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The Entire Marvel Phase 4 Timeline Explained

Marvel Studios is a filmmaking powerhouse. The Disney-owned, comic book-inspired production company cranks out several pieces of media every year, a frequency that has only increased since the launch of Disney+ in 2019. The growing list of films and television series that take place within the same story world is referred to as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU). Marvel separates the MCU into phases, similar to different seasons of a TV show.

The MCU includes productions made by Marvel Studios, not those made by other companies with rights to Marvel characters — like "Morbius" — or made by entities belonging to Marvel but unrelated to Marvel Studios proper — like "Inhumans." It would take a thesis paper to explain these nuances. Here we're strictly talking about the MCU.

Phase 4 of the MCU began in 2021 and is slated to continue through at least 2023. The timeline can get tricky to keep track of, not only because of the sheer volume of content but also because not every Marvel production takes place in sequential order. If you want to get it all straight, you've come to the right place. Here's the entire Marvel Phase 4 timeline explained.

In the beginning

Phase 4 of the MCU zooms way out. Beginning with the creation of the world and concluding with the end of time, this set of Marvel storytelling introduces some deep philosophical concepts.

Arishem is a higher power known as the Prime Celestial. In the beginning, Arishem creates light, and with it, life. He later creates the Eternals, beings with superpower-like abilities, to destroy the race of apex predators known as Deviants. Across millennia, Eternals protect Earth from Deviants.

Unbeknownst to the Eternals, they've actually lived countless lives on other planets, protecting the inhabitants there until the planet has enough energy to bring about an event known as the Emergence. It turns out that certain planets contain a seed for a Celestial. When it's time for the Celestial to be born, the planet is destroyed, all of its life dies, and Arishem wipes the Eternals' memories and sends them to a new planet to do the same thing until the next Emergence.

The multiverse is real

A man named Nathaniel Richards travels through time from the 31st century and arrives at an unspecified period long before most of the events of the MCU (but after Arishem created life). Having discovered the existence of multiple universes, Richards incidentally creates a Multiversal war among different versions of himself from alternate realities. A tear in a timeline spawns Alioth, a monster who helps one Richards variant preserve his own timeline. This Richards comes to be known as He Who Remains.

He Who Remains manufactures a fake organization called the Time Variance Authority (TVA), which seeks to keep all of existence in alignment with the Sacred Timeline — the version of reality true to He Who Remains. Anything that branches from the Sacred Timeline must be pruned by TVA agents. These agents believe they work for beings known as Time-Keepers and that they're doing noble work to save the one true reality, but they're actually just pawns protecting any reality that strays from the one in which He Who Remains survives.

The Watcher, an omniscient being who monitors the Multiverse (the infinite universes all happening at the same time), coexists with Arishem and He Who Remains. He observes but is sworn not to interfere. The presence of the Multiverse is seemingly at odds with the backstory of He Who Remains, but Marvel has yet to explain how all the puzzle pieces fit together at the time of this writing.

Across the centuries, heroes and villains find their voices

While they may have unknowingly spent millions of years on other planets, the Eternals spend what we might perceive as recorded history on Earth. Over the course of thousands of years, the Eternals protect Earth from the invasion of Deviants but otherwise do not interfere with other catastrophes. There are Deviant attacks in 5000 B.C. in Mesopotamia and 575 B.C. in Babylon.

Meanwhile, a man named Xu Wenwu (a.k.a. the Mandarin) pursues a conquest of power. Around 1000 A.D., Wenwu acquires a set of mythical jewelry known as the Ten Rings. With the immortality provided by the Ten Rings, he forms an army and later clandestine organization of the same name that rules with an iron fist across the globe.

The Eternals hunt down the remaining Deviants in 1521 during the invasion of Tenochtitlan by the Spanish Empire. It's here that the Eternals disagree about their purpose. With some feeling that the group should use their powers to protect humans from threats other than just Deviants, the Eternals split up and go their separate ways.

In Salem, Massachusetts in 1693, a woman named Agatha Harkness becomes a powerful witch. When she breaks the rules of her coven, her fellow witches attempt to destroy her, but Agatha's magic proves too powerful and she destroys them instead.

Captain Carter reporting for duty

You may remember that in Phase 1 of Marvel's timeline, Steve Rogers injects Super Soldier serum to become Captain America. In Phase 4, Marvel revealed that in the 1940s of an alternate universe, Peggy Carter takes the serum instead and becomes Captain Carter, the First Avenger. Steve supports Peggy every step of the way. 

