MCU – Phase 4: What worked and what didn’t with its three formats

Marvel Phase 4 has come to a close, and it’s been an interesting ride with many exciting changes and growing pains for the MCU. The biggest of these has been the addition of Disney+ content, which in the past two years has included nine shows — seven live shows, one animated, and a series of shorts titled I grow old.

However, in late 2022 another game changer for the franchise emerged: the format of special presentations. These projects, each about 45 minutes long, act as “bonus” and stand-alone stories that don’t require the amount of time spent watching a series or even a movie might. There have only been two Marvel specials so far, but some fans are already calling for them to completely replace the series’ format.

While the advent of specials opens up a lot of possibilities for future MCU content, there’s certainly still room for all three formats in the franchise moving forward. Whether or not the format “works” is simply a matter of how Marvel Studios chooses to use each.


Marvel Studios is built on movies. For most of its existence, this was the only format the company used. So the people who run the Marvel Cinematic Universe know how to put together a good movie while organizing stories to fit the conventions and expected lengths of time of the medium.

However, there are still a few MCU movies that might have been better presented in other formats. For example, low stakes fare like ant Man The films might have been curated at special presentations if that series had begun after the Infinity Saga. Plus, while a character always deserves a movie, Black WidowNatasha Romanoff’s desire to share the backstory of Natasha Romanoff could have made for an exciting Disney+ series showcasing different eras of her life while still introducing new characters like Yelena Belova.

But the most obvious is eternalwhich, as part of Phase 4, in theory could It was a chain. eternal It served as an origin story for ten different characters, each of whom had been around for thousands of years. They all had a great backstory, and while the movie gives each of them at least a few moments to shine, it delivers them all And the Telling the tale of their reunion would have been fitting for a single movie, even for one of the longest running films in the franchise.

While it’s possible that some of the movie’s great visuals will be sacrificed, the story eternal It would have been better suited to the miniseries format – preferably the nine half-hour episode format rather than the six 50-minute episode. Most episodes can focus heavily on one or two characters, with the “modern” sections booking flashbacks and providing “hooks” for viewers to tune in again, ultimately ending with the team battling it out like in the movie. As is the case , eternal It ended up being a movie about the origin and reunion that left a lot of stories on the table and focused on characters who likely wouldn’t be very central to the MCU moving forward.

Now, the project’s insignificance to the “overarching story” doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. But for the purposes of the MCU, it has to feel like the movies events. Fair or not, that’s what audiences expect at this point. There are only so many movie slots out there and it’s the projects that will attract the most eyeballs (and money), so it has to be the bulk – if not all – of the projects that are “necessary” to understanding the overall narrative in this way. This means that the “major” characters of the current era must appear in the films and the audience must be able to understand them and their journeys enough to relate to them through the films alone.

Special presentations

A TV show is like a mini movie, or sometimes a long episode of a TV show. The stakes are usually somewhere in the middle of what one would expect for both of these formats.

So far, there have only been two Marvel Studios special presentations. Werewolf by night It marked the introduction of new characters, an opportunity to experiment with the genre within the MCU, and the directorial debut of composer Michael Giacchino. Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special It allowed audiences to get more time with some fan-favorite characters in a low-stakes story that fills a niche (Christmas content) the studio probably wouldn’t make a movie for.

The descriptions above largely cover the roles that Special Presentations can fill. There’s a lot more Marvel could do with them as a category with less seriousness, runtimes, budgets, and more flexible release dates than those of the movies or series. The best use of specials going forward is to give screen time and development to characters you wouldn’t get in the movies or series, whether they’re characters you’re not sure about including in larger projects like in Werewolf by night Or those who are generally on the sidelines on the main stuff like Mantis in Guardians franchise. They can also be used to introduce or flesh out new characters who deserve their own backstory, but people who don’t have time to play with it, a role that many Disney+ shows have played – but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Audiences are likely more willing to give a one-shot story a chance than a series. But then again, not everyone who watches the movies will have access to Disney+, so these individual movies can’t contain the core of the overall story. Special presentations should be mainly for the experimental and underappreciated corners of the MCU that could help viewers appreciate the main narrative of the franchise while providing the option to move away from the focus on matters related to that huge story if the creative team so desires.

a series

The Disney+ series has been the largest contributor to the dramatic increase in MCU content annually since Phase 4 began. There were eight of them in just two years, which was overwhelming for many viewers – especially casual viewers. Now that Marvel has launched the specials format for the first time, many fans are wondering if the series format should simply be retired in favor of this style of programming that requires a much smaller time commitment.

