“Doctor Strange 2 vs. Thor 4: What Is The Most Important MCU Phase 4 Movie?”

As hype builds around the impending Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, two films lined up for 2021 are standing out among the crowd for fan excitement: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder. Both characters have cemented their position as fan favorites following favorable turns in the most recent MCU offerings, from Thor: Ragnarok to Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

Following Thanos’ spectacular defeat, fans are now looking to Phase 4 for clues as to who the next Big Bad will be; the next villain to require the combined might of the assembled Marvel heroes to combat, most likely at the end of Phase 6. Knowing how well Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige likes to plan in advance, it’s simple to suspect that these seeds will have already begun to be planted. This leads to the next question: which upcoming movie will be the most important to Phase 4 as a whole?

While Phase 4 is setting up multiple new movies, with everything from a long-awaited Black Widow solo movie to the MCU debut of Shang-Chi, Thor: Love and Thunder and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness are the two clear front runners – for multiple reasons apiece. Black Widow will be serving as more of a character study and farewell to that character rather than being a building block to the future of the MCU – after all, that character is presently deceased. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will have a lot on its hands with the appearance of the real Mandarin, most likely operating on a street-level urban scale.

The Eternals are obviously set to be a big building block as well, but right now, their role in the MCU’s future is a big, fat question mark; the recently-released synopsis for that movie suggests they’ll be dealing with the fallout of Avengers: Endgame more than anything. Audiences are more likely to see seismic shifts in the MCU landscape happening alongside familiar, beloved characters like Thor and Doctor Strange. Here’s why.

Scott Derrickson has recently stepped away from the sequel’s director’s chair, resulting in a currently-rudderless sequel. The reason for which is apparently obvious; Derrickson wanted to make the MCU’s first “horror movie,” a goal disputed by Kevin Feige, who later walked back the claim. Feige mentioned multiple times how important the sequel was to the development of Phase 4 – namely its segue-way into not one, but two live-action Disney+ shows. It’s easy to see how Derrickson would have been wanting to make his own little scary MCU picture, a goal that stands opposed to Feige’s goal of a fantastical journey into the Multiverse (designed as a springboard into future Phase 4 offerings). After all, he’s not the first creative to clash with Feige over ideas for the over-arching MCU.

Understanding that Doctor Strange 2 is important to Kevin Feige is a loud klaxon telling us that it’s important to Phase 4 of the MCU at large. Feige, more than anyone, is clearly very excited about the prospect of introducing the Multiverse, a dimension-spanning concept that covers everything from Ant-Man‘s Quantum Realm to alternate versions of Earth where history plays out differently (the latter concept is the entire basis of Marvel’s next animated show, What If?).

With an alternate version of Loki apparently escaping into the Multiverse during the events of Avengers: Endgame, as well as the announced inclusion of Wanda Maximoff – the Scarlet Witch – in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the stage is set for the sequel to directly affect the Disney+ shows Loki and WandaVision. Fan theories revolve around the Scarlet Witch’s powers being expounded upon in the movie to more closely resemble those from the source material – her use of “chaos magic” and/or abilities to bend reality to her will. With a title like Multiverse of Madness, and Wanda Maximoff’s history of mental instability stemming from Marvel Comics, it’s very possible she is the cause of said “madness.”

As one of Magneto’s children for much of Marvel Comics continuity, Wanda could even be a springboard into the long-awaited introduction of mutants to the MCU. After almost two decades of cinematic rights being held hostage by 20th Century Fox, the X-Men are finally back home where they belong. What better way to introduce them into the MCU proper by using the Scarlet Witch? After all, she was responsible for one of the biggest Avengers/X-Men crossover events of the 21st Century: Brian Michael Bendis’ House of M. The story saw Wanda’s brother Pietro (Quicksilver) manipulate her into warping reality, making mutants the dominant species of Earth with their father Magneto at the head. In order to placate Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, she gives them all their deepest desires; Spider-Man is married to Gwen Stacy, Wolverine has all his memories, etc. Although the House of M was eventually undone, the Marvel Universe was forever altered because of it.

