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Marvel Cinematic Universe

Go behind the scenes of The Marvels with Brie Larson and Kevin Feige
Featurette: Marvel Studios

The (Mattopian) Bullpen Bulletin: 19 November 2023

Iron Man movie poster

Greetings, True Believers!

As we continue through Phase 5, let’s take a deep breath.

Assembling this page was an interesting exercise. After matching up the reviews published in the mighty Mattopia Times with the release dates and box office results, I now understand why I was getting rather cranky during Phase 3, around the time of Guardians Vol. 2 and Ragnarok. That's when the schedule ramped up from two episodes to three per year (plus Marvel's non-MCU titles plus the DC slate of also-rans) and by then my patience with boss battles was already wearing thin. It was a state of “CGI candy” sugar shock.

As for the box office tallies, it took time to gain traction. Iron Man forged a solid opening salvo while Edward Norton’s The Incredible Hulk got clobbered. The biggest hits of the series so far are still the Avengers episodes (no surprise; the more top-shelf characters, the more appeal), followed by the cultural milestones of Black Panther and Captain Marvel, plus the cross-over appeal of the multi-generational Peter Parkers in Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Anyway, it’s a miraculous feat. Sure, not every entry is a four-star masterpiece, but even the weaker movies are better than most pop culture hits. Well, except for The Incredible Hulk and Infinity War. They still bug me. So does Ragnarok. Nonetheless, Marvel has made humongous strides in raising the bar for cinematic, cross-franchise storytelling and fulfilling the dream the late, great Stan Lee had been pursuing since way back in the 1970s. It really is an inclusive universe, one that has finally broken past the overly simplistic view of giving geek culture a place to call home.

There’s been a disturbing cheese factor creeping into entries like Thor: Love and Thunder, which found its saving grace in great performances from Natalie Portman’s return and Christian Bale’s introduction. With the exception of No Way Home, the box office was a struggle for many of the Phase 4 entries, although Covid lockdowns and theatre closures contributed to the headwinds. But the struggles are still real in Phase 5, with the disappointments creatively and financially of Quantumania and The Marvels leading the downward spiral. At this point, it is less about the pandemic and more about the narrative clutter between the theatrical releases and the plethora of Disney+ streaming series.

Watching Guardians Vol. 3, a thought started to creep in: could James Gunn and Taika Waititi, by seemingly having more creative freedom, either intentionally or inadvertently been limiting the crossover appeal of the overarching series by focusing on a style of pop culture humor that doesn’t carry the larger appeal of the earlier movies, which stayed a little more grounded in the comedic aspects? Have they clawed back the appeal to the core comic book demographic? That geek culture?

It’s a thought right now and nothing more.

But, with the Guardians now in the rearview mirror, there’s less enthusiasm for what lies ahead in Phase 5 and beyond. In the aftermath of the Hollywood strikes, the MCU theatrical release dates have shifted and the biggest surprise is there will be only one theatrical release in 2024. Throw in the Disney+ game of dominoes — with most of the series no longer having definitive launch dates — and the slowdown is welcome.

Take a deep breath, True Believers. After such heady success, the MCU needs to find its way back to center. That will take some time.

As Stan would say, “Excelsior!”
Mattopia Jones, Editor-in-Chief
The Mattopia Times

— Phase 1 —

Iron Man

(1) Iron Man 3.5 out of 4
“... it makes up for the high gloss with a nice amount of heart.”

Global box office: $585,174,222
Opened 2 May 2008 / Closed 2 Oct. 2008

Iron Man 2

(3) Iron Man 2 3.5 out of 4
“As far as comic book movie sequels go, Iron Man 2 is pretty super.”

Global box office: $623,933,331
Opened 7 May 2010 / Closed 19 Aug. 2010

The Avengers

(6) The Avengers

Global box office: $1,518,812,988
Opened 4 May 2012 / Closed 4 Oct. 2012

— Phase 2 —

Iron Man 3

(7) Iron Man 3 4 out of 4
Iron Man 3 is a crazy, gutsy sequel.”

Global box office: $1,214,811,252
Opened 3 May 2013 / Closed 12 Sept. 2013

— Phase 3 —

Spider-Man: Homecoming

(16) Spider-Man: Homecoming

Global box office: $880,166,924
Opened 7 July 2017 / Closed 30 Nov. 2017

Avengers: Infinity War

(19) Avengers: Infinity War 2 out of 4
Infinity War spells gloom and doom for moviemaking.”

Global box office: $2,048,359,754
Opened 27 April 2018 / Closed 13 Sept. 2018

Captain Marvel

(21) Captain Marvel 2.5 out of 4
Captain Marvel is a busy — but uninvolving — misfire.”

