Believe it or not, it’s been 10 years since Iron Man first introduced the idea of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the world. What’s followed in the subsequent decade has been an ambitious, interconnected franchise of films on an unprecedented scale.
The MCU has less in common with huge movie franchises like Star Trek or Harry Potter and more in common with serialised TV like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, using the budget and the spectacle of film to create a narrative one movie or episode at a time. By that logic, new sequel Avengers: Infinity War is like the season finale to these first phases of the MCU, and will spark a seismic shift in the superhero film series that will continue beyond 2019’s mysteriously untitled Avengers 4.
With that in mind, we thought we’d speculate on the state of the world post-Infinity War, taking a look at the characters, movies and storylines Marvel will likely look to in order to build phase 4 of their cinematic universe.
Kevin Feige told Vanity Fair in November 2017 that “we’ve got another 20 movies on the docket that are completely different from anything that’s come before — intentionally.”
So what are these 20 movies? Which ones have already been announced and which ones haven’t?
For now, let’s start with what we know.
What films are coming after Infinity War?
We know that the most immediate film set for release after Infinity War is Ant-Man and the Wasp, with the follow-up to the Paul Rudd-starring Ant-Man seeing Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne promoted to title character.
Up to this point Rudd’s Ant-Man has been conspicuously absent from the Infinity War marketing and has gone unmentioned by the directors. While it is possible that he is in fact in both the posters and the trailers in his shrunken form, it’s more likely that Ant-Man’s absence is due to his story in his own solo feature. Ant-Man was last seen on team Cap at the end of Civil War and was a fugitive from the law.
In the recently-released trailer for Ant-Man and the Wasp we can see Scott Lang wearing an ankle tag, suggesting he has decided not to live as a fugitive. How will Ant-Man’s attempt to return to his life factor into his future within the MCU? We’ll have to wait to find out when his second solo feature is released later this year.
Following the Ant-Man sequel we know to expect Captain Marvel. After the success of last year’s Wonder Woman and this year’s Black Panther it seems studios are finally aware that diversity can lead to box office success.
Casting Oscar-winner Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, Marvel has slated its first female-fronted superhero film for March 8th 2019. The film will likely see fighter pilot Danvers enter the cosmic realm as she’s caught in a conflict between warring worlds, and will also star younger versions of Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg’s Avengers characters Nick Fury and Agent Coulson.
The comic-book version of Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Marvel Comics, HF)
More generally, Feige’s promise that the post-Infinity War films will be radically different seems to suggest that a new brass will be leading the Avengers. So could this fresh leadership include Captain Marvel? After her first 90s-set adventure is over we could imagine Danvers leading a new wave of Avengers films in the present day, possibly picking up the mantle of leader from Captain America as Chris Evans has confirmed he will likely retire from the MCU after Avengers 4.
Speaking of Avengers 4, after Captain Marvel’s release the next MCU film is the fourth Avengers outing, which is as of yet unnamed. Infinity War directors Joe and Anthony Russo have said that the reveal of the film’s title would ultimately spoil the events of Infinity War which has, of course, led to rampant fan speculation.
Could this film’s mystery title hint at the rule of Thanos? Potentially the fourth film could see a new team of Avengers, possibly including Danvers, attempting to save the world from Thanos’ latest schemes. Could this be the radical new direction Feige has hinted at in the past? Or could this hint at the inclusion of another comic book storyline entirely? At the moment, it’s hard to say.
After Avengers 4 we’re getting a currently-untitled follow-up to Spider-Man: Homecoming, with a return for Tom Holland’s Peter Parker – unless of course the Spider-Man sequel includes a different version of the wallcrawler. After all, for years fans have been keen to see the big-screen debut of Miles Morales, a younger Spider-Man from the comics. We know Morales exists in the MCU after a throwaway line uttered by Donald Glover’s character in Homecoming, and it would certainly be an unexpected and bold new direction for the franchise.
