Put yourself in the shoes of any one of Marvel’s top executives: Endgame wrapped up a decade of cinematic planning and production, taking down 140-odd box office records as it did. So now what? Call it a day, maybe let DC try and save their own cinematic universe? Nah. The recent announcement of Marvel Phase 4 and 5 plans teased a lot, but concrete info was sparse – something fans have come to expect by this point anyway.
What we got was an overview of the next two years of Marvel, intertwining cinema and Disney’s (you’ll recall that Donald Duck owns the rights to the earth’s mightiest heroes) soon-to-be-released Disney+ streaming platform, a potential competitor to the reigning champ that is Netflix.
The same platform that is single-handedly responsible for the deaths of all five (six? Do The Defenders count?) Marvel Netflix series – though, not many regret the loss of the mediocre Iron Fist.
And, while some of the names here aren’t really standouts to people who only casually consume their Marvel (Shang Chi and the Eternals are all but unknown to the post-MCU reader), you’ll recall that the same applied to the Guardians of the Galaxy, who have single-handedly introduced the obnoxious trend of pairing modern movies with 70’s and 80’s music… and set box office records of their own at the time.
Anyway, here’s some thoughts on the upcoming lineup.
Black Widow (2020)
Nine years after her debut to the MCU in Iron Man 2, Johannson’s Natasha Romanoff is finally getting her standalone film.
It’s another chance for Marvel to get a female lead right. While it was a slam dunk for Agent Carter, the big-screen spectacle of Captain Marvel was decidedly less spectacular.
Aside from the confirmation of Taskmaster as the antagonist – which is in itself reason enough to give the movie a shot, considering the way the MCU handled Crossbones and Zemo – there’s little to go on, and speculation mostly focuses on the mysterious Budapest mission alluded to way back in The Avengers.
Since she presumably won’t be coming back to life, Black Widow’s solo adventure probably won’t be changing the status quo as notably as Captain America: Civil War did, but any character that survives through the movie is, possibly, a future threat to some other hero.
The Eternals (2020)
The Eternals, little known to the mainstream MCU fan, are a race of super-powered immortal aliens, set to protect the universe itself from an unfathomable danger.
The film locked down some big names, including Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek and Don Lee, and is set to be the first of many movies set to diversify the MCU’s heroes. LGBT fans rejoice, you are getting your token character!
In terms of story, it will aim to cover the some 10.000-odd years of the Eternals’ legacy and adventures, focusing most on the conflict with the Deviants (also super-powered aliens).
I don’t really know how to gauge this one – on one hand, the Eternals are all Jack Kirby, who was far more… liberal with his heroes than the comparatively more classical-inspired Stan Lee, so a possibility remains that the movie will lean to the dreamlike style of some sections of Age of Ultron or Doctor Strange.
Shang Chi (2020)
Remember the Mandarin from Iron Man 3? Fans of the comics were understandably upset that the villain was a bait-and-switch, but, as they say, patience is a virtue, one rewarded with the real Mandarin showing up years later in the Shang Chi movie.
Shang Chi, to the uninitiated, is pretty much Iron Fist, but without the spiritual side. Wherein Danny Rand played pass-the-fist throughout the show’s second season, Shang Chi is set firmly on the punch stuff in a really cool way tradition of martial arts heroes.
A stated goal of the film will be to be as culturally relevant as the massive Black Panther was, and to that end were recruited screenwriter Dave Callaham (who cut his teeth with superhero movies writing Wonder Woman 1984) and director Destin Daniel Cretton.
With no real prior connection to the MCU, the character and movie will be able to carve out its own niche.
Hopefully, they take the John Wick way of fight choreography instead of relying on the more traditional MCU quick cuts.
Thor: Love and Thunder (2021)
Roughly five years ago, many Marvel fans lost their minds when Jane Foster (portrayed in Thor 1 and Thor 2 and here again by Natalie Portman) became the mighty Thor.
Now, I haven’t read anything after the 2014 Original Sin storyline, but funnily enough, it’s that very story that led to the genesis of this evolution in the character.
Namely, Thor’s confidence in his worthiness is shattered, and Mjolnir is left on the moon – after a while, it calls out to Jane Foster, who is at that time fighting breast cancer.