Global box office: $1,128,267,209
Opened 8 March 2019 / Closed 4 July 2019


— Phase 4 —

The MCU expands in more ways than one in Phase 4. The hefty schedule includes six theatrical releases and eight streaming series on Disney+. That's quite a product road map and it’s perfect timing for all the multi-platform activity as the MCU storyline dives deep into the Multiverse.

The pandemic disrupted the release schedule, pushing Black Widow from May 2020 all the way out to July 2021. With theatres closed and people homebound, WandaVision hit Disney+ in January 2021 and became the first Phase 4 title to have an audience.

Streaming Series on Disney+
(+1) WandaVision (debuted 15 January 2021)
(+2) The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (debuted 19 March 2021)
(+3) Loki (debuted 9 June 2021)
(+4) What If...? (debuted 11 August 2021)
(+5) Hawkeye (debuted 24 November 2021)
(+6) Moon Knight (debuted 30 March 2022)
(+7) Ms. Marvel (debuted 8 June 2022)
(+8) She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (debuts 17 August 2022)

Black Widow

(24) Black Widow 2.5 out of 4
“While Black Widow has some entertainment value, it’s one of the weaker entries in the MCU.”

Global box office: $379,751,655
Opened in theatres and on Disney+ Premier Access 9 July 2021

— Phase 5 —

Streaming Series on Disney+
(+9) Secret Invasion (21 June 2023)
(+10) Loki Season 2 (6 October 2023)
(+11) Echo (29 November 2023)
(+12) Agatha: Coven of Chaos (Winter 2024)
(+13) Ironheart (TBA)
(+14) Daredevil: Born Again (TBA)
(+15) What If...? Season 2 (TBA)

The Marvels

(33) The Marvels 2.5 out of 4
The Marvels doesn’t serve as Marvel’s Barbie moment.”

Global box office: TBD
Opened in theatres 10 November 2023

(34) Deadpool 3
6 July 2024

(35) Captain America: New World Order
14 February 2025

(36) Thunderbolts
2 May 2025

(37) Fantastic Four
25 July 2025

(38) Blade
7 November 2025


— Phase 6 —

(39) Avengers: The Kang Dynasty
1 May 2026

(40) Avengers: Secret Wars
7 May 2027

(41) Title TBA


Before the Universe, there were...

Daredevil 3 out of 4
"Daredevil is a movie with soul. And it's a soul strong enough to redeem the film from its sins."

Elektra 2 out of 4
"Elektra is simply average and it will be quickly dismissed."

Fantastic Four 2 out of 4
"The action is hardly thrilling and nowhere near convincing and there's no reason to care for any of the characters, no matter how darn good looking they are."

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 2 out of 4
"The most amazing thing about Rise of the Silver Surfer is that a movie about four scientists can come up so short in chemistry and logic."

Spider-Man 3.5 out of 4
"Spinning a web of cinematic magic, Spider-Man leaps off the pages of Marvel's comic books and comes to life on the big screen in a highly entertaining romp."

Spider-Man 2 3.5 out of 4
"Picking up where the first installment left off, Spider-Man 2 avoids the sophomore slump and offers up a delightful change of pace from standard comic book movie fare."

Spider-Man 3 3 out of 4
"The third installment in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man series is a glorious mess that is at turns the darkest and funniest of the trilogy."

X-Men: The Last Stand 3 out of 4
"X-Men: The Last Stand fails to reach its lofty potential but it still serves as an entertaining diversion."

Meanwhile, in other Marvel Universes...

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 out of 4
"The Amazing Spider-Man is uninspired and unremarkable."

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 4 out of 4
"The characters — particularly Peter Parker, Gwen Stacy and Aunt May — feel fresh (again). There's soul. There's humor."

Deadpool 2.5 out of 4
"Deadpool packs a lot of irreverence and violence, but the result is a little tiresome."

Jonah Hex 3 out of 4
"Jonah Hex is a guy movie for guys who dig movies about guys who eat lead for breakfast and refuse to die until their vengeance is done."

The New Mutants 2.5 out of 4
"Unlike Robert Downey Jr.’s take on Tony Stark or Chris Evans’ version of Steve Rogers, the journey doesn’t end with an overwhelming desire to see this band of characters again."

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse 3.5 out of 4
"Across the Spider-Verse is a monumental work of art."

Venom 2.5 out of 4
"Venom lacks bite."

Venom: Let There Be Carnage 1.5 out of 4
"The ‘carnage’ in this sequel’s title refers to all the quality talent that’s laid to waste."

The Wolverine 3 out of 4
"The Wolverine claws its way to a very mild recommendation."

X-Men: Days of Future Past 3 out of 4
"It's outclassed by First Class, but Days of Future Past is a solid addition to the X-Men canon."