After the runaway success of his first solo outing, Black Panther also seems set to move on past the events of Infinity War in his own recently-announced sequel. Much like Captain Marvel, T’Challa seems like a prime candidate to take over as the leader of the Avengers after the Thanos storyline wraps up, and could be an important member of the team going forward into phase 4.
The last of the confirmed sequels coming out in phase 4 is James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3, which seems likely to hold on to its current team line-up – unless Karen Gillan’s Nebula has a major part to play in the Avengers 4 storyline. Apart from that, we don’t know too much about it – though we’d be surprised if Groot doesn’t have another growth spurt.
While these movies have been confirmed for the next few years, Marvel has also slated nine untitled movies for various dates between 2020 and 2022. Of these untitled sequels, we expect one to be Black Panther 2 and the other to be Guardians 3 (which has yet to land an official release date), but the other seven are open to speculation.
Under movie studio 20th Century Fox’s control there have been three attempts at making Fantastic 4 films, but the most recent of these attempts (a reboot directed by Josh Trank) was critically derided and bombed at the box office, leaving the future of Marvel’s first family up in the air. Still, with the anticipated Fox/Disney merger expected to be confirmed later this year, it would place the Fantastic 4 in prime position for a MCU reboot.
This is further supported by the recent announcement that the quartet will be returning to comics after a three-year absence. So if they are back, could Doctor Doom be the next big MCU villain?
Avengers vs. X-Men
This is another film that hinges on the expected Fox/Disney deal as it would require the rights to the X-Men characters. If the deal goes through as planned, an adaptation of this recent comic-book storyline would seem like a logical way to introduce the mutant world to the MCU by pitting them against the latest incarnation of the Avengers. As Hugh Jackman hangs up his claws for good, Wolverine is ripe for a recast and could be a perfect entry point for an X-Men reboot.
World War Hulk
Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk in Thor: Ragnarok (Marvel, HF)
Since the underwhelming Incredible Hulk movie in 2008 and the introduction of Mark Ruffalo as the character in 2012’s Avengers, audiences have been asking for another solo film from the big green brute.
If such a film was greenlit, fans would definitely hope to see the dramatisation of the popular World War Hulk storyline, which saw the jade giant invade Earth after being betrayed by the Avengers and trapped on a hostile world (elements of that backstory ended up being used in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok).
And who knows? If Marvel do land the X-Men rights, perhaps we could expect to see Wolverine facing off in a grudge match against the Hulk to save the world. Now that’s entertainment.
One of the latest adaptation rumours swirling around the internet (originating on Bleeding Cool) for the post-Infinity War world is a movie based on the Eternals, a group of people with godlike abilities given to them by powerful beings called The Celestials who first appeared in comics written and illustrated by Marvel legend Jack Kirby.
MCU fans will be familiar with Celestials as the characters have popped up in the Guardians of the Galaxy series, while Thanos himself is actually an Eternal – but are they really going to be a huge part of phase 4? Well, you never know.
Secret Wars, or more specifically the 2015 sequel to the original 1984-85 comic, centres around the various Marvel universes colliding together into one huge all-out war. The crazy scope of this multiverse-hopping storyline seems perfect for the big screen, and could even be the new direction that Feige was hinting at. After all, the multiverse involved in the Secret Wars storyline has already been hinted at in Doctor Strange, so it wouldn’t be a huge leap from the stories that Marvel have told so far.
The storyline would also lend itself nicely to introducing the X-Men and Fantastic 4, explaining the absence from the MCU so far (they were in parallel universes!) before uniting them all for future films.
Overall, with seven untitled movies and almost 80 years of comic book history to chose from, it seems more likely that in the future Marvel will follow the method they created for phases one to three, avoiding direct comic-book adaptations as they exist on the page in favour of cherry-picking ideas and characters in order to build their own unique stories.
So with that in mind, it could be that we see a mixture of all of the above stories going forward within the MCU, or perhaps some new mixture involving characters and storylines we never could have guessed at. Still, at the moment one thing IS certain to anyone wondering at Marvel’s future plans.
The end of phase three will change Marvel movies forever.
This article was originally published on 20th April
Avengers: Infinity War is released in UK cinemas now
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news