Phase 4 of the MCU has been criticized for its seeming lack of a clear plan and little crossover between individual projects. Yes, everything is building towards two massive Avengers movies, but what about the smaller crossovers in between? Phase 4 may be like Phase 1 in the sense that it’s laying the groundwork for The Multiverse Saga, but it still seems unfocused, lacking any kind of major crossover event.
However, that may not be entirely true. I believe we will be getting a mega-sized crossover event before Phase 6’s Avengers overload – but the clues lie in three key Phase 5 films, not in Phase 4 itself.
While I certainly have some very strong opinions on what went wrong with Marvel’s Phase 4, some of which I’ve written about previously, I’m willing to chalk up many of the MCU’s growing pains in recent years to the impacts of COVID. I think Marvel Studios had to quickly course-correct projects and complete them in a rushed timeframe, which is why Phase 4 seems messy.
But there’s already a brighter future ahead since it appears that Kevin Feige is planning a pretty major crossover event in the form of three Earth-based Phase 5 films.
Captain America 4, Thunderbolts, and Armor Wars may be key
Captain America: New World Order, Thunderbolts, and now Armor Wars seem to have in fact been Phase 4’s endgame. In stark contrast to Phase 4’s mostly self-contained films, these three are each directly tied to what was supposed to be Marvel’s first Disney+ series: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Our new Captain America (Anthony Mackie) and Falcon will take to the skies in New World Order, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) and John Walker (Wyatt Russell) are out for redemption in Thunderbolts, and Rhodey (Don Cheadle) is stepping up to deal with Tony Stark’s complicated legacy in Armor Wars.
That’s not all, though. These three films will connect a ton of Phase 4 and 5 projects, teeing up Phase 6’s two Avengers movies (The Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars) the same way Age of Ultron and Civil War set the stage for Infinity War and Endgame. While Thunderbolts seems to be a Black Widow sequel, it’s also going to expand the Captain America corner of the MCU thanks to the Winter Soldier and U.S. Agent’s appearances.
Meanwhile, Thunderbolt Ross’ return to the wider MCU in Civil War was clearly only the beginning of the Hulk and Captain America franchises mixing together. Ross has been recast following William Hurt’s death, with Harrison Ford taking on the role in Captain America: New World Order and Thunderbolts. His presumably significant role in Thunderbolts will likely result from whatever conflict he comes into with Sam Wilson in New World Order – with some rumors suggesting the two will be forming competing superhero teams.
Thanks to D23, we also know that Captain America: New World Order will feature Hulk villain The Leader. Unconfirmed rumors suggest that Tatiana Maslany’s She-Hulk and/or Oscar Isaac’s Moon Knight could pop up in Sam Wilson’s first solo film as well. With Rhodey’s government role in Secret Invasion and Ross re-entering the scene in New World Order, Don Cheadle could easily swing by the set for a quick cameo as well.
With Armor Wars recently leveled up to a theatrical feature, I expect the film to draw in a ton of MCU government officials in addition to Iron Man supporting characters. I fully expect to see Sharon Carter selling government-owned Stark tech to shady people like Justin Hammer and the Ten Rings, while Thunderbolt Ross and Val seem like no-brainer cameos.
Riri Williams, Pepper Potts, Harley Keener, and even Peter Parker are all fair game for Armor Wars cameos or supporting roles. In addition, Nick Fury, Maria Hill, and Everett Ross wouldn’t be out of place in Armor Wars or Thunderbolts after their stint in Secret Invasion.
I fully expect Rhodey and Sam to continue weaving in and out of various MCU projects while Ross and Val make their own semi-villainous cameos. Captain America has been rumored to appear in Secret Invasion and could quite easily show up in Thunderbolts and Armor Wars.
The same goes for Bucky and Rhodey, who would be natural appearances in New World Order after the support they offered Sam on his journey in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. And as I previously mentioned, Val’s two brief appearances are already Phase Four’s only major connective tissue, hinting at her true endgame for Thunderbolts.
Reuniting the MCU in Marvel’s Phase 5
Captain America: New World Order, Thunderbolts, and Armor Wars seem to be the major crossover event I’ve been waiting for. Instead of a full-fledged Avengers movie to cap Phase 5, we’ll be seeing most (if not all) of the MCU’s Earth-based heroes and allies scattered across these three films.
Going off confirmed cast members only, these movies will be tying together characters from WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Black Widow, Hawkeye, She-Hulk, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Secret Invasion, and The Marvels. Moon Knight, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Echo, Ironheart, and Daredevil: Born Again could all factor in as well depending on the final cast lists for these films.
With Thunderbolts releasing just two months after New World Order and ending Phase Five (as of July 2022), I think we’ll see the most crossover there.
Armor Wars doesn’t have a set release date yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rhodey’s solo adventure release in mid-2025. While I think it should release before Avengers: The Kang Dynasty, there isn’t much wiggle room in Marvel’s current slate (especially if Spider-Man 4 is targeting a 2024 release). An Avengers movie isn’t going to move out of the May slot, so unless Fantastic Four becomes a post-Kang Dynasty summer release, it looks like Armor Wars will be sandwiched between Phase 6’s Avengers films.
Marvel’s Phase 4 flaws and hope for Phase 5
I liked some of the self-contained projects in Phase 4 but some things seemed astonishingly rushed and underdeveloped. The MCU is at its best when the content is good on its own merits and also builds out the wider universe. I think that’s what was really lacking in Phase 4. Most of the MCU worldbuilding felt messy and even downright lazy at times, like the secret societies introduced in almost every project or the shallow explanations for entirely new concepts like witchcraft.
Phase 5 feels like a huge breath of fresh air already, with crossovers beginning in earnest with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Marvels. But it’s Captain America 4, Thunderbolts, and Armor Wars that will bring together most of the disparate films and series in Phases 4 and 5. This would finally give fans a super-sized crossover event on the level of Captain America: Civil War – three times over. I can’t wait to see how these movies connect to each other and where we leave our favorite characters heading into Phase 6!
Which movie are you most excited for? What Marvel Phase 5 crossovers do you want to see the most? Let us know on social media or our Discord!
Thunderbolts Breakdown: The Black Widow Sequel We Deserve