What we’d like to see in Marvel’s MCU Phase Four and Beyond
Although we are still right in the middle of Marvel Studio’s Phase Three, with the end of an era near, we look ahead to the MCU Phase Four and beyond.
Earlier today, Marvel Studios released the first trailer for Avengers: Infinity War. The film won’t be out until May 4, 2018 and it will be part one of two (despite Marvel’s assertions to the contrary), but it is the beginning of the end in many ways.
The fourth Avengers movie, scheduled for May 3, 2019, ends the MCU’s Phase Three, and with it, all the storylines that led up to that point. So far, Marvel Studios’ phases haven’t really had a huge impact in terms of storytelling, but according to Marvel Studios’ president Kevin Feige, the end of this phase is going to be different.
“There will be two distinct periods,” Feige said in a recent interview with Vanity Fair. “Everything before Avengers 4 and everything after. I know it will not be in ways people are expecting.”
The MCU films have been slowly building up to the arrival of Thanos and the collection of the Infinity Stones, which have been teased throughout several of the previous films. With the fourth Avengers film, that particular storyline will be completed. So what comes next?
Marvel Studios has no plans on slowing down, and it is already tentatively planning on at least 20 more films in Phase Four and beyond. Given the success it has already had, there will almost certainly be something major in the works that will replace the Infinity storyline and build up througout the next batch of movies, although there have been no clues as to what that might be. Here are a few possibilities that we’d like to see.
This one seems like it might actually be the direction the MCU is heading, as evidenced by the upcoming Captain Marvel solo film – and especially the era it is set in.
The standalone Captain Marvel will hit theaters between Avengers: Infinity War and the fourth Avengers film, and that placement may be significant. The origin story starring Brie Larson will be set in the 90s, and although details are scarce, it will involve some of the alien characters traditionally connected to her character – including the Kree soldier and hero, Mar-Vell (or an adaptation of him played by Jude Law). After Guardians of the Galaxy and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. having the Kree appear won’t be a revelation, but it should open the door for another alien race we haven’t really seen yet: the Skrull.
The Skrull already have a complicated history in the MCU. The Avengers featured an invading alien race known as the Chitauri, who were themselves created as an alternative to the Skrull in the separate Ultimate Marvel comic line (known as Earth-1610). Part of the problem for the MCU is that the Skrull are shared by both Marvel Studios and Fox. Fox has the rights to specific, individual Skrull related to the Fantastic Four, but as a whole Marvel Studios could use them, even if it is still a bit of a gray area. Now that the Infinity Stone storyline is reaching its climax, it might be time to take advantage of that.
By introducing Captain Marvel in the 90s, that also sets up the possibility of introducing the Skrulls on Earth during that era. The Skrulls are shapeshifters, who in the comics frequently infiltrate societies by taking the places of influential people. If this concept is introduced and set in the 90s, that could lead to decades of the MCU quietly being manipulated by the Skrulls. By placing Captain Marvel before Avengers 4, the defeat of Thanos could even be the trigger that allows the Skrulls to become more active and teases the next phase (or even phases).
In the comics, the crossover event “Secret Invasion” saw this storyline play out, with several of the Marvel heroes replaced by Skrulls. An adapted version of this storyline could unfold over years, culminating in an Avengers film that leads to the defeat of the Skrull on Earth.
Keeping with the Skrull theme, another storyline that could actually work in tandem with the Secret Invasion story is the inclusion of the Kree-Skrull war. This story played out in the Marvel comics over years (including a specific run during the Avengers), so much so that the conflict between the two races just became a permanent fixture of sorts. There were, however, a few times when the conflict spilled over and threatened the Earth.
Whether this storyline makes up a long-term plan for Marvel or not, there’s a good chance we’ll see at least some of it on the big screen. Marvel Studios proved with Guardians of the Galaxy that there’s no reason audiences won’t turn up for space-based heroes, and there are rumors that Guardians director James Gunn will take on a role as a mentor of sorts, overseeing the launch of new franchises set away from Earth (Nova, Rom, Adam Warlock… the list goes on and on).
Assuming Marvel Studios does head in this direction, building up a galactic war that could destroy Earth would provide stakes big enough to justify bringing all the MCU heroes together once again.
Masters of Evil
While this story might not have enough depth to connect the MCU films for the next decade, there is a good chance we may see this storyline play out in a future film or films.
The Masters of Evil is a group of supervillains that appeared a handful of times (usually with a different roster) to attack the Avengers – and they actually won a few times. The team is made up of villains already known to fans, and seeing two teams of superpowered heroes and villains fighting it out would make for a great spectacle (think Captain America: Civil War, but with no mercy).
Another argument in favor of bringing this storyline/team to the big screen is that there are already several MCU villains floating around that could make up the team right now. In the comics, the Masters of Evil were originally led by Baron Zemo, who was introduced in Civil War (albeit with a very different look and origin). There’s also still the question of whether or not the Red Skull is actually alive or not, and Loki could join as well – assuming he returns to is evil ways. Throw in the Red Hulk (aka General Ross, who is already in the MCU and played by William Hurt) and a handful of others, and you have a big story.