Having had ample opportunity to watch Odinson use the hammer, she quickly establishes herself as an effective hero, but eventually almost dies due to the magical transformation resetting her cancer treatments every time. Eventually, guy-Thor gets Mjolnir back.
Now, the return of Portman was unexpected, as she explicitly shot down opportunities to appear in Age of Ultron and Civil War, but it’s not unwelcome.
With director/writer Taika Waititi returning from Thor: Ragnarok (you know, the one that revived the Thor franchise after the entirely forgettable second film), fans can expect more of that magic formula and the good time that involves.
Doctor Strange 2 (2021)
Featuring not only Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange, but also Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff (see below for more info), the sequel to the 2016 visual spectacle will take the multiverse idea teased in Spiderman: Far from Home to its logical conclusion, continuing the Mordo storyline and introducing another massive Dr. Strange villain in the form of Nightmare.
Beyond the title and cast, not much is known about the upcoming film, except that it’s one of the closers of the Marvel Phase 4.
Marvel Phase 5
While the information on Phase 5 movies is scarce, we know for certain that Black Panther and The Guardians of the Galaxy are all getting sequels, and that Blade (this time starring Mahershala Ali, who also played Cottonmouth in Luke Cage) will be established in the MCU.
As for the rest, the huge Fox/Disney deal reverted the Fantastic Four rights to the MCU, so it’s possible that they’ll finally get a movie that isn’t trash. That’ll be a feat.
Further, since they also have the rights to mutants and the X-Men, Marvel will probably plan on taking a crack at that IP sooner or later, and with not many Marvel Phase 5 projects announced, it’s possible that Xavier and the gang will be getting the MCU treatment around that time.
Oh, also, Captain Marvel will be getting a sequel, I guess.
Further, there’s the massive launch of the MCU to the small screens, via the Disney+ service.
Falcon/Winter Soldier (2020)
With Steve gone, the burden of the Vibranium/Steel alloy shield falls to Anthony Mackie’s Falcon and Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier.
While the two and their characters are lauded for their on-screen chemistry (I don’t really see it, but ok), the real draw of the story is the emergence of the Sam Wilson Captain America, and the continuation of the Avengers storyline post-endgame.
With OG Loki having died trying to shank Thanos, the MCU is left with the post-avengers Loki that snuck off with the Tesseract during the Avengers’ romp through time.
While there is no information about the plot available, just the premise itself offers a lot to think about.
We’ll have Hiddleston either doing his own thing and being charming as a still-frustrated and evil variant of Loki, or maybe we’ll have him coming to terms with a version of himself that could’ve been and also was.
Time travel tends to leave plot holes.
Perhaps the most mysterious of the bunch, due to the inclusion of Paul Bettany’s Vision… as well as the fact that the series is confirmed to tie-in with the Doctor Strange sequel. Whether that just means we’ll have some minor time skip at the end of the series, or that Vision has a future past his skull being crushed by Thanos is yet to be seen.
In any case, it’s perhaps the only show of the MCU Disney+ lineup that has any reason to focus on the romantic subplot, as the Vision/Scarlet Witch dynamic is pretty much the only relevant romance now that Stark bit the dust.
Barton finally gets his due… though not after suffering through five years of abject misery over the course of Endgame’s storyline. What is known for certain is that the series will introduce the character of Kate Bishop (no actress confirmed yet), who is the second Hawkeye according to comic lore, and an Avenger in her own right.
To be quite honest, I’m just down with more Jeremy Renner MCU time.
Finally, the oddest of the bunch… the animated What If…? series.
With pretty much everyone from the original casts returning to voice their characters (with the notable exception of Robert Downey Jr.), the series will follow the logic of the original ‘What if…?’ comics, presenting alternate-reality versions of the beloved characters, flipping the script on anything from morality to era to theme.
Alright, that was a minute, but it should’ve covered anything you’d need to know about what’s in store for the MCU for the next few years.
What are your thoughts? Anything particularly impressive about Marvel Phase 4? Any disappointments?
Student of language, people, and the Self – in reverse order. Earned his geek cred on his downtime, when he wasn’t too busy hustling.
Prefers martials to casters.