It might be easy for some to forget, given that none of Marvel’s Disney+ series in 2022 reach the cultural impact that some of its 2021 shows did, but there are things Marvel can only do in this format. With that in mind, there should be room for more of that in the franchise’s future.

The MCU has always felt like something of a TV series for the big screen, so adding actual TV series within the franchise (along with questionable series on ABC and Netflix) seemed like a natural fit. But the team at Marvel Studios is in a bit of a sticky spot with this series. As with special presentations, they need to make sure the series isn’t “wanted” to watch so fans who don’t have access to Disney+ can continue the story being told in the movies. However, the series’ format brings an expectation of “significance” to said overall story that the specials are largely devoid of.

It was the height of hype for any Marvel Disney+ series in Phase 4 WandaVision. Part of this was likely due to the novelty of a series set in the MCU, along with it being Marvel Studios’ first release in a year and a half while releasing it at a time when a lot of the COVID-19 lockdowns were in effect. But looking at the show alongside the most successful series of the fourth season, LokiIt becomes quite clear what the Disney + format has to offer that other formats cannot.

The best part about the Marvel series format is the collective week-to-week speculation among fans. The above two series, WandaVision And the Loki, by far the best at it, delivering twists and surprises in every episode to keep fans watching and anticipating. Some other MCU series haven’t been able to pull it off, particularly some origin stories that have struggled to fill a six-episode story (this is where the specials format would have been beneficial for shows like Strong woman And the Ms. Marveland perhaps even a quasi-origin story for hook).

Marvel is known for being water-cooled discussion fare; If the project didn’t create buzz, it didn’t do its job. Disney+’s model of dropping weekly episodes for its main series means that any shows that come from Marvel Studios have to be able to keep their momentum going for a set amount of weeks, and not all of them have been able to do so. Both hook And the Strong woman Meandered through a lot of their respective presentations, the most exciting and impactful parts of those presentations could have been incorporated into special presentation editions of the projects with little missing value and higher overall cultural impact. These shows may be more relaxed chapters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but series in this franchise need to keep people on the edge of their seats, otherwise many will tune in.

Basically, when it comes to the MCU, the series should be stories that actually need more time to tell than the movie. Some of Phase 4 feel more like projects that weren’t considered worthy enough to become movies by the studio for whatever reason and were therefore extended into series rather than ones that actually benefit from a weekly release. Really, the only two who have definitely secured their status on the series are Lokifor his ability to divide the story into distinct sections, each befitting its own episode, and WandaVisionfor the same thing in addition to its TV design and look.

This is not to say that other Marvel shows haven’t benefited in some way from the series format. while Moon Knight It was one that felt like a sequel, it had a couple of good cliffhangers to get people talking and the longer formula allowed for more introspection, which was one of the best things that came out of this project. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier It had a lot of ground to cover that wouldn’t be possible in any other format but a more focused version of the story – perhaps in movie form – with certain lines cut that might make for a more polished final product. and format animation anthologies What if…? It was fine as a series in theory, though the studio might have been better off just making special presentations of this project’s few best ideas rather than producing it as a weekly show it felt obligated to finally tie itself together.

The bottom line is, MCU movies should feel like events (not always The AvengersEvents on a level, but events nonetheless) with high stakes, MCU series need to be solid stories that keep the buzz going, and MCU specials are the time to experiment with styles and characters that franchise audiences aren’t used to seeing in the spotlight.

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