Guardians of the Galaxy: Happy Holidays Special reveals that Phase 4 of the UCM has been a filler arc like anime

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Warning: This article contains spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy: Happy Holidays Special.


It’s only fitting that Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe ends on a festive note.

In Guardians of the Galaxy: Happy Holidays Special, which premiered last weekend, the heroes of the MCU take a break to save the world and kidnap Kevin Bacon as a gift for Star-Lord. Like the rest of Phase 4, the resulting story is equal parts silly and cute, an inconsequential caper that’s content to explore the inner lives of its characters rather than meaningfully advance the story.

It is emblematic of the oft-fractured arc of Phase 4, which at times it has felt like a collective hangover for the UCM. Following the success of Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe basically decided to pause and catch its breath, take stock of its characters, and start laying the groundwork for future stories. It was what some anime fans might describe as a filler arc, the kind of story that a long-running series like One Piece might pull off while waiting for the manga to catch up with the series.

The UCM filler arc

Over the years, shonen anime has addressed these kinds of gaps in every possible way, often inventing entirely new heroes, villains, and romance arcs in an attempt to fill the time. The stakes of a filler arc are self-contained, with little opportunity for active character development. Bleach fans, for example, will remember Shusuke Amagai’s arc, which used a dose of mild humor to show the day-to-day life of a squad under a new captain. At their best, they can delve into existing themes and set the stage for future conflicts, but they can also leave fans wanting to fast-forward to the next major plot point.

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That’s what Phase 4 describes, who has spent the better part of two years checking how far down the MCU rabbit hole goes. As the first phase to fully encompass Marvel’s various Disney Plus offerings alongside their movies, Phase 4 took the opportunity to tell longer stories to flesh out characters like Hawkeye and Loki. He retired old characters and introduced new ones, while also playing with well-worn concepts like the “heel turn” and the origin story. In many ways, it made the Marvel Cinematic Universe feel more like a universe than ever before, giving previously overlooked characters a chance to shine.

No character benefited from this dynamic more than Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff, who rose from an always overlooked supporting actress to an immensely popular hero (and anti-heroine) thanks to the success of Scarlet Witch and Vision. Given some space in front of the overwhelming cast of the MCU Avengers, Olsen and her co-star Paul Bettany finally got the chance to bring the romance between Wanda and Vision to life, leading to a series so popular that it managed to spawn minus one spin-off, and another one is rumored to be on the way.

Phase 4 made the Marvel Cinematic Universe feel like a universe more than ever

The rise of Wanda Maximoff was emblematic of how Phase 4 encouraged viewers to root for their villains as much as their heroes, as our partner Carlos commented.

“If Scarlet Witch and Vision was trying to get Wanda through pain denial, Multiverse of Madness is most certainly trying to get her to work on her rage. Strange can ponder why he isn’t happy despite possessing as much power as one of most skilled wizards on Earth, but this is above all to provide it with a texture that allows it to function as a fixed reference point for audiences in the midst of Wanda’s much more visceral emotional journey, which takes into account both the terribly tragic circumstances that Wanda has been forced to endure in this franchise as well as the brutally violent decisions she has made afterwards.”

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The more introspective approach of Phase 4 has had the effect of give their stories more emotional weight than in the past, which could raise the stakes for future conflicts. But it also had its downside, as it left some fans feeling like the MCU had run out of direction, mostly opting to spin the wheel at the expense of a larger plot. Even Spider-Man: No Way Home (arguably the most successful movie of the bunch) was basically an homage to Sony’s Spider-Man movies.

Writing shortly after the release of Thor: Love & Thunder, which might have been the biggest disappointment this side of the Eternals, we also observe: “After 55 hours of Phase 4, where exactly are we? That’s more than two Sagas.” of Infinity together, but it would be pretty hard to say what the overall story is in this new era of Marvel. Were there any good and even great moments in those 55 hours? Sure, but the MCU has been talking about the overall story of Infinity for a long time. this universe, and the truth is that it begins to give the sensation that there is none at the moment”.

In the end, there wasn’t. At San Diego Comic-Con, Kevin Feige took the stage to announce that Phase 4 would end with Wakanda Forever and that Phases 5 and 6 would feature Secret Wars and Kang the Conqueror. A month later, Marvel released She-Hulk, which was both workplace comedy and fourth-wall-breaking metacommentary with one of the weirdest endings in MCU history. And it all wrapped up with the introspective Wakanda Forever and the festive (and unexpectedly emotional) Guardians of the Galaxy: Happy Holidays Special, a mix of the dark and silly that effectively summed up Phase 4.

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However, in retrospect, it was surprising how long that hiatus lasted. After taking a break for the entire year of 2020 (an unfathomably long time in hindsight) she was content to string together what amounted to a series of loosely connected short stories. Following the great tradition of filler arches, it seemed that Feige and company were trying to buy time until the next big story could begin. The only thing missing was a beach episode.

An intriguing exploration of the narrative horizons of the MCU

But regardless of what you think about its range and pace, Phase 4 was an intriguing exploration of the MCU’s narrative horizons. From Loki’s multiverse adventures with the TVA to seasonal specials like Curse of the Werewolf, he found new ways to push the boundaries of superhero storytelling on the big and small screen. So it’s only fitting that it ends with a rocking Christmas carol starring Kevin Bacon, its most dramatic moment being a quiet revelation between Mantis and Peter Quill.

With Phase 5 just around the corner, there are plenty more adventures to come soon. But with Phase 4, the MCU started dancing.