With all the recent murmurings about Marvel completely re-shuffling the Avengers - and possibly even heading towards the long-rumored Civil War - you'd be forgiven for thinking that Marvel Studios are planning on taking the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a pretty dark, gritty and grounded direction.
After all, Captain America: The Winter Soldier did fantastic business with its more realistic take on superheroism, and Avengers: Age of Ultron certainly sounds as though it won't be shying away from the darkness.
What, though, if Marvel were instead planning on heading in a very different direction - one influenced less by Cap's adventures in government corruption, and more by the summer's other major Marvel success story: Guardians of the Galaxy?
Well, if the latest internet rumblings are to be believed, that's exactly what they're heading towards. More specifically, we could be about to see one of Marvel's most epic crossover storylines hit the big screen: Secret Wars.
The logic behind the rumors? Marvel's newly announced universe-wide crossover event, which just so happens to be named after, and to be taking its cues from, the classic 80's story-line, Secret Wars.
Add in the fact that Marvel's last two major crossover events were entitled Age of Ultron (matching the upcoming Avengers sequel next year) and Infinity, which fits the much-anticipated cinematic story-line featuring Thanos, and you've got a legitimate contender for the next big Marvel thing.
Robert Downey Jr. recently teasing that Marvel have "other stuff" than Iron Man 4 planned for him is just frosting on that particular cake...
The big question, then, is just what would a Secret Wars storyline - or even standalone movie - mean for the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Well, before we get to that, let's take a look at...
What is a Secret War, and Why is it Secret?
Well, short answer, it's a ton of Marvel heroes and villains, all dumped on a mysterious battle-world, and forced to fight. So The Hunger Games, but with Iron Man.
The long answer involves heading way back in time, to the shadowy mists of 1984. Toy company Mattel wanted to get in on that superhero action-figure racket that we now very much take for granted - and since DC were already working with their rivals, Kenner, they took a liking to Marvel. Their big condition for dumping a bucket of money on the comic-book company's desk, though? That they hold a massive, Marvel-wide publishing event to give the new range of toys a marketing boost.
And, thus, in slightly weird fashion, Secret Wars was born.
The event saw the Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, and a smattering of solo heroes all drawn to the appropriately named 'Battleworld' by a mysterious being named The Beyonder. There, they're pitted against a motley crew of the Marvel Universe's deadliest and most action-figure friendly villains, in a fight to prove which is stronger, good or evil (or to give the winners unimaginable power. Y'know, either/or).
Also, Magneto made out with The Wasp.
And...that was about it. The War was only actually even 'Secret' because Mattel thought kids liked the word, and presumably because Star Wars had just made bajillions.
The action-figures were pretty cool, though...
What Would Secret Wars Mean for the MCU?
Well, more than anything else, this:
The whole point of Secret Wars was to maximize toy-friendly action, in a finite, easily accessible to new readers sort of space. So, if that's the angle Marvel are planning, then expect a whole lot of action, a whole lot of Loki, and a whole lack of plot.
That, though, doesn't really seem to be the Marvel Studios way.
Instead, the prospect of Secret Wars coming to the big screen suggests that the success of Guardians of the Galaxy has opened up the possibility of the Avengers, and any other heroes that happen to be lying around, teaming up not just on prosaic old Earth, but in space.
Combine that with the ability to bring back such legendary Marvel cinematic heroes as Loki, Ultron, Thanos, that guy from Thor: The Dark World, whoever Iron Man last fought, and Hugo Weaving, and you've got yourself a pretty neat marketing strategy laid out in front of you.
Plus, it gives the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers a reason to team up that isn't just "wait, why are we on Earth now?"
It also, though, fits in nicely with a potential behind-the-scenes development that has been much-rumored recently...
There's No Better Way to Introduce Spider-Man Into the MCU
For one reason, and one reason only...
Secret Wars was where Marvel originally introduced Spider-Man's black symbiote suit. And, indirectly, Venom.
So, y'know that mooted team-up between Marvel and Sony, which would see Spider-Man loaned to the MCU, but allow Sony to continue to make their own solo movies?
Well, Marvel may just be planning on making the one story-line that Sony could absolutely, positively, 100% not resist letting Spidey be a part of.
Look at it this way - Marvel would make Spider-Man a key part of their biggest film to date, introduce a major (and iconic) plot point that would be explored in the next, Sony-produced film, ensuring Marvel fans would follow, and Sony would get a cut of the profits.
Secret Wars Could Be Marvel's Way of Getting Spider-Man
Now we just need to see if they actually make it... Post [The Avengers 3](movie:738027) megaproject, anyone?