Looking at the Phase 4 announcements at Comic Con, you could be forgiven for wondering why there are only five movies announced alongside the Disney+ shows. Obviously there’s still a lot of MCU content coming (and even more beyond the projects announced with release dates) but there’s no Avengers project, no Spider-Man, no Guardians and the second half of the Comic Con announcement that included some of the sequels we know are in development but that have no release date wasn't actually a confirmation of a second part of Phase 4. This is all we're getting.
Kevin Feige has confirmed that the announced Comic-Con slate is, in fact, the full Phase 4. So no Avengers project and a completely separate approach to Phases than we've seen before. It's almost like they told us the format would be different as Phase 3 was nearing its end...
Feige referred back to Marvel's 2014 Comic Con event where Phase 3 was laid out to illustrate how things can change when there are so many balls in the air, which has shaped how Phases will now be considered and revealed:
“It is the complete Phase Four. The way I announced the complete Phase Three five years ago - things can move, things can change as they did if you go back and look at what we talked about five years ago for Phase Three, but we’ve been working on this for quite a while and it’s pretty set. But there are always changes possible.”
In essence, Feige is protecting himself and Marvel from a situation where they have to move things around or change their plans by projecting too far into the future. Sticking to five films gives them not only a tighter marketing slate but it also gives Marvel the opportunity to do something they've never quite been able to before: they can tie their movies to their TV shows without worrying about getting too far ahead.
For the first time, the Comic Con announcement blurred the lines between the movies and the TV shows, because Marvel are looking at the launch of Disney+ and are rebranding their shows not merely as TV shows but as "event TV series." They're attempting to make those shows more relevant by stuffing in their mainline MCU cast - including stars are big as Tom Hiddleston, Jeffrey Wright in What If...? and lots of A-listers you'd traditionally not associate with streaming shows - and also presenting them as cinematic anthology collections rather than something like the Netflix shows.
In the past, Marvel said it wasn't possible to bring the Netflix stars to the movies because production meant that their timelines would never align properly. The TV shows would also react to the movies in hindsight, operating as satellites to the main timeline - they were linked but not symbiotic. The same can also be said of Agents Of SHIELD. But for the Disney+ shows, it's different. These are concurrent events. As proof of that, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness sets up WandaVision directly. They aren't just shows happening after events established in past films - like Loki's escape in Endgame or Zemo returning after Civil War.
Disney need as many subscribers to Disney+ as they can get and this strategy is effectively in place as an alternative to building to an Avengers movie. All of the five movies are now stand-alone and not aimed towards one cohesive narrative like the Infinity Saga. Black Widow is a prequel to Endgame, Eternals and Shang-Chi are set entirely apart, Thor: Love & Romance ties up Thor's story and only Doctor Strange will really be used as a launch-point for Phase 5 because it will explore the Multiverse.
So instead of us seeing a crowning event movie at the end of Phase 4, in place of an Avengers moment, what we're looking at is Disney's grab for subscribers to their streaming platform. That's fundamentally why we've got a two year Phase 4 and why Feige made the unprecedented decision to not officially announce the other projects that we know are in production, but also tease that they're coming.
That suggests very much that Phase 4's agenda is its own thing - a bottleneck of content to make sure that as many eyes as possible are on the Disney+ shows and as many subscribers as possible sign up.
Avengers movies will probably be back - maybe not in Phase 5, even, but at some point. But for now the brand that really matters to Marvel Studios is not The Avengers. It's Disney+.