In this other reality, Captain Carter experiences events that mirror Steve's original progression as Captain America, but that manifest in slightly different ways. For example, she has a shield, but it resembles the Union Jack of the English flag rather than the stars and stripes of the American flag. During a covert operation involving a train traveling through icy mountains, Captain Carter saves Bucky Barnes from falling to his doom. In this universe, Captain Carter sacrifices herself for Steve, travelling through a wormhole that transports her from the World War II era to the 21st Century.

In the mid-'90s, families separate and others find love

In 1995, teenager Natasha Romanoff lives in Ohio with her surrogate family — father Alexei, mother Melina, and sister Yelena. After completing a covert mission, Nathasha and Yelena return to the Red Room, a program led by Soviet officer General Dreykov that trains young women to become assassins known as Black Widows.

In 1996, Xu Wenwu's quest for ultimate power spurs him to search for Ta Lo, an ancient settlement said to have magical properties. As a result, Wenwu meets Ying Li, the protector of Ta Lo. The two fall in love and have a son named Shang-Chi and a daughter named Xu Xialing. When Shang-Chi is older, Ying Li gives him a necklace. He doesn't know it, but the necklace is the key to finding Ta Lo.

A new millennium brings trauma for Wanda Maximoff

In the '90s through early 2000s, Wanda Maximoff and her twin brother, Pietro, grow up in the (fictional) European nation of Sokovia. Wanda's favorite night is family TV night, when she and her brother join their mother and father to enjoy American sitcoms, from '60s staples like "The Dick Van Dyke Show" to modern shows of the '00s like "Malcolm in the Middle." The Maximoffs own all the shows on DVD box sets and watch them repeatedly. Family TV night comes to represent a pure, formative time in Wanda's life. An explosion during one of these nights destroys Wanda's home and kills her parents. Wanda and Pietro survive thanks to magic Wanda doesn't realize she has.

As Wanda and Pietro grow older, they both realize more of their abilities — Wanda has immense power and Pietro has super speed. Wanting to learn how to use their gifts for good, they join efforts led by the terrorist organization Hydra. (The twins maybe aren't the best judges of character.) While undergoing skill tests, Wanda touches an Infinity Stone and absorbs some of its power, becoming even stronger than she was before.

In 2008, government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. sends Agent Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, to kill Natasha Romanoff. Barton instead recruits her to join S.H.I.E.L.D.

The timeline gets gnarly in 2012

In Phase 1 of the MCU, the Battle of New York in 2012 concludes with the Avengers winning their fight against Loki, retrieving the Tesseract from Loki's possession, and sending Loki back to Asgard with Thor to answer for his crimes. In Phase 3, several Avengers go back in time from 2023 to that moment in 2012, but things get out of hand and Loki escapes with the Tesseract.

In Phase 4, that branch in the Sacred Timeline takes Loki to the Time Variance Authority where agents intend to prune his Variant for deviating from its natural course of events. Not one to take orders from other people, Loki defies the TVA and seeks to author his own destiny. In doing so, he meets up with other Loki Variants, including a female Variant, Sylvie, who he falls in love with. They soon find out the Timekeepers aren't real and that the TVA has been a sham all along. They vow to track down whoever's behind it all.

In alternate realities, heroes abound in the 2010s

Throughout the 2010s decade, several different twists of familiar hero journeys exist in alternate timelines throughout the Multiverse. In one, T'Challa, as the hero raised by Yondu rather than Peter Quill, has adventures throughout the galaxy. This course of events leads even Thanos to peace. In another universe, many of the Avengers fall victim to a zombie apocalypse.

In yet another universe, Ultron succeeds in taking over the world by possessing Vision and capturing the Infinity Stones. Ultron eventually becomes so powerful that he discovers the Multiverse and seeks to rule over not just his universe, but all universes. Not seeing another way out, the Watcher betrays his oath not to interfere with Multiversal events. He assembles a team of heroes from different universes — familiar yet alternate versions of Peggy Carter, Doctor Strange, Killmonger, Thor, T'Challa, and Gamora — who fight Ultron and save the Multiverse.

Black Widow finds healing in 2016

By 2016, Natasha Romanoff has made a name for herself in her many exploits alongside the Avengers. But she's also made some choices that have consequences. Following the fall out of the Avengers over a disagreement about government oversight of their super heroics, Romanoff goes on the run.

Natasha reunites with her sister, Yelena, and the two set out on a mission to free fellow Black Widows from the Red Room, the assassin-training program Natasha and Yelena both escaped from. The sisters bust their father, Alexei, out of prison and soon visit their mother, Melina. The family, reunited after decades apart, confronts and kills General Dreykov. They succeed in freeing the Black Widow assassins from their entrapment.

