Intermezzo Phase: A Look At Marvel’s Phase Four

Nobody puts on an announcement like Marvel Studios; since the death of Steve Jobs Kevin Feige has become the number one “standing on a stage and announcing thing” guy in the world, and this year’s slew of reveals at San Diego Comic-Con was no different. Feige laid out Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although I don’t love this – we only got two years worth of releases, and no climaxing team-up as we have had in the previous three Phases. 

If Phase Four is just a bunch of movies, what even is a Phase anymore? I certainly would like this cleared up, because one of the things that has been great about the MCU to date is that each Phase has felt like a chapter, and they have all been leading up to something. Unless the Doctor Strange or Thor movies are some sort of culmination film, we’re dealing with a little wayward Phase here. An intermediary phase. Intermezzo Phase. And it could be Intermezzo because it lost the big player it was counting on Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3.

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SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME Saves The MCU

This review contains full spoilers for Spider-Man: Far From Home as well as Avengers Endgame.

We have to get a couple of things out of the way here. First: Tom Holland is the definitive Peter Parker; if the character gets retired from the movies in favor of Miles Morales after this particular run, that will be a good thing, as the idea of someone trying to compete with what Holland has accomplished in his five (!) outings at Peter is impossible to imagine. Second: Spider-Man: Far From Home is a miracle beginning to end, tasked with being the epilogue to Avengers: Endgame as well as a satisfying Spidey movie, and it pulls both off with absolute finesse.

I’ll be honest with you: Captain Marvel and Endgame had me kind of bummed about the MCU. CM was just not that good (is it okay to say that now?), and it became the first Marvel movie I didn’t see twice in theaters (yes, I saw Thor: The Dark World twice in theaters, like a crazy person). But it wasn’t the last! I still haven’t seen Endgame a second time, despite the rerelease. It’s not that Endgame is bad, it’s just that it’s not really a movie; maybe when I can watch Infinity War and Endgame back to back I’ll feel like I’m getting a full experience, but Endgame is mostly a series of callbacks in search of a narrative, and it’s full of Marvel superheroes behaving in ways I fundamentally dislike.

It seemed that perhaps, at 45, I had finally aged out of these spandex punch-ups. Maybe I had finally ascended to real adulthood, where my three jobs and my bills were more important than the minutiae of decades worth of comic book lore. Had I become a real adult?

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How AVENGERS ENDGAME Changes The MCU Forever

This contains spoilers for Avengers Endgame.

There is a delicate, unspoken balance that must exist in a superhero universe. For a superhero story to work, the world in which the superheroes live must resemble our own – with the exception that it has superheroes. The impacts of superheroes can be explored… to a point, after which the whole house of cards tumbles down.

The balance is precarious. Go too far in one direction and you find the audience asking why Tony Stark doesn’t solve the energy crisis or global warming, or why Shuri and the Wakandans don’t cure cancer. Yes, characters can go into space, but we can’t have a colony on the Moon. Go too far and the science fictional world of superheroes – a world one day in the future – becomes a world that is gradually unrecognizable, that is fully futuristic science fiction.

Avengers Endgame creates just such a world, and beyond simply ignoring it I don’t know how future films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will deal with it.

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AVENGERS ENDGAME: More Event Than Movie

This contains spoilers for Avengers Endgame.

When is a movie not movie? This isn’t some kind of riddle, but rather an attempt to figure out how to approach a film like Avengers Endgame, which feels not quite like a motion picture as we define them and more like an event. It’s an experience first and foremost, a movie second… and I wonder how much that matters. How much does it matter that the ending works more as fan service than as logic? How much does it matter that the movie completely betrays Steve Rogers’ character to get to a teary-eyed smile at the end?

Thinking about Endgame I find myself thinking about It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad World, the epic blockbuster comedy from Stanley Kramer. It’s stuffed to the gills with superstars, and it was originally bladder-shatteringly long (197 minutes! A comedy!). In terms of things like ‘plot’ and ‘structure’ it isn’t strong, but it makes up for all of that with the charm of Milton Berle and Buddy Hackett and Ethel Merman and Phil Silver. It features a stunning parade of cameos, including Jack Benny, ZaSu Pitts and Buster Keaton It’s not nuanced or subtle, and it’s hugeness and broadness is part of the point; it’s a big screen comedy released at a time when the movies were feeling TV nipping at their heels. 

It’s all really familiar. 

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An Era Ends: GAME OF THRONES and The MCU As The Last Giants

Entertainment history is going to look back at this time period as an era defined by longform serialized storytelling, with instalment-based stories conquering just about every narrative medium. Eventually this will end, not because serialized longform storytelling is bad but because all things fade away and change. Charles Dickens was telling stories in an environment like this one, just before the novel conquered all. And yet now the chapter has conquered the novel.

And yet when we look back at this period it’s going to be clear that there were two true standouts, two works that loom over all the others. Entertainment historians will argue about whether or not this period began with The Sopranos or with the interconnected nature of comic books, or with the endless storylines of soap operas, but I believe there will be a moment where it all peaked and that will be obvious. The two longform stories that dominate all others, and that define this very era, are Game of Thrones and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and neither will be replicable. Enjoy this moment while it lasts, because we’re at the summit.

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THOR Rereview

“How quaint.”

This is the thought that kept going through my head while revisiting Thor on this runup to Infinity War. Back in 2011 I hated this movie, thought it was just simply the worst of the worst and a huge, boring misstep for Marvel Studios. Today I look at it and see that it’s a movie developed in a world where comic book movies hadn’t yet entered their modern age, and the film has echoes of a landscape where David Hasselhoff played Nick Fury and where superheroes and their enemies usually had their final battle in a warehouse, or on docks, or on a bridge. Marvel knew how to make more grounded characters like Iron Man or more familiar characters like the Hulk work, but Asgardian gods? Space cities? Magic and high weirdness? They weren’t quite ready to commit just yet. Looking back from the post-Thor: Ragnarok vantage point how can we say anything but “How quaint”?

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