Marvel's New Landscape as Phase 4 Gets Pushed

Black Widow - Publicity Still 1 - H 2020
<p>Marvel’s 'Black Widow' is set for domestic release Nov. 6.</p>   |   Walt Disney Studios
A slew of new release dates promises the longest gap between MCU movies in a decade.

The gears at Marvel Studios are slowly but surely turning once again. Despite the numerous theatrical release setbacks caused by coronavirus concerns, which has given rise to the dreaded phrase “indefinitely postponed,” scheduling is finally getting back on track. Of course, we’re still in the early stages of the pandemic, and the release calendar announced Friday by Disney is subject to change. But for now, Disney, along with Warner Bros., Universal, Sony and Paramount, are starting to claim new territory for the later half of 2020 and the next couple of years. With regard to these new dates, it should come as no surprise that the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the highest-grossing film franchise of all-time, is dominating the conversation in anticipation for the day we can all return to the movie theaters. Looking at Marvel Studios’ new Phase 4 release dates hints at what could end up being a potentially interesting story for the studio’s post-Endgame identity.

There’s no good news born from pandemic, and the release schedule of a multibillion dollar company is the least of our worries right now, at least if it’s not concerning the wages staff and crewmembers live off of. Yet, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that movies bring people together, through the best and worst of times, and that Marvel Studios has proven to be an audience favorite when it comes to event moviegoing experiences. People love superheroes, and after this experience they may love them more than ever. The Marvel Studios schedule, along with the updated release dates from other studios, promise an eventual return to normalcy.

Black Widow will be the first Phase 4 MCU film out of the gate, with its release date moving from May 1 to Nov. 6, taking the spot of The Eternals and pushing the entire slate back. The time between the release of the previous MCU film, Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019), and Black Widow will be the longest amount of time audiences have gone without an MCU entry since the gap between The Incredible Hulk (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010). While hype for Cate Shortland’s film was already high, and marketing was in full swing, it’s likely that the new November release date will only increase anticipation.

Avengers: Endgame (2019) and Far From Home ruled the box office last year, a culmination of an 11-year saga, and wrapped up many of the threads from the previous 21 films. Black Widow, as both the start of a new phase and a prequel, isn’t a new beginning but it does seem like a nice jumping-on point without a lot of extra baggage. This factor may provide extra incentive for audiences who may not be big MCU fans to head to the theater just to see something splashy and entertaining. I expect that by November, audiences will feel comfortable at theaters again, which could make Black Widow the event film of 2020.

Although we’ll only get one MCU film in 2020, we’ll get three, maybe four depending on the scheduling of Sony’s third Spider-Man pic, in 2021. First up will be Chloe Zhao’s The Eternals on Feb. 12. Marketing for The Eternals has yet to start, though we likely would’ve gotten the first trailer later this month. The expansive sci-fi epic based on Jack Kirby’s immortals could be the key to the MCU going forward, especially if the franchise heads further into the cosmic. While Marvel Comics is usually diligent about launching series related to characters in upcoming films, or bringing back characters featured in the films in ongoing books, there’s been no word on a new Eternals title. Given that most of the world is unfamiliar with the characters — though that didn’t stop Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) from becoming a pop-culture touchstone — the new release date for The Eternals could give Marvel Comics more time to reintroduce these characters to comic readers and make their somewhat complicated mythology more accessible.

Destin Daniel Cretton’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which shut down production early in its filming due to the pandemic, has now been moved to May 7, 2021. Although not part of the original plan, it’s pretty awesome that summer 2021 will open with Marvel’s first film focused on an Asian-American superhero. While Black Panther (2018) made records in February, in part because of its Black History Month ties, Shang-Chi stands an even better chance at dominating in May and becoming a global hit on its new release date. The last MCU movie to hit in 2021 is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which was previously set to kick off the summer but will now cast a spell over Nov. 5. The sequel, which lost director Scott Derrickson earlier this year, has Sam Raimi attached to direct. The previous production schedule for the Doctor Strange sequel, which is undergoing a script rewrite and was set to shoot in May, seemed too hasty, and the new date gives the cast and crew time to deliver something special.

2022 will see Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder bowing Feb. 18, with the newly announced Captain Marvel 2 following on July 8. While neither of these date changes are major, they both give Marvel Studios more time to work on the films and find a new director for the Captain Marvel sequel. There’s no word on how the MCU Disney+ series will be affected, but it’s assumed their dates will also be shifted given how closely tied they will be to the films. Marvel Studios has become very efficient at its film rollouts, but if Phase 4 is really going to deliver something different, and pics that are increasingly driven by filmmakers, then these pushbacks could result in better films. While these release date changes aren’t huge game changers and don’t do much to alleviate the pain and anxiety many around the world are feeling right now, they do give us something to look forward to, and that’s something we could all use right now.