Much has been made of Kang the Conqueror, but is it a good idea to set up the MCU with another big bad villain so soon after Thanos?
There has never been a movie franchise quite like the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in the history of Hollywood. From 2008 to 2019, the MCU presented a single, over-arching storyline about a group of superheroes collectively known as the Avengers, and their battle to stop an alien warlord named Thanos from destroying half of all life in the universe using an all-powerful device called the infinity gauntlet.
This time period of the MCU was divided into three parts, called Phases 1, 2, and 3. With the end of the infinity gauntlet saga and the defeat of Thanos at the hands of the Avengers, the biggest question on the minds of MCU fans was who would be the new, overarching villain of the franchise in its next phase. Phase 4 of the MCU was all over the place, but it seems to be setting up the events which would lead to one main 'big bad' of Phase 5, Kang the Conqueror, who will show up in the first film of the phase, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. But does the franchise necessarily even need a Thanos-level threat at this point?
Phase 4 of the MCU officially began in 2021 with Black Widow, and continued with projects like WandaVision, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. A defining characteristic of this particular arc was that, unlike the previous phases where the main struggle was against external enemies, this time the struggle was mainly internal.
Each of the heroes is dealing with the aftermath of Thanos' defeat, and the resulting loss of loved ones. This causes characters like Wanda Maximoff, Peter Parker, and Doctor Stephen Strange to make mistakes and enact unwise decisions that end up damaging the world in different ways. From accidentally opening up the multiverse to enslaving a town's worth of hostages (thanks to the increasingly bad Scarlet Witch), the erstwhile heroes of the MCU ended up becoming its biggest threats in Phase 4.
All this internal struggle that fans got to witness in Phase 4 means the stories of the MCU are becoming much more character-focused. Moon Knight was basically a six-hour character study of its main character and his dissociative identity disorder. This kind of storytelling has given a depth, richness, and complexity to MCU characters that had never been seen before in the previous phases.
At this point, it almost feels like a step back to toss out all this intimate character exploration in favor of banding the Avengers together yet again to take on another cosmic threat like Thanos. If the first three phases of the MCU was about good vs. evil, Phase 4 has been about showing that evil exists among us and within us, and no one is wholly good or bad. From a storytelling perspective, examining the shades of gray of MCU heroes and villains is much more compelling than yet another battle between the Avengers and a disposable CGI army of faceless aliens led by a new big bad.
Another good reason to hold off on introducing a new main villain into the MCU just yet is that the franchise is experiencing growing pains at the moment. With most of the original main superheroes of the first three phases either dead or retired, the series is turning to a new crop of heroes. These characters need time and focus to shine, just like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America needed time to shine in their first few movies without the looming threat of Thanos.
And let's not forget that the MCU is gearing up to welcome many new and beloved faces from Marvel Comics, including The Fantastic Four, Deadpool, and the X-Men. Once again, these characters need stories that put them front and center of the narrative instead of immediately placing them in the middle of a pitched battle against some new universe-ending threat.
However, at the end of the day, people don't go to the theater to watch a two-hour character study of a superhero, no matter how beloved they might be. The MCU gained its immense global popularity off the backs of thrilling battles between Marvel superheroes and those who wish to do harm to Earth. Here we come to another issue, where the current MCU seems to be suffering from an overabundance of upcoming cosmic threats.
For instance, there is Kang the Conqueror, who can manipulate time and space in mind-boggling ways. We also have the Celestials, planet-sized entities who are playing their own cosmic game with the fate of entire planets at stake. Finally, there is the Marvel multiverse itself, which is proven to contain any number of world-ending threats like an evil Scarlet Witch, an almighty Ultron, or a universe full of zombie superheroes.
Each of these threats has the potential to be the next Thanos of the MCU, and you have to wonder how the franchise will be able to juggle all of them at the same time and still have time left over for smaller, intimate moments with the heroes who are supposed to be the flagship characters of the series. Throughout Phase 4 the Marvel multiverse has proven itself to be a very messy place, and there is an urgent need for simplification and streamlining of the franchise before it all just gets too confusing for new and old fans alike.