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Despite the lack of a Hall H at the hallowed San Diego Comic-Con this year, Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige provided fans with a heck of an experience and a lot to look forward to at Disney’s Investors Day on Thursday.
2020 marked the first year since 2009 without a Marvel movie, but the post-Avengers: Endgame shine hasn’t been lost on the MCU, and in fact, this gap year, if social media is any indication, may have only increased fans’ anticipation for the future. Looking at the upcoming Phase 4 slate, which kicks off on Jan. 15 with WandaVision on Disney+, the MCU is looking more exciting and diverse than ever.
Marvel Studios has a lot in the pipeline over the next few years, but there were six major takeaways about the future of its cinematic universe.
Exploring the Multiverse through Multi-platforms
It appears, at least for the time being, that Marvel Studios is planning smaller multi-film and series arcs rather than all of the projects leading to a singular Avengers event. Some of these projects, especially on the Disney+ side of things, appear to be serving multiple functions within ongoing narratives, but based on Feige’s presentation the MCU will be tackling the cosmic side of things on two fronts.
Feige essentially confirmed that WandaVision, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and the untitled third Spider-Man film will form a loose trilogy, with the events of each project leading into the next as the doors to the multiverse is opened. Loki, which had its trailer debut during the presentation, also looks like it could fit alongside the three previously mentioned projects, with the Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who disappeared during Endgame using the Space Stone to travel through time and space, which would seemingly create further alternate realities that will undoubtedly cause problems later on. But perhaps it’s not just Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) who will feel the effects of Loki’s actions.
The Loki trailer introduces the Time Variance Authority, which monitors the multiverse and diverging timelines, destroying dangerous alternate realities. In the comics their oversight doesn’t extend to the time-traveling villain Kang the Conqueror. Kang, Feige confirmed, will be portrayed by Jonathan Majors and debut in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Given that the quantum zone can be used for time travel, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Time Variance Authority and the ensuing multiverse madness plays a role in the events of the Ant-Man sequel as well.
Space, The Final Frontier
The second side of the MCU’s growing cosmic focus will also begin with WandaVision. There are rumors that the interplanetary defense organization, S.W.O.R.D. will make its official debut in the MCU, following a tease at the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019). But it’s Teyonah Parris’ Monica Rambeau who may be the character leading the path to the stars. While Parris’ role in WandaVision has been confirmed for months, Feige also revealed she will also star alongside Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers in Nia DaCosta’s Captain Marvel II. And Monica Rambeau isn’t the only character who will be joining Carol Danvers.
Feige also revealed that Iman Vellani’s Kamala Khan who will make her debut in Ms. Marvel in 2021 will also join the sequel, bringing all three women who use the Marvel namesake together in one film. As for what threat would bring the three heroes together, well there’s an Easter egg on Kamala’s chalkboard in the sizzle reel of a character who looks suspiciously like the Inhuman Maximus, and the Inhumans are certainly due for an on-screen reintroduction (one that ignores the short-lived ABC series). But there’s also the unresolved Kree-Skrull conflict that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is embroiled in.
One of the surprises from Feige’s presentation was the revelation of a new series, Secret Invasion, starring Jackson’s Fury and the Skrull Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). While many fans expected the Secret Invasion storyline to serve as Marvel’s next big Avengers event, it looks like the series will deal with a secret Skrull invasion within the clandestine world of espionage first. But given Nick Fury and Talos’ ties to Carol Danvers, expect the series to either set up or deal with the fallout from Captain Marvel II. And while aliens and Inhumans seem like more than enough to keep Marvel’s heroes busy, the upcoming Eternals, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will bring even more new concepts and alien races into the MCU.
With all of the talk of multiverses and space sagas, it may seem at first glance that Marvel Studios is moving away from its earthbound heroes. But undoubtedly those characters will find themselves embroiled in their own arcs. After all, it is Tony Stark’s legacy that he created technology that inspired the age of heroes and put Earth on the stage for universal, or rather multiversal, conflict. While the MCU has leaned heavily on Iron Man, sometimes too heavily, there is something to be appreciated in terms of reflecting on the character’s legacy and impact even after he’s dead. Feige announced two new Disney+ series which will deal directly with Stark’s legacy, Armor Wars, based on the celebrated ’80s comic run and following James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) after Stark’s suits of armor fall into the wrong hands, and Ironheart, centered around recent Marvel character, Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) a young engineering genius who becomes a superhero who aims to use her technology more responsibly than Tony.
