CONTAINS SPOILERS AND POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR PAST AND FUTURE MARVEL STUDIOS FILMS!
In May 2008, Marvel Studios risked everything by betting on the idea that a film based on a C grade character could gain equal success and popularity to the likes of Spider-Man and the X-Men. If only we could all go back in time and bet a hundred bucks on Iron Man making exactly $201,174,140 on it's opening weekend worldwide, we would all be hundred bucks richer.
With the success of the Robert Downey, Jr. led and Jon Favreau directed picture, Kevin Feige and the heads of the Marvel hierarchy began to shape what would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe. By May 2012 (or April depending on which part of the world you rule. Sorry Lannisters, no AMC Theatres near King's Landing i'm afraid), Marvel did something that has never been done before, ya know.... the Avengers. [The Avengers](movie:9040), a film unlike anything before it, was the first to make thousands of grown men around the world throw away their big boy pants and geek out like 9 year-old boys for the first time since the release of the original Star Wars film.... when... they most likely were... 9 year-old boys.
Watching The Avengers made me realise how many doors the film had opened. Though Iron Man started the universe, it's the Avengers that exploded it. Having the Avengers salvage New York City from the pawns of a God of Mischief and his army of Mummy-faced extraterrestrials before the eyes of the world set up the next stage of the MCU, also known as phase 2. While [Iron Man 3](movie:24391) dealt with Tony Stark's struggle with being Tony Stark and attempting to hide himself away inside his suits, it ultimately served as yet another step in Stark's evolution from the ignorant and selfish billionaire playboy to the Iron Avenger who would make the sacrifice play, lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over him. Although the film ended on a positive note, it left us with an armorless... and houseless Tony Stark.
Then came [Thor: The Dark World](movie:206462) which continued the Prince of Thunder's journey into kinghood as Chris Hemsworth gave us a more responsible and wiser Thor than ever before, as well as dropped the character in Greenwich, London, an uncommon setting for superhero movies, which gave us a glimpse at the presence the Avengers have internationally. While the death of Frigga left Thor and his allies devastated, the film ended with Loki sitting atop the throne of Asgard (a plot likely to pick up in Thor 3), and Thor guarding the realm of London and living happily ever after with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).
The 3rd film of Marvel's second wave of movies made bucks of money and even went as far as to have some compare it to the work of art that is The Dark Knight. Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Turner/The Condor himself, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is definitely the most world twisting film of phase 2. The film spotlights the fish out of water story as Steve Rogers' struggle with understanding why the black and white world he once knew is no longer so clear takes centre stage. The real highlight of this epic thriller however is the wicked reveal of the HYDRA cell serving as the puppet master at S.H.I.E.L.D.'s core since it's very foundation back in the post-World War II era as explained in the Agent Carter one-shot film. Despite concluding with Captain America, Black Widow and Falcon: 1, HYDRA: 0, the film which directly sets up Age of Ultron left the heroes divided, out numbered and facing a new threat in the form of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) with the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) still at large.
The fourth piece in this five piece puzzle that is phase 2 is Guardians of the Galaxy set for an August 1, 2014 release. Now the film takes place on the other end of the Milky Way so i won't go into detail as it's said to be more of a set up for the inevitable face off between the Avengers and Thanos in The Avengers 3. One thing is for sure, if [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073) is a success, it will be a game changer for the studio which is basically repeating their big risk by putting their faith in a practically unknown property, so start making your box office bets while there's still time!
Tony Stark's glorious return! (Age of Ultron)
The Iron Man 3 credits promised us that "Tony Stark will return" in Age of Ultron where rumor has it he will have a hand in creating the artificial intelligence Ultron, replacing Dr. Henry Pym as the villainous robot's inventor from the comics. Now assuming this rumor is true (and if the 2013 comic-con teaser tells us anything, it is), Stark will take responsibility for Ultron's turn to the dark side and be forced to crawl back into his Iron shell. Another rumor suggests that following the destruction of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement..... or S.H.I.E.L.D. for those of you who care about the next 10 seconds of your lives, Stark will attempting to enforce peace around the world by creating an army of Ultron's serving as a global police force. Knowing that Ultron eventually turns sour we can assume that the rest of his army does as well and an event where the world's highest security authority turns against the people they are supposed to protect, could have catastrophic results by the end of Age of Ultron. Even if Ultron is stopped, the world might not be so thankful towards the Earth's Mightiest Heroes as they were at the end of the first ensemble, which could leave Stark and the rest of the MCU in a very dark place. Of course with the rumor that an Avenger will meet their destiny in AoU, Stark is a candidate as many have speculated that Marvel will cut the wire and give the Avengers someone to avenge. But with Downey signed on for [The Avengers 3](movie:738027), he's definitely not on top of the list.
