Marvel's Phase 3 has been a tremendous success - but in narrative terms, it could have been improved significantly. Phase 3 of the MCU was the ultimate in serialized storytelling, with each movie taking its heroes one step closer to their final confrontation with Thanos. It's about to come to a head in Avengers: Endgame, and fans have been conducting rewatches of the MCU in order to celebrate the journey.
In hindsight, though, the truth is that Phase 3 wasn't entirely consistent. The ongoing narrative hopped through the timeline with impunity; 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming was set a couple of months after Captain America: Civil War, and 2018's Black Panther just a week later. Tonally, Phase 3 ranged from the Oscar-winning drama of Black Panther to the slapstick superhero comedy of Thor: Ragnarok, and yet, oddly, that variation wasn't truly celebrated. The humor was concentrated in 2017, with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok all coming out in quick succession.
So, as a thought exercise, let's run through the MCU's Phase 3 and imagine an alternative order of release; one that works more effectively from a narrative sense, and that really does allow the MCU to embrace its potential.
2016 - Captain America: Civil War & Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Phase 3 kicked off with Captain America: Civil War, with the Avengers torn apart. This was a deliberate strategy, continuing the process of deconstruction that Marvel had begun when they had Steve Rogers tear down S.H.I.E.L.D. in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This could only possibly happen at the beginning of Phase 3 - as it requires both Captain America and Iron Man in order to work - and it set the scene for everything that would follow. New heroes like Black Panther and Spider-Man were introduced ahead of their solo films, while Steve Rogers was sidelined for the next few years, forced to operate from the shadows. So Captain America: Civil War has to be a fixed point in all this, staying in 2016.
But from this point on, our proposed order begins to change, with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 releasing in 2016 as well. This could easily film concurrently with Captain America: Civil War, given there's no overlap between the cast of the two films. What's more, it wouldn't really push writer-director James Gunn too hard - he started writing the script within a month of the first one's release in 2014. In strategic terms, placing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 at this point stresses that Phase 3 shares the focus on the Earth-bound and the cosmic. It also spreads out the humor, preventing it all being concentrated in 2017.
2017 - Doctor Strange, Black Panther, & Spider-Man: Homecoming
The best 2017 slate would probably look very different to the one Marvel actually released. Doctor Strange would come first, pushed back by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Again, this could easily be filming while Captain America: Civil War and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 were in production, given there's no overlap between the cast.
In this ideal scenario, it would then be followed by Black Panther, which would have started production as soon as Chadwick Boseman had finished up on Civil War. The two-year gap between Civil War and Black Panther had always seemed odd, given that closer releases would surely have maintained the hype more effectively. Furthermore, placing Black Panther here means there's a straightforward line of continuity between 2016 and 2017's films. One final advantage is that Marvel would be able to tell how well Black Panther was performing in the box office, potentially allowing them to adjust the script for Avengers: Infinity War a little to take advantage of it.
Finally, there's Spider-Man: Homecoming. It's reasonable to assume that the Marvel/Sony contract stipulated a 2017 release date, but Marvel would be smart to push it back towards the end of the year. Doing this would prevent issues further down the line; Marvel likes to retain the same kind of slot for all films within a franchise, and in 2019 the summer release of Spider-Man: Far From Home has been rather problematic, given how close it is to Avengers: Endgame.
Page 2 of 2: MCU's Phase 3 In 2018 & 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019