There’s something powerful in the idea that Marvel Studios is taking the iconography of their most popular character and continuing it through two Black characters. So while on one hand, Stark tech with its various suits of armor and weapons are surely great for toy sales, there does seem to be a larger narrative reason to revisit this technology and examine how characters named War Machine and Ironheart, both inspired by the same man, can use seemingly warring ideologies to hold the world accountable for the technology it plays with. And if we’re lucky, perhaps we’ll see the return of Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer, who has to be looking to fill the vacuum Stark left behind, and do so without a moral compass.
Sam Rockwell’s return as Justin Hammer doesn’t seem like such a stretch given the number of characters who haven’t been seen in years are making their return to phase 4 of the MCU. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) is returning for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) is returning in Loki and Thor: Love and Thunder, and Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) is set for a significant role in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Hopefully all of these characters will have more to do than they have in past films. But the most unexpected surprise will be the return of Tim Roth as the Abomination in She-Hulk, which might see Tatiana Maslany’s green titan face-off against the soldier turned gamma monster alongside her cousin the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). And perhaps with Marvel Studios doing more to acknowledge the under-recognized The Incredible Hulk (2008), and Thunderbolt Ross’ upcoming role in Black Widow, we’ll see Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), and Leonard Sampson (Ty Burrell), and Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) make their return in She-Hulk as well.
Feige coyly teased that other familiar faces might show up in She-Hulk looking for legal representation, which of course reinvigorated hopes that Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock will make the leap from Netflix to Disney+. And if Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Danny Rand (Finn Jones), and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) made appearances, or are at least name-dropped, it would go a long way in terms of convincing fans of Marvel’s Netflix series that those remain connected to the MCU.
While old faces are certainly welcome, Marvel Studios is also bringing in some long-awaited new faces. Feige’s final announcement of the evening was that the Fantastic Four are coming to the MCU and will be directed by Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Far From Home director, Jon Watts. Watts comes as something of an unexpected choice and he marks the first MCU director to move from one Marvel Studios franchise to another without a connected character, as was the case with the Russo’s move from Captain America to Avengers. Watts has proven his talents with Spider-Man, offering genuine emotion, humor, and spectacle that incorporates the character’s comic book history while modernizing certain elements for a contemporary audience.
But it’s hard to deny at this point the director seems like a safe choice for the wild science fiction escapades of Marvel’s first family who fashion themselves as explorers rather than simply superheroes. But after three Fantastic Four theatrical releases, and the unreleased 1994 film, each falling further from their target for both fans and critics, it’s understandable why Marvel Studios wants a filmmaker who’s a safe bet and that those who see the FF as tarnished goods can feel confident in.
Hopefully Watts can further define himself as a filmmaker and deliver something unique from Spider-Man, unexpected within the MCU, and lives up to the potential of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s beloved creations. It’s a tall order, but Watts, like Mr. Fantastic, should be able to stretch himself to get there.
While the Fantastic Four may be the team driving the conversation following Feige’s presentation, another team also seems to be taking shape and could prove to be just as big of a deal. The Young Avengers certainly seem to be in Marvel’s future plans, and while there’s been no official announcement the pieces are there, and recent announcements are adding even more to the table. Hailee Steinfeld was officially confirmed as Kate Bishop in the upcoming Disney+ series Hawkeye (as if the set photos this week weren’t proof enough). Kathryn Newton is joining Ant-Man and the Wasp: Qunatumania as Cassie Lang. And Xochitl Gomez will make her debut as America Chavez in Doctor Strange in Multiverse of Madness.
While Bishop and Lang are two of the founding members of the team from the comics, expect the MCU lineup to be a little different with Ms. Marvel and Ironheart joining the fray. And if the events of WandaVision stick, Scarlet Witch and Vision’s sons Wiccan and Speed could join as members as well. And if Loki goes the way we think, introducing multiple versions of the character, then recent comic book team-member Kid Loki may also find himself on the Young Avengers roster as well.
The future of the MCU is shaping up to be massive, operating on both television screens and movie theaters. And the announced projects are all just for the next couple years, further proving the ambition the Marvel Studios’ serialized storytelling which doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
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