With other business to attend to, Natasha bids her family farewell and acquires a Quinjet ship to save some of her fellow Avengers who are also on the run.

Everyone comes home in the Blip

Phase 3 of the MCU shows Thanos snapping away half of existence in 2018, followed by Tony Stark bringing everyone back five years later. By Phase 4, this world event has come to be known as the Blip.

In 2023, different characters throughout the MCU return to their lives in contrasting ways. Students in the marching band at Midtown High School in Brooklyn blip back into their gymnasium in the middle of a basketball game. Peter Parker's aunt May blips into her apartment, which is now occupied by a new family who thinks she's their dad's mistress. Yelena Belova blips back into the home of a family friend she was visiting and soon learns that her sister Natasha is dead. All these characters have varying degrees of awareness of what happened, with some feeling like they've awoken from a haze while others think no time has passed at all.

The displacement of half of the universe following the Blip sets a number of storylines into motion as different MCU heroes deal with the aftermath in their own ways.

Heroes try to rebuild after the Blip

Wanda, who lost her partner, Vision, in the Battle of Wakanda prior to the Snap, grieves in 2023 after she blips back. She discovers that the government agency S.W.O.R.D. is examining Vision's remains. Hurt and still processing the gap in her life without Vision, Wanda creates a town called Westview. Here, she and Vision are married and have kids and the atmosphere of the town resembles the television sitcoms from Wanda's youth.

A gossipy neighbor, Agnes, gets to know Wanda and eventually reveals herself to be the rogue witch Agatha Harkness. She deduces Wanda is a legendary figure known as the Scarlet Witch and seeks to dethrone her. Trying to make sense of Westview, which seems impenetrable to the outside world, S.W.O.R.D. Captain Monica Rambeau breaks through the town's barrier and in doing so reveives superpowers.

Realizing the damage her grief has created, Wanda disassembles Westview, and with it the mirage of Vision that she manifested. She frees the people of the town, but leaves Agatha under a spell before retreating to an isolated forest to learn more about her identity as the Scarlet Witch. A Skrull, a type of shapeshifting alien, arrives in Westview to inform Rambeau that Nick Fury would like to meet with her in outer space.

Sam Wilson becomes Captain America

In 2024, Sam Wilson grapples with taking on the mantle of Captain America bestowed to him by Steve Rogers. Initially, he rejects the title, choosing instead to donate the iconic shield to a museum and continue his heroics as the Falcon.

When new Super Soldier vigilantes emerge around the world and dub themselves the Flag Smashers, Sam teams up with Bucky Barnes (a.k.a. the Winter Soldier), former S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent/American outlaw Sharon Carter, and the notorious Baron Zemo. Sam seeks to help the Flag Smashers find peace, but John Walker wants to destroy them altogether. With the backing of the U.S. government, Walker becomes the new Captain America, distorting the role's symbolism with destruction instead of hope.

Sam takes back the shield and acknowledges that the tension he feels about being Captain America as something he can confront and champion for change. The Flag Smashers are killed in battle and John Walker is recruited by a woman named Valentina Allegra de Fontaine to join a team she's assembling. The government pardons Sharon Carter, but she makes plans to uncover and sell government secrets upon returning to the CIA. Wakandans imprison Zemo for killing King T'Chaka back in 2016.

The truth uncovered

Sometime after the Blip in 2024, Shang-Chi learns the truth about his family. He's attacked by members of his father's Ten Rings organization, who try to steal the necklace left to Shang-Chi by his mother. Xu Wenwu believes his wife, who was killed when Shang-Chi and his sister were children, is being held captive in the secret village of Ta Lo. 

Learning that the necklace is a key to Ta Lo, Shang-Chi and his friend Katy set out to protect the village. Along the way, they free Trevor Slattery, an actor who pretended to be Wenwu in a terrorist stunt years prior. Wenwu eventually recognizes his wrongdoings and gives his son the Ten Rings before dying. Shang-Chi harnesses the Ten Rings but also Ta Lo's ancient dragon to protect the settlement from the Dweller-in-Darkness, a demon released by his father. Bruce Banner and Carol Danvers recruit Shang-Chi and Katy as new Avengers.

Elsewhere, as the Emergence of the Celestial Tiamut growing inside Earth draws near, the Eternals learn they only exist to protect planets long enough for the planet to be destroyed when a Celestial is born. Challenging Arishem's rule, they kill Tiamut and stop the Emergence. Arishem takes several of them captive, demanding to be shown a reason why he should spare Earth. In the wake of the kidnapping, Thanos' brother, Eros, arrives and promises to help the remaining Eternals rescue their friends.