With Doctor Strange about to undertake an adventure into the “Multiverse of Madness” with Wanda Maximoff, could a trip to the House of M be in the cards? Or, at the very least, could the seeds be planted for a future foray there? It could even be used in reverse, as it would be simple for Feige to introduce mutants with a retcon by saying that they used to exist in the MCU, but that Wanda wiped all memory of them away (for both the characters and the audience). Time will tell exactly how important Doctor Strange 2 is to Phase 4 – but it’s clear that it’s important to the ongoing character development of Loki and the Scarlet Witch.

The eagerly-awaited Thor: Love and Thunder is hopefully due to begin filming this summer. According to returning franchise director Taika Waititi, the fourquel is set to be even crazier than the widely-beloved Thor: Ragnarok. At the very least, Thor: Love and Thunder is set to be another thrilling entry into the saga. It could also be used as a farewell to one of the MCU’s leading lights: Chris Hemsworth. Having been present since his debut in Phase 1, Hemsworth is one of the last few remaining core Avengers. With Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans having bowed out, and no telling how long Scarlett Johansson will stick around after her solo Black Widow movie, it’s easy to imagine that Hemsworth too could be looking to leave on a high note.

As a Phase 1 hero, Avengers: Endgame was meant to serve as a final sendoff for the Phase 1 Avengers, but now, Phase 4 looks to be taking pride of place instead. If the Disney+ Hawkeye show goes ahead, Clint Barton will be passing his quiver down to Kate Bishop; and when Thor: Love and Thunder rolls out, apparently Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster will be taking on the mantle of the Mighty Thor. In a big step for representation, Avengers fans will get the first big-screen female iteration of one of their biggest heroes (second, if  you count Gwyneth Paltrow’s adoption of the Rescue armor – essentially a female Iron Man – in Avengers: Endgame). Whether this means Chris Hemsworth will step away from the role for good is as yet unclear.

Another important aspect to Thor: Love and Thunder’s story could be the potential inclusion of Jane Foster’s breast cancer storyline from the comics. Having the MCU deal with such a serious real-world malady that affects millions of people every day would be seriously affecting; Natalie Portman is also game to tackle it. While the cancer subplot would be important to the film, it wouldn’t affect Phase 4 as a whole. But that’s not to say Jane Foster won’t go on to play a larger role as the MCU continues on.

Another returning player will be Tom Hiddleston’s fan-favorite God of Mischief, Loki. Although murdered at the onset of Avengers: Infinity War, Loki is due to receive his aforementioned self-titled show on Disney+. Current reports indicate that his time-traveling self from the midst of Avengers: Endgame will be catapulted into the present, where he may well bequeath Mjolnir to Jane Foster somehow. Having Thor: Love and Thunder be the final resting place of a plot thread that carries Loki from Doctor Strange 2 to his own show and beyond makes perfect sense.

Thor 4 will apparently also widen the scope of the cosmic corner of the MCU, with rumors suggesting that another fan-favorite character is set to appear: Beta Ray Bill. The bronze-age hero with a monstrous horse-faced visage and a heart of gold could well be played by MCU virgin Christian Bale. An actor of Bale’s caliber doesn’t get added to an MCU movie without being a character of great importance. Whether Bale plays Beta Ray Bill or not, the appearance of the space-faring character implies that Thor: Love and Thunder is ready to travel back into the far reaches of space – as with the cosmic trash heap Sakaar in Thor: Ragnarok.

We also know that Thor 4 will release before (and be set before) Phase 5’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the film where everybody expected to see Thor next, considering he leaves with the Guardians at the finale of Avengers: Endgame. If Thor is going into the cosmos in Thor: Love and Thunder, it’s easy to assume they can leave him there to begin his adventures anew with the Guardians in the third installment, making Thor 4 an important pit-stop on the road to Phase 5.

While Thor: Love and Thunder undoubtedly will be a thrill-ride of the highest magnitude, expanding the scope of the MCU and bringing Loki back home after his myriad of adventures away, there are still nine entries that precede it; five Disney+ shows and four movies. The fourth Thor movie will be important, but not the most important film to Phase 4.

That honor will most likely go to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. With Feige going on record to say how important the introduction of the Multiverse is to Phase 4, along with lead-ins to multiple Disney+ shows, the Doctor Strange sequel will be appointment viewing for those looking to stay abreast of over-arching MCU developments. Thor: Love and Thunder will be the overall capstone to Phase 4, whereas Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be an integral building block.

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