Marvel released seven movies over the last two years, all grouped under the banner of “Phase Four” of their overarching cinematic universe. These films (nearly) all take place after the events of Endgame and offer some context for how the world is handling the aftermath of Thanos’s victory in Infinity War.
Let’s break down the broad strokes of each of these films to get you caught up to where the MCU is heading as we approach the first Phase Five movie, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
The first Phase Four film, Black Widow, is also the only one that takes place before the events of Infinity War and Endgame. It’s set during the era of Captain America: Civil War and depicts the protagonist, Natasha Romanov, as a woman on the run from the law.
Black Widow introduces Natasha’s sister, Yelena, who will inherit the mantle of Black Widow following Nat’s death in Endgame. It also gave us our first look at the Red Guardian, a superhero who acts as the Russian counterpart to Captain America.
The second Phase Four film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, serves as the introduction for the legendary Master of Kung Fu himself. Shang-Chi is a long-running Marvel character who is the series’ foremost martial artist. The film also gives fans their best look yet at the Ten Rings organization, the villains who kidnapped Tony Stark in the first Iron Man film.
In some ways, Shang-Chi feels like a response to the Iron Man series as a whole, as it also gives “The Mandarin” a chance to shine. His real name is Wenwu, and he’s a dangerous kingpin who rules the Ten Rings organization using the titular ring-shaped artifacts that augment his fighting style. After Shang-Chi and his sister, Xu Xialing, manage to defeat the Dweller-in-Darkness, Xu takes control of the Ten Rings organization while Shang-Chi goes on to join the Avengers.
The Eternals are ancient super-powered beings who have lived on Earth for thousands of years. They are servants of the Celestials, the space-faring deities of the Marvel universe, and serve as caretakers for planets that house nascent Celestials. That’s right–planets are just Celestial eggs, and once the space god is fully grown, it bursts from the planet, killing its inhabitants.
The Eternals, including members Kingo, Thena, Sersi, and Gilgamesh, work together to stop the Celestial hidden within the Earth from completing its hatching process. They save the planet, but several members of the group, including Ikaris and Gilgamesh, are killed in the process. The surviving Eternals will now stand trial before the Celestials for their crimes, which will likely serve as the basis for a future Eternals sequel.
Spider-Man: No Way Home
The third entry in the MCU Spider-Man trilogy is a crowd-pleaser. It brings back Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield to reprise their roles as the Spider-Men of alternate realities, the first time the MCU has overtly acknowledged the presence of adjacent film universes within the broader cosmos.
No Way Home also resets Spider-Man’s continuity for future films by erasing everyone’s memory of Peter Parker. During the film, Peter’s Aunt May was killed by the Green Goblin, and now, with his friends having completely forgotten him, Peter will have to fend for himself. He won’t even have access to Stark tech in future films, as Happy Hogan and Stark Industries have no idea that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and thus they have no reason to outfit him with technology.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
The latest Doctor Strange film doubled down on the multi-dimensional weirdness of the first entry. Stephen Strange and his allies, including newcomer America Chavez, travel through the sprawling and complex multiverse to stop one of the deadliest forces in the MCU: Wanda Maximoff.
The film helps establish the presence of mutants and the X-Men in the multiverse, as well as setting up a possible path for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. It also confirms what we all knew already: Doctor Strange is a real weirdo. From possessing the zombified body of his own variant to embracing the forbidden magic of the Darkhold, Strange seems to be delving ever deeper into the occult these days.
Thor: Love and Thunder
Thor managed to become the first Avenger to get four films in the MCU with the release of Love and Thunder. In this outing, he goes toe-to-toe against Gorr, the God-Butcher, a villain who possesses an all-black sword capable of killing immortals. He also gets a pair of goats and reunites with Jane Foster!
Rather than wishing for the extinction of the gods, Gorr wishes for his long-lost daughter to return to life. After Gorr and Jane both die from their injuries, Thor takes the girl–named Love–under his wing and raises her as his own daughter.
Black Panther Wakanda Forever
Wakanda Forever had perhaps the toughest job of any Phase Four film. In the wake of Chadwick Boseman’s passing at a young age, the Black Panther sequel had to serve as both a tribute to a once-in-a-generation actor and a continuation of a story that is extremely culturally significant.
It excels in both goals and even adds a new civilization to the MCU for good measure. Talokan, the underwater home of Namor and his blue-skinned merfolk brethren, is a worthy adversary to Wakanda and an emerging threat in the Marvel universe. Throughout the film, Shuri takes up the mantle of the Black Panther and learns that her brother had a son with Nakia. That youngster is also named T’Challa, ensuring that the Panther King’s spirit will live on in the MCU for years to come.