Step aside Bond, London's got a new hero (Age of Ultron)
The credits of Thor: The Dark World left us with the words "Thor will return" while the post-credit scene gave us a reunion between Thor and Jane, and a passionate kiss that only Titanic 2 could beat. With Thor living in London, Stark in NYC, Bruce Banner in South Africa, Fury in Europe and Cap, Widow and Hawkeye on various low level missions around the world, Age of Ultron definitely promises to be a global event. While little rumors have surfaced regarding Thor's role in the evil robot occupied sequel, we can still assume. If rumors suggesting the death of an Avenger are true, we could see Thor Odinson bite the dust in Age of Ultron only to be revealed as alive and well in Thor 3 (after Captain America 3).
Captain America: The First Avenger... to die! (Age of Ultron)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier revealed what not a single person doubted would happen, that "Captain America will return in Avengers: Age of Ultron". The most influential film leading up to the return of the Earth's Mightiest Heroes... and Hawkeye (joking aside, we love you Hawkeye!), The Winter Soldier left us without a S.H.I.E.L.D. on our back (pun intended) and with the age of miracles approaching fast. Rumors have it that it is Captain America who will be the first to spot the danger ahead and will go around the world gathering the Avengers for the battle against HYDRA, making him the official leader of the team, now that Fury's meddling eye-patch is out of the game, as well as promoting Stark to co-leader in the process. With death playing a key role, Captain America is undoubtably a contender to die, confirming what many have speculated about James "Bucky" Barnes / The Winter Soldier taking up the mantle as Captain America 2.0 for the third instalment in the trilogy going up against Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (AKA we couldn't think of a longer title: The Movie) on May 6, 2016.
Hulk will return in Avengers 2 (Age of Ultron)
Last time we saw the good doctor he was snoozing during Tony Stark's therapy session. With the Hulk not having a stand-alone film since 2008, Joss Whedon, Kevin Feige and Mark Ruffalo have all promised a larger presence for the green giant in AoU. From set photos and story rumors we can assume that the first time we come across the mindless beast is in scenes shot in South Africa where Bruce Banner has apparently made a new and chaos-free home before he is called (or provoked) back into action. Early rumors have suggested that the Hulk might steer out of control and be sent into space which would lead to a Planet Hulk movie as well as millions of Hulk fans peeing their pants simultaneously. However with that rumor being debunked by Mr. Whedon himself, we don't know where the sequel might leave the green giant, but hopefully heading for a sequel of his own. After all there's no chance in hell Marvel would even consider killing off their loveable green mascot.
Agents of Nothing! (Age of Ultron AKA Budapest all over again)
Of course Age of Ultron might turn out completely opposite and once again have the world praise the Avengers for their bravery and heroics which would allow the currently homeless, ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Black Widow and Hawkeye to come out of the shadows. The last time we saw these black clothes obsessed Avengers, one was giving Captain America a kiss on the cheek (hint: not Hawkeye), while the other was who knows where doing who knows what while his boss faked his death. Whedon has gone on record to say that in Age of Ultron both Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner's roles have been expanded and are essential to the film's plot. We know that with threats like Ultron and HYDRA, Widow and the Hawk will have a hard time keeping up with the rest of the Avengers which puts them in the crossfire, making them the most likely candidates to see their endgame. It's very possible that Avengers 2 will end with one or both players out of the picture, since no stand-alones are in sight. And let's not forget the one eyed former S.H.I.E.L.D. boss who is headed for Europe and is set to have a cameo type role in the upcoming sequel, is also a potential deadman if Marvel are willing to cut Samuel L. Jackson's contract short by two films.
Quick Witch and Scarlet Silver (Age of Ultron)
Being the new kids in the sandbox, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) are the most likely characters to make it to phase 3. We first met the characters during the mid-credits of Captain America 2 where it was revealed that the two are prisoners of HYDRA who may or may not have gained their abilities through Loki's Tesseract powered sceptre, also in HYDRA's possession. Although the mutants.... excuse me, although the miracles will likely remain breathing at the conclusion of the picture, their presence will most definitely reshape the MCU for it's 3rd phase as they will introduce what is hopefully the first in a wave of super powered heroes who do not need armor, a hammer or shield to look cool. And then there's Vision (Paul Bettany) who will without a doubt redesign the world of the Avengers as we enter an age of A.I.s.
How will Age of Ultron reshape the MCU?
While any of the Avengers are a possible casualty in the war against Ultron, it's the event itself which will reforge the way we see the MCU. The destruction and death caused by Ultron might force humanity to turn on the Avengers while the re-emergence of HYDRA could introduce a new wave of superpowered heroes and villains. Just as Marvel's The Avengers (2012) changed the MCU and just as each phase 2 instalment left our heroes in a very different place to where they were during their first assembly, Age of Ultron will once again shake up the MCU leave us clinging onto our seats in anticipation of the repercussions that await us in phase 3. Repercussions which will surely be felt in Ant-Man, Captain America 3 and [Doctor Strange](movie:559685).
Speaking of Ant-Man, might as well start the betting early...
Just realized how many times i mentioned Age of Ultron throughout this article, what can i say, i do love the title. Here's some more for ya, Age of Ultron, Age of Ultron, Age of Ultron, Age of Ultron!