Summer vacay 2024 is lit

During summer 2024, high school senior Peter Parker takes a class vacation to Europe. When you're Spider-Man, though, you can never really take a true vacation. Peter's trip is interrupted by attacks from Elementals, monsters derived from natural elements like water and fire. Quentin Beck comes to Peter's aid in fighting the Elementals, claiming he's from another universe where the beings destroyed his family. Nick Fury and Maria Hill encourage Spider-Man to partner with Beck, who the public nicknames "Mysterio," in ridding this universe of the Elementals.

Beck's actually not from an alternate reality at all. He's a former Stark Industries employee seeking revenge on the late Tony Stark. The monsters are merely the work of elaborate projection mapping. Peter eventually figures out he's been lied to. Beck's own plan ends up being his undoing, and he dies. As the dust settles, Fury and Hill reveal themselves to be Skrulls named Talos and Soren in disguise. They call the real Fury, who's on a secret mission in outer space, to report on what happened.

Before leaving Europe, Peter begins a relationship with his classmate MJ, but the bliss of teenage romance doesn't last long. After returning home to New York, a video leaks that Beck recorded prior to his death. The footage, shown worldwide, accuses Spider-Man of killing Mysterio and reveals his secret identity as Peter Parker.

New York City is the place to be for the holidays in 2024

In late 2024, Peter Parker's life unravels. As the holiday season draws near, Peter asks Doctor Strange to cast a spell that will make everyone forget he's Spider-Man. The spell goes sideways and transports people from other realities who know of Peter Parker's secret identity in their own universes. This includes previously deceased villains like the Green Goblin and Doc Ock, and even two alternate versions of Peter himself. Aunt May dies by the hand of the Green Goblin, but not before reminding Peter: "With great power, there must come great responsibility."

The three Spider-Men work together to spare the villains by curing them of their afflictions. To send the lot back home, Doctor Strange casts a spell that makes everyone forget Peter Parker completely. It works, and Peter begins an anonymous life on his own, protecting New York City once again as Spider-Man.

At Christmastime 2024, Clint Barton and his family visit New York. Trouble arrives when the Tracksuit Mafia, led by a woman named Maya, seeks revenge on Barton for killing Maya's father during his stint as Ronin after the Snap. Kate Bishop, a fan of Barton's, joins him. Yelena Belova, hired by Kate's mother, arrives in New York to kill Barton under the false pretense that Barton killed her sister Natasha. Barton clears up the misunderstanding with Yelena, evades Maya, and makes it home for Christmas.

The Multiverse goes mad and new heroes emerge

At a to-be-determined point sometime after the holiday season of 2024, Doctor Strange's spell from "Spider-Man: No Way Home" has unintended consequences. Despite the warning of Sorcerer Supreme Wong, Strange still meddled where he should have tread lightly. "You opened the door between universes," Wong scolds Strange, "and we don't know who or what will walk through it." As a result, Strange faces the "Multiverse of Madness" and recruits Wanda Maximoff to help him set things right.

In London, possibly around the same time period, Steven Grant has the shock of his life in "Moon Knight." Grant is a mellow employee at a museum gift shop. His life becomes increasingly erratic when he can't distinguish the difference between dreams and reality, finds himself waking up in bizarre places he doesn't remember traveling to, and has conversations during which people mention events he doesn't recall happening.

Literally the end of time

In the 31st century, a variant of He Who Remains discovers the Multiverse and travels back in time to establish the Time Variance Authority. Much, much later, Loki and Sylvie travel across time in pursuit of the truth behind the TVA. Eventually, in a space described as "the void at the end of all time," Loki and Sylvie find He Who Remains, who explains the conceit of the TVA. He also shares that he wishes to rid himself of the responsibility of keeping guard over the Sacred Timeline. Not sure if she believes him but wanting to control her own destiny, Sylvie kills him. As she does, she unleashes infinite branches of alternate timelines straying from the Sacred Timeline.

It's unclear if this branching of the many timelines retroactively explains the existence of multiple universes all along (like those with the Watcher or the alternate Spider-Men) or if the multiverse as it derives from the Sacred Timeline only exists from this point when Sylvie kills He Who Remains (in which case, those other universes are still unexplained in connection to the TVA). Furthermore, it's still unresolved how the Watcher, Arishem, and He Who Remains all coexist, or if they are even aware of one another. He Who Remains claims he "created all and knows all," but that's strikingly similar to Arishem, who "created the first sun and brought light into the universe." Marvel may continue to untangle this storytelling web in phases to come.