The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is ramping up its production line this year with three films instead of its usual two: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2’, ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ and ‘Thor: Ragnarok’.
It’s a signal of intent from Marvel and one of confidence in the hugely successful cinematic universe model which began with ‘Iron Man’ in 2008. Next year comes ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ the culmination of a story the MCU has building to ever since the super villain Thanos appeared in the credits scene of ‘Avengers Assemble’ five years ago.
Thanos’ mission is to collect the Infinity Stones and place them in the Infinity Gauntlet, granting him power over all reality. The Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy will be there to try and stop him.
Two ‘Avengers’ films will chart the story, released a year apart with ‘Captain Marvel’ and ‘Ant Man and the Wasp’ released between them, but what comes after? Whatever does will be called Phase Four, and after the events of ‘Infinity War’ and it’s so-far untitled 2019 sequel there will certainly be a cooling off period as the epic scope shrinks slightly and a new era of the MCU begins.
Here are some of the potential films we expect or would like to see, but first, some of the films we will not.
What we’re unlikely to see
Marvel has gone to lengths to secure its biggest stars to huge, multi-film contracts. When the MCU was in its infancy these contracts included a set number of films or appearances, but it’s not entirely clear what newcomers like Benedict Cumberbatch and Brie Larson have signed.
New films starring these particularly founding Avengers are unlikely to happen. Likewise Chris Hemsworth’s time as Thor may be up as well.
Attitudes change however, so perhaps these stars may sign new contracts, but films in which they are the sole lead remain unlikely.
The expected sequels
‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ and sequels to ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’, ‘Doctor Strange’, ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Captain Marvel’ are all more than likely.
Larson’s Captain Marvel (aka Carol Danvers) and Cumberbatch’s Dr Steven Strange are expected to be the two stars leading the MCU once Downey Jr and Evans step down or step aside.
Tom Holland’s Spidey will of course be huge following his debut last year in ‘Captain America: Civil War’, this year’s ‘Homecoming’ and the two incoming ‘Avengers’ films, but given his solo films are co-productions between Marvel Studios and rights-holders Sony Pictures – Marvel won’t be putting all their eggs in that basket.
A third ‘Ant-Man’ film is also a possibility after 2018’s ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’, but it’s not as likely as the aforementioned sequels.
A new ‘Captain America’
Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers hanging up the shield doesn’t mean the character is going away. Two existing MCU characters have adopted the mantle over the years, and that’s certainly an avenue Marvel may take on the big screen.
Bucky Barnes, aka The Winter Soldier, has become ‘Captain America’ in recent comic book history and the story of him inheriting his best friend’s responsibilities following his (potential) death would be ripe with story-telling potential.
Rogers’ other close friend Sam ‘Falcon’ Wilson is the comic book world’s current Cap, having been wearing the red, white and blue solidly since late 2014. Personally, I’d prefer Wilson to take up the shield and become a much more integeral part of the MCU.
New spin-offs for existing characters
The MCU is full of side-characters that could star in their first solo films. The Winter Soldier could do so without becoming Captain America,but then there are characters like Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch.
Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye doesn’t strike as a character in need of his own film, but his family could provide such a film with a unique spin.
Or, perhaps Paul Bettany’s android Vision could take that on in an adaptation of the recent comic, an unlikely critical hit, that told the story of a family of The Visions – a family Vision created for himself to further his desire to understand humanity by living the “American Dream”.
Alternatively, we could see a film that builds on the comic book romance between Vision and Scarlet Witch.
If there’s an area of the existing MCU that could be expanded it’s the intergalactic setting of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and (parts of) the ‘Thor’ series.
Nova, leader of the Nova Corps led in ‘Guardians’ by Glenn Close’s Nova Prime, is a fitting candidate to expand on this. The idea of a Marvel film about an intergalactic police force has a ton of potential as well.
Other debuting solo characters
Adam Warlock, who plays a key part in the comic book ‘Infinity Gauntlet’ story but who may not play a role in ‘Infinity War’ could enter the Marvel fold. Squirrel Girl, who despite the ridiculousness of the character has proven immensely popular in her recent comic book runs, could also be a contender.
Then there are the wealth of characters from the Spider-Man universe that Sony owns the rights to. It’s well known that Sony were planning to expand the Andrew Garfield ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ movies with spin-offs focusing on Venom and the Sinister Six, and it’s hard to imagine Sony suddenly going off the idea.
Spider-Gwen, who originates from an alternate dimension in which Gwen Stacy, not Peter Parker, was bitten by a radioactive spider, could star in her own film as well. Spider-Woman (aka, Jessica Drew) is another potential candidate.
The Illuminati / The Thunderbolts
As the MCU becomes closer knit (‘Civil War’, the Guardians meeting the Avengers in ‘Infinity War’, Hulk joining Thor in ‘Ragnarok’) we could see heroes forming groups beyond that of the Avengers.
The Illuminati is a secret organisation consisting of the some of the most powerful, and most intelligent superheroes in the world. In the comics this consisted of Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Iron Man, as well as Charles Xavier and Reed Richards, both of whom won’t be appearing in the MCU any time soon due to 20th Century Fox owning their rights.
The other original member is Namor the Sub-Mariner, whose big screen rights were once not Marvel’s but the state of which are currently unknown. This could be a way to introduce that character.
The Thunderbolts meanwhile a collection of reformed supervillains and anti-heroes brought together, Suicide Squad-style. This could be a way of showcasing Venom and helping the MCU with its biggest problem: great villains.
It could also be a way of bringing in a character like The Punisher from the Marvel/Netflix corner of the MCU, but it’s unlikely at this stage that any TV hero will be making the jump.
Planet Hulk / World War Hulk
Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk is currently in space, as we’ll see in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ later this year. So far, the actor hasn’t portrayed the character in his own solo movie due to the current predicament involving any such film’s distribution rights – which belong to Universal, not Marvel Studios.
The state or details of that deal are unknown, but were the solo film distribution rights to return to Marvel a film would certainly be on the cards and if it were, that film could delve deeper into the ‘Planet Hulk’ and ‘World War Hulk’ comic storylines.
Elements of these stories are already being borrowed for ‘Thor’, particularly the characters battle in a gladiatorial arena and the Centurion-style helmet he’ll wear. Whether or not the story is taken further in future films depends on where Hulk is after ‘Ragnarok’ and the two upcoming ‘Avengers’ films.
What’s for sure is that Marvel certainly has a lot of options for the future of the MCU.