Welcome, true believers, to the future!
Not very long ago, the idea of a serious, well-budgeted Avengers film was a laughable proposition, let alone three of them. Studios believed that the cost of such a production would eclipse any return from the insular comic-loving population, and the same fans believed that no film could ever do justice to the beloved characters and stories they had loved and lived with for years. With a few embarrassingly campy first attempts (Batnips, anyone?) looming behind us, it seemed that any rendition of the Marvel universe would be either too costly, too corporate, or just not good enough- either way, comic book movies seemed doