Getting The MCU's Timeline Right Shouldn't Be This Hard – Screen Rant

She-Hulk episode 2’s Smart Hulk timeline inconsistency is the most recent example of a long list of Marvel’s Phase 4 timeline problems.
Warning: This contains SPOILERS for She-Hulk: Attorney at Law episode 2.
Getting the MCU’s timeline right now that so much work has been put into the making of a consistent universe should not be a problem for Marvel, but recent releases like Hawkeye, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law episode 2 prove that chronology is one of Phase 4’s biggest issues. With far more releases in 2022 than in any other year, keeping track of the MCU’s broader story can be difficult, especially for those who are not familiar with the Marvel universe. Still, Marvel Studios has always tried to make the MCU accessible both for dedicated Marvel audiences and casual viewers, which makes the MCU’s Phase 4 timeline issue even worse.
Up until Avengers: Endgame, the MCU’s release strategy was mostly chronologically. It took a while before Marvel Studios started to release three movies in the same year, and therefore it was much easier for audiences to keep track of the overall story. Before Marvel’s Phase 4, the timeline headscratchers were mostly limited to Fury’s Big Week, although Marvel was quick to clear things up regarding when Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor fit in the MCU timeline. However, after Phase 2, the MCU was no longer following just the original Avengers through solo movies. There were now the Guardians of the Galaxy, plus origin stories for new characters like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange.
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The first official MCU timeline was released by Marvel Studios in 2018 as part of the celebrations for the 10th anniversary of the franchise, and it showcased how complicated the MCU’s chronology had become. That said, while the last couple of years of the Infinity Saga leading up to Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame was more confusing than all of the MCU up until that point, there was still an effort by Marvel in keeping a somewhat consistent timeline with at least some level of justification behind it. However, after Avengers: Endgame, not only has the MCU timeline become much more confusing, but it also collects flaws that can only be justified with retcons and headcanons. She-Hulk’s Smart Hulk problem regarding Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ post-credits scene is the most recent example of an already long list of chronology confusions.
Perhaps the biggest, most jarring problem with the MCU’s timeline was Spider-Man: Homecoming. The first Spider-Man movie in the MCU, Homecoming opens with the aftermath of The Avengers’ Battle of New York. After introducing Adrian Toomes and setting up the importance of the Chitauri technology to the plot, Homecoming had its title sequence followed by an “8 Years Later” title card. That would place Homecoming in 2020, as The Avengers happened in 2012. The problem is that the following scene was Peter Parker coming back from Germany after the events of Captain America: Civil War, which was supposed to have happened in 2016.
While some can attribute the Homecoming timeline problem to a lack of synergy between Marvel Studios and Sony, those problems were not exclusive to Spider-Man. For example, Thor: Ragnarok takes place in 2017 according to the official MCU timeline. However, Avengers: Infinity War, which starts right where Ragnarok ended, only works with Avengers: Endgame if it takes place in 2018. Another problem is how Civil War takes place in 2016 while Black Panther is set in 2017, even though Black Panther deals with the immediate aftermath of King T’Chaka’s death in Civil War. That would only work if Civil War took place in December, which would not work considering that Peter Parker had yet to attend his Homecoming party, an event usually held in September or October.
Compared to Phase 4, those previous MCU’s timeline problems seem much smaller. With the exception of Black Widow, which takes place right after the events of Civil War, the only constant of Phase 4 is that everything is set between 2023 and 2025. That time range comes from the fact Endgame had a five-year time jump after the surviving Avengers killed Thanos, placing the Battle of Earth and Iron Man’s death in 2023. This would place the MCU four years ahead of the real world, but given how 2020 had no Marvel releases due to the pandemic, the MCU is currently tackling events between 2024 and 2025.
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During Marvel’s Phase 4, most of the releases have had hardly any connection among themselves – which makes it almost impossible to find an easy, mistake-free explanation for Phase 4’s timeline. For example, Disney+ originally had Black Widow – a Phase 4 release that actually takes place in Phase 3 – as if had happened after Black Panther. However, Black Widow starts right where Civil War’s Iron Man vs. Captain America fight ended whereas Black Panther starts at least a week later. This problem was later fixed, but the MCU’s timeline inconsistencies continued. More recently, Disney+ placed Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness as if takes place before the events of Hawkeye. However, Hawkeye and Spider-Man: No Way Home both take place during Christmas, and Multiverse of Madness clearly takes place after No Way Home.
Marvel’s most recent Disney+ MCU show, She-Hulk, is also tricky in terms of timeline. She-Hulk features Mark Ruffalo as both Bruce Banner and the Smart Hulk, two versions of the character that have been causing some confusion ever since Shang-Chi’s post-credits scene. She-Hulk episode 2 sees footage from the Abomination in Shang-Chi’s fighting arena, and considering that it’s never stated that it’s old footage, the show leaves it open for viewers to assume that She-Hulk episode 2 takes place concurrently with Shang-Chi. However, the Smart Hulk no longer has his inhibitor device after the car accident in She-Hulk episode 1, meaning he would not be able to return to Bruce Banner form easily for the Shang-Chi’s post-credits scene. Once again, this could be resolved with the Abomination footage being an old recording, but it makes things complicated nonetheless.
With so many movies and shows in Marvel’s Phase 4, plus several others confirmed for Marvel’s Phase 5 and 6, it is impossible for the MCU to keep every release intrinsically connected with the others. In fact, there is no reason for Marvel to do that. For example, Moon Knight season 1 told a perfectly self-contained origin story without relying on other MCU events. The same can be said about Eternals, whose only requirement for it to work in the MCU timeline is to take place after Endgame. The situation is similar for most of the Disney+ MCU shows like Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel, whose only necessary timeline hook is also to take place after Endgame. Therefore, a more detailed timeline does not matter that much in the context of Marvel’s Phase 4 releases. That is why those timeline conflicts are becoming more common.
While retcons and overly complicated explanations could help solve some of Marvel’s Phase 4 timeline issues, such as the ones in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, doing that would risk only making things worse. Therefore, it makes more sense for Marvel to focus its efforts on establishing a better timeline for future MCU’s Phase 5 and 6 releases. It’s essential to notice that most of Phase 4 took place before the Multiverse Saga plan was revealed. Therefore, from here on in, audiences will have a certain level of expectation regarding a more strict chronology leading up to the highly promising Avengers: The Kangy Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars. Should the MCU’s Phase 5 and 6 releases have more connections leading up to The Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars, then the MCU timeline should organically get more clear in the future.
New episodes of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law release Thursdays on Disney+.
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Marcelo Leite is a senior writer for Screen Rant with years of experience in creative and academic writing. Before starting working as a writer, Marcelo gave Mathematics and Physics lessons, both in private and public institutions. He started his professional life very young, as he was selected, during high school, to serve as a teacher in a tutoring program offered by one of the best universities in his state. Marcelo has also worked as a motivational speaker at the invitation of an institution of preparatory courses as a consequence of his school results and success in some of the most competitive entrance exams in his country. He has lived in three different cities, all to pursue the best education he could have. Although his chosen field was structure engineering, there is nothing Marcelo likes better than writing about the things he loves. That includes Marvel and DC superheroes, non-linear movies, fast and furious cars, and a galaxy far, far away.

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