The Marvel Cinematic Universe has just had one of its largest ever hits – with Black Panther an unstoppable blockbuster juggernaut tearing up box office records with his very sharp claws.
Next, it’ll be Infinity War, which will probably be an even bigger success (mainly because it’s the film the MCU’s been building to for the last ten years). But after that? Things look a little shaky for Marvel/Disney.
That’s because loads of their stars come to the end of their contracts when the second Infinity War movie is released to the usual critical / audience acclaim.
Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr will be hanging up their supersuits following the Infinity War sequel, which is hugely significant – they’ve been the spine of every MCU movie since Iron Man, and a cinematic universe without them is unimaginable for many fans.
To fill the void, Marvel’s been building the profile of new-to-the-MCU heroes like Doctor Strange and Black Panther, giving them their own solo movies and making them a major part of their Infinity War movies.
Now that Disney has paid quite a significant amount to bring Fox’s X-Men and Fantastic Four into the family, they’ve provided the biggest insight yet to their future plans. They’re going to introduce the Illuminati to their cinematic mythology.
No, not the real-life group that conspiracy theorists believe secretly run the world, but the Marvel comic team of superheroes that… Secretly run the world.
Consisting of Doctor Strange, Professor Charles Xavier from the X-Men, Iron Man, Namor The Sub-Mariner, Black Bolt of the Inhumans, and the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards, the Illuminati is a supergroup consisting of Marvel comics’ most significant leaders.
They’re basically the smartest dudes (and they are all dudes, let’s hope the MCU throws Captain Marvel, Shuri and Black Widow into the mix to even things up a bit) in whatever room they’re in, and they use that brain power to solve world threatening problems.
Significantly, they’re also the gatekeepers of the Infinity gems, dividing them between themselves – with a complication involving the time gem causing the Avengers to leap through time (which we reckon is the plot to Infinity War 2, but we digress).
Black Panther was asked to join the Illuminati, but declined, because he didn’t agree with the concept – seeing it as a bit arrogant and dangerous (spoiler-alert, he was right).
Now that the Fox deal is done, the MCU has access to every single member of the Illuminati (the Black Panther rejection would be amazing on film). Well, everyone except Namor – and he’s pretty easily replaceable (like we say, a woman or two or three would be nice).
Marvel overlord Kevin Feige name-checked the group in a Doctor Strange press conference back in 2016.
“What’s fun about the Illuminati is seeing certain characters interact with certain other characters. I don’t know about that particular storyline, but some of those characters we’ll be seeing together onscreen in the next Avengers.”
The MCU’s even already adapted one of the Illuminati’s biggest storylines – the expulsion of Hulk into space. In the comics, the group decides the Hulk is too dangerous to remain on earth, so they shove him in a spaceship and launch him into the sky.
Hulk then becomes a gladiatorial hero on a distant planet, returning to take revenge on the earth in the World War Hulk storyline. Sound familiar? Elements of this storyline were in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, and then even more so in Thor: Ragnarok.
So, the suits at the MCU are definitely reading the Illuminati series – and now the Fox’s deal is pretty much done, we’d expect them to start adapting it a bit more faithfully in the future.
One thing’s for sure, the MCU needs a new Avengers (say, ‘New Avengers’ sounds like a pretty good title to us – maybe something for Phase 4 to build towards?) and – if they’re going to build on the success of Black Panther – it’s going to need to be something radically different to work.
While we’re not sure if ‘room full of old white dudes making all the decisions’ would fit tonally with the direction the MCU needs to go in, it would be an interesting concept to explore – perhaps splitting the MCU into two factions; old and young. A generational Civil War, especially one that involves The X-Men, could be very interesting indeed.
We’re just spitballing here, but if you want to stay ahead of the MCU game, we’d advise picking up the Brian Michael Bendis’ Sentry story arc of New Avengers, and Josh Williamson’s Illuminati series.
Because, after Infinity War, the MCU will be unrecognisable – and you may need to do some reading if you want to keep up with where it’s headed.