With Avengers: Age of Ultron just around the corner - and the limits of what we can actually guess about what we'll see in it close to being reached - it might just be time to take a look at what's coming after in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There's Ant-Man, sure, but that looks set to be a similarly standalone offering to Guardians of the Galaxy - which means the next step in the increasingly rich tapestry that is the MCU? That'd be next summer's Captain America: Civil War.
And, since there are apparently set to be so many links between that movie and the Avengers films either side of it that Marvel internally refer to it as Avengers 2.5, what we're set to see next year could well define Marvel's Phase 3 more than any other movie.
So, the big question?
Just How Much Will Captain America: Civil War Shape the MCU?
Well, short answer? A whole lot.
The long answer, on the other hand, needs a little closer examination. Here, then, are nine key ways in which it'll impact everything that comes after:
(Warning, thar be potential MCU SPOILERS below)
1. The Civil War Itself Will Change Everything
Forget the arguments we'll see in Age of Ultron, or the divisions we're seeing grow in Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. - the Civil War itself will fundamentally alter the MCU as we know it. As the first major on-screen crossover event (the Avengers movies are really more team-ups) Civil War will fundamentally alter the relationships between many of our beloved heroes - as well as setting two of the MCU's biggest heroes on a collision course.
It'll also have smaller, more personal impacts, though. For instance:
2. It Could Redefine Black Widow
Now, a lot of the rumors relating to Black Widow's role in the movie suggest that she'll only play a small part - but whether that's true or not, it could well be set to be crucial to the narrative. After all, with her long-standing relationship with Hawkeye, and the budding Hulk-featuring love-triangle Age of Ultron looks set to introduce into the mix, Natasha could prove to be the key figure when it comes to showing the consequences of picking a side in this particular fight.
If, for instance, she chooses a different side from all her love interests, it could allow her to become something pretty rare (and awesome): a strong female action hero who isn't defined by her romantic entanglements...
And, while we're on the subject of altered roles within the MCU, there's always the potentially increased role for War Machine...
3. ...And, For That Matter, Hawkeye
Now, much as I love ol' Hawkguy, the MCU hasn't been especially kind to him thus far. It looks as though Avengers: Age of Ultron may well go a long way towards bringing Jeremy Renner's take on the hero the kind of fan-love the comic book Hawkeye gets on a daily basis. Or, alternatively, it might kill him off.
If he survives, though, Civil War could be the moment where he actually gets a chance to shine. A narrative arc in which he has to choose which side he should really be on (a.k.a. 'the Spider-Man plot thread from the comics')? That's how Hawkeye could actually become an MCU hero worthy of his own solo movie...
That being said, though:
4. We Could Lose Some Major Heroes
Black Widow and Hulk seem to be more-or-less safe, considering Kevin Feige's already spoken about their roles in Avengers: Infinity War (and Thor has a solo movie coming out after) but for most of the rest of Marvel's heroes, there's no such certainty.
Hawkeye, Quicksilver, The Scarlet Witch, The Vision, War Machine, Falcon, Nick Fury, Maria Hill - all of them, are in a whole lot more danger than they might think. Even Cap and Iron Man - vital as they are to the MCU - could find themselves the victims of a surprise ending...
5. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Will Change Completely...Again
That whole 'two S.H.I.E.L.D's' plotline we're seeing at the moment? If that (along with the show itself) is still around come Civil War time, we can expect some serious changes to the nature of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
It's changed before, and it'll change again - but an epic confrontation between multiple superheroes could alter the show in ways we can't yet imagine. Either that, or it'll turn out that Coulson's a shape-shifting alien, and the whole thing'll go all Usual Suspects on us...
If you thought that was a big change, though, don't forget...
6. It'll Mark the End of The Avengers as We Know Them
Sure, Age of Ultron may very well end with the Avengers splitting into two groups ahead of Civil War's main action, but come the end of Civil War there could well be a division unbridgeable by anything short of Thanos-scale Earth-threatening destruction - or possibly Shawarma...
If one team of Avengers sees one of its members die, though, the very idea of Earth's Mightiest Heroes joining together in one single team may well die with them - and we could see a cinematic equivalent of the comic books recent splitting of the team into multiple factions...
So, a lot of death then:
7. ...But That'll Spark a Whole Lot of New Beginnings
After all, Civil War's set to be the moment we first see Spider-Man in the MCU - which all on its own will be a pretty momentous moment. It'll also, though, likely be the point where the heroes of Marvel's Netflix shows join up with their big-screen counterparts, melding the MCU into a truly multi-platform Cinematic Universe, the first of its kind.
And from there on out? There's no real limit to what we could see Marvel achieve - or what platforms we could see it happen on.
There could, however, be a dark cloud hanging over all of that:
8. It Could Be the End of Cap Himself
It was, after all, at the end of the comic book Civil War storyline that we saw Steve Rogers - the original Captain America, and the one Chris Evans plays on screen - die in front of our eyes.
That in turn led to his old sidekick, 'Bucky' Barnes shedding his Winter Soldier identity and taking up the shield (and costume), which has, more recently, even led to the Falcon taking over as Cap.
If Steve Rogers dies, then, it could mark the beginning of something pretty huge - the first MCU role to be passed on to another character.
Though, of course:
9. Civil War Might Just be a Beginning
There's a widespread suspicion that Marvel has bigger plans for its Civil War than just the one movie we know about - and whether that means a secret, previously unannounced additional Civil War movie, or simply a direct continuation of the plot into other films, it's liable to shape the MCU in some pretty fundamental ways.
Finding out just what those'll be, may have to wait until 2016...