MCU Phase 4's new heroes will never be as powerful as the OG Avengers
The MCU's Phase 4 movies and TV shows have introduced so many new heroes, but unfortunately, they'll never be as great as the OG Avengers.
Phase 4 of the MCU introduced countless new superheroes, but none as great as the OG Avengers. Several themes run through the MCU's plans for Phase 4, but the main ones have to do with loss and legacy. Avengers: Endgame is positioned as the "last hurrah" of the OG Avengers, one of the survivors of Thanos' snap. They joined forces one last time to undo all this, bringing back half of the creatures in the universe, and paid a terrible price. Black Widow and Iron Man are dead, and Hulk is badly injured. Only Steve Rogers could live his "happily ever after," traveling back in time to spend the rest of his life with his beloved Peggy Carter.
All of which makes Stage 4 a meditation on their heroism, inspiring countless others to follow in their footsteps. In fact, Phase 4 introduces a new legacy hero to replace every OG Avenger -- and then some. Sam Wilson took on the mantle of Captain America, Jennifer Walters became She-Hulk after being exposed to her cousin's gamma-irradiated blood, Hawkeye was paired with Kate Bishop, Jane Foster proves worthy of Quake, and Natasha Romanoff's "sister" is introduced as the new Black Widow. The latest is Riri Williams, the MCU's Iron Man replacement who made her debut in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
The MCU's Legacy Heroes Can Never Be As Great At The OG Avengers
However, the sad truth is that these heroes will never be as great or even as popular as the OG Avengers. This really bakes into the design; as striking as the characters may be, they're defined in part by the mantles they inherit. Nowhere is this more evident than in "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," the only Disney+ TV show that truly works on issues of identity that underpin legacy themes. This restored a significant level of agency for Sam Wilson, simply because he ultimately chose to accept the shield he was offered instead of simply assuming it was in honor of Steve. But the truth is, Falcon wouldn't be the next Captain America without the choice of his predecessor. He'll never believe he won it.
Thor: Love and Thunder Unfortunately, the same problem occurs with Jane Foster's Thor. In the comics, Jane takes the initiative to go to the moon to pick up things Fallen Mjolnir, it accepted her because she was willing to sacrifice so the universe could get Thor back. The MCU's version of the story strips Jane of her agency and instead has Mjolnir respond to Thor Odinson's love for Jane and accept his blessing for her. Of these traditional heroes so far, the only one that has the potential to stand out is Ironheart, simply because she has no direct connection to Tony Stark. Hopefully this means she can stand on her own a little bit, even if viewers keep comparing her to him.
Marvel's Legacy Theme Points To A Phase 4 Challenge
Phase 4's replacement hero points to a recurring problem in franchise history; it's very rare for a movie franchise to successfully replace an iconic character. This fact created huge problems for Lucasfilm, with the sequel trilogy ultimately failing to pass the baton to the next generation. Sadly, it's highly likely that Marvel is facing the same problem - and since the movies and TV shows aren't very subtle about it, things could get worse. Only the best writing—perhaps the subject of Stage 5 intergenerational conflict—can Bring these new heroes out of the shadows they occupy. The troubling question, however, is whether audiences will allow them to do so, or whether any attempt to identify themselves as individuals will be seen as a rejection of the MCU's most beloved mantle.