of, if not THE biggest plot twist in comic book movie/tv history. Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel, is the first official MCU mutant.
A diversion from the comics, this sets one of the biggest fan-favorite characters in Marvel on a path to lead fans into the Mutant era. With The Marvels on the way, look for her to play a Peter Parker-Esque role as she expands her Mutant resume.
The cherry on top with Mutants in the MCU is how they are finding ways to introduce the idea through non-X-Men characters like Namor. A true anti-hero in the MCU, his reveal as a mutant was a subtle and nuanced piece of his story.
Between a pseudo-introduction to X-Men, two big names like Ms. Marvel and Namor, and Wanda's "special talent that otherwise would have otherwise died on the vine", the Mutant branch already has limitless potential.
The branches of the MCU are becoming more and more clear with every project. With the idea being Secret Wars, Marvel Studios is doing a great job diving their expansive roster into their own subsections before having to come together in a Battleworld situation.
For anyone concerned about the MCU losing its connective charm, remember that Phase 4 is a rebuilding Phase. Trust the process.