Introducing the Masters of Evil could also help to launch other film franchises as well, including the Thunderbolts, a team of semi-reformed villains that (sometimes) work toward redemption, also led by Zemo. This may not be enough to replace the Infinity Stones, but it could easily make for a compelling movie or movies.
This one sounds great on paper, but it might be a little harder to pull off in reality.
One of the most referenced Marvel Comics events ever created, Secret Wars, debuted in 1984 (there was a more recent crossover that used the same name, but the original was a milestone). The miniseries took the most popular heroes and the most well-known villains of the day and transported them to a planet where they were encouraged to fight at the behest of a godlike being known as the Beyonder. It was a precursor to the nearly annual crossover events that bring all the biggest characters together, and Marvel Comics has attempted to bring it back in different forms several times.
The problem with adapting this storyline is that it’s actually fairly shallow. You have two sides that are made to fight on an alien world, and that’s about it. There are countless ways to do the same good guy vs bad guy team thing without having to introduce a new world and a godlike character. It might work for a single movie, but not much more. It would also be a pale imitation without Reed Richards and Doctor Doom, but given Fox’s lack of success with both, a deal is always possible (not to mention the possible acquisition of Fox by Disney).
Regardless, the name alone carries enough recognition with it that you shouldn’t be surprised if it is used on a future MCU film as a subtitle, even if the story is much different.
Although it would need a lot of adapting, the 2010 storyline “Siege” has a lot of potential for a multi-year, multi-film story. Plus, there was even a possible hint that this will play out in the MCU at the end of Thor: Ragnarok (although the recent Infinity War trailer suggests that things don’t work out as they did in the comics).
The Siege storyline was the culmination of a lengthy shift in the Marvel universe that began with Civil War. With Tony Stark and the US government essentially winning the superhero civil war which was soon followed by Secret Invasion, it opened the door for Spider-Man’s greatest enemy, Norman Osborn, to take charge of a new team of Avengers along with S.H.I.E.L.D. (later renamed H.A.M.M.E.R.).
Every Earth-based comic was affected by Osborn’s “Dark Reign,” but it all came to a head when Thor and the Asgardians arrived and attempted to settle on Earth. Osborn ordered the invasion of Asgard, which led to a massive conflict and his eventual downfall.
An MCU version of this would probably need to be done without Osborn (due to the complicated character sharing arrangement between Marvel Studios and Sony), but someone else could take his place easily enough and usher in a new story thread where an evil man controls the Earth’s defenses and the heroes are powerless to stop it.
This is just an idea for several years down the road, but if/when Marvel Studios has reached a point where all their major characters have already been used, the studio can always fall back on a trick both Marvel and DC have used (multiple times) – reboot the entire thing.
In 2000, Marvel decided it wanted to relaunch its entire line and gear it for a slightly older audience, but without destroying or abandoning the core characters and stories created in the primary Marvel universe (Earth-616). Its answer was to start from scratch in a new universe (Earth-1610), offering familiar characters in a slightly different way. Captain America was much more of a military hardass, Thor was initially seen as a lunatic with a magic hammer, the Hulk ate people… It was a huge hit for several years, but eventually, the stories became too convoluted and the quality began to suffer. A few holdovers survived – like the new Spider-Man, Miles Morales – but in general, the universe went away.
Still, it is an option for Marvel Studios. Relaunch the entire MCU in a new world with a new cast playing similar, but slightly different versions of established characters. They can even establish the multiverse in order to bring over existing MCU stars to help establish things. It’s a drastic step, but one that might be necessary at some point.
MCU Phase Four and Beyond: Avengers vs X-Men?
Ok, so this one is almost certainly not going to happen anytime soon, but with the Disney and Fox talks heating up again, there is a chance that Marvel Studios will regain control of the X-Men characters and bring them into the MCU. That would open up so, so many possible storylines that could keep the MCU afloat for years, if not decades.
To be fair, while there was a series titled “Avengers vs X-Men” (or A vs X), it wasn’t the first time the teams fought, and there’s no specific reason to adapt any one particular storyline. The idea of having the Avengers fight the X-Men (and then possibly reconciling in order to form mixed “unity” teams) is limitless. Marvel Studios could do an epic, multi-film Dark Phoenix storyline, introduce the Shi’ar, create new realities through the House of M, etc., etc.
The biggest problem with this idea – beyond the legalities – is timing. Even if Disney and Fox agree to terms today, it would be such a complicated process that the deal wouldn’t be finalized for months, maybe even years. More than that though, Marvel Studios seems to have a plan for the next 20 or so films, and working in the X-Men would require a major reorganization.
Marvel Studios shows no signs of slowing down, but if the Disney/Fox deal does go through, or if Fox realizes they can earn more and do less (like Sony did with Spider-Man: Homecoming) and allows the X-properties to play in the MCU, the next 20 Marvel films may be set.