Phase 4 of the MCU is in full swing with the release of Thor: Love and Thunder, adding to a packed slate of new movies and TV shows that have been released since the events of Avengers: Endgame. The Marvel Cinematic Universe's next significant chapter has seen the return of some memorable Avengers, while also introducing audiences to some new heroes.
It hasn't gone unnoticed by fans that the MCU's Phase 4 has felt quite different from the Infinity Saga. Many have pointed to the mixed bag of reviews for Marvel's latest projects as a criticism, but studio head Kevin Feige recently reassured audiences that Phase 4 is intended to feel "unique" and "different."
This commitment to a range of styles and tones across Marvel's latest stage has resulted in many firsts for the cinematic universe. Phase 4 has seen Marvel's first superhero rom-com in Taika Waititi's Thor 4 and a deeper exploration of the horror genre in Moon Knight and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
However, despite this disparity in genres, one Marvel producer believes there is a unifying theme in Marvel's Phase 4.
Marvel Producer Addresses Phase 4 Themes
Speaking to Chris Hewitt on Empire's Spoiler Special podcast, Richie Palmer, a production & development head on all of Marvel Studios' Phase 4 projects, addressed what unifies Marvel's latest chapter.
When asked whether Phase 4's main theme is about "guilt and consequences," Palmer confirmed that to be the case, saying that Phase 4 is "all a reaction" by the characters to the events of Avengers: Endgame:
Richie Palmer: "100%. Cause Phase 4 is all a reaction - and I don't mean on our part as filmmakers, I mean the characters - it's a reaction to the trauma of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. We're still feeling those effects in these movies years later."
Palmer said this was something they particularly spoke to Elizabeth Olsen about in regards to Wanda's journey, which leads to "a moment of accountability" for her character:
"It's also something we spoke to Elizabeth Olsen about every step of the way, that for her, Wanda's full journey is leading to a moment of accountability. And we think she's gotten there."
The producer explained that Phase 4 explores a lot of the characters' reactions to "what happens when you lose everything?" For some, like Peter Parker, it comes in the form of letting "the Spider-Man persona take over:"
"I also saw a meme the other day, it was comparing her to Peter Parker. 'What happens when you lose everything?' You know, some people handle it differently than others. Peter Parker dove into the persona of Spider-Man at the end of No Way Home, he's completely let the Spider-Man persona take over as a response to his loss and his trauma. For Peter, of course, being Spider-Man means going and being the biggest hero of all time."
For Wanda Maximoff, however, Palmer said it went in the opposite direction with her becoming the "worst villain of all time" and falling into the Scarlet Witch persona:
"Wanda's version was leaning solely into being the Scarlet Witch, which what we found out from Agatha and the Darkhold, through Wanda's self-discovery, that that's the opposite: [she becomes] the worst villain of all time, the destroyer of worlds. She's aware now, 'Oh, I'm supposed to be this god. I've always known this kinda, under the surface, but it's now been told to me. Now, my way of dealing with my loss and trauma is just going full-in to what I am, which is the Scarlet Witch, so I'm going to be that.' Of course, in our movie, she's like, 'I don't want to be that, I want to go be with my kids. So leave me alone, but I'm just letting you know that I am the Scarlet Witch, so don't mess with me.' "
In terms of Phase 4's unifying theme, Palmer said he felt it was about "our heroes coming into their own" and "figuring out their places in the world" after the losses suffered during the previous movies:
"But it's interesting, whether it's Spider-Man or the Scarlet Witch or Black Widow after Civil War, this phase does feel like it's about our heroes coming into their own, on their own, all figuring out their places in the world, and a lot of them are lonely now because of the losses suffered during those Avengers movies."
What Is Phase 4 Truly About?
While the many movies and Disney+ shows that have made up Phase 4 feel very different from one another, Palmer's comments offer a way to tie them all together. The idea that this era of Marvel films is all about each hero finding themselves seems to hold true. For the surviving Avengers, Phase 4 has very much felt like a soul search.
As Palmer mentioned, Wanda Maximoff deals with the trauma of losing her loved ones in WandaVision and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which leads her to embrace the Scarlet Witch persona. Most recently in Thor: Love and Thunder, Chris Hemsworth's character went through what Taika Waititi has described as a "mid-life crisis," which helps the hero find a new purpose.
Many Phase 4 projects have also seen Marvel's mainstay heroes step into mentor roles, such as in Hawkeye, where Clint Barton trained his protégé Kate Bishop, and in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which saw Stephen Strange take America Chavez under his wing (or cloak). In the upcoming She-Hulk series, audiences will also see Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner take on a mentor role as he helps Jennifer Walters through her transformations.
It seems that while the MCU's Phase 4 projects have spanned many diverse genres, characters and stories, they are all held together by a central theme of purpose, which has allowed each of Marvel's major heroes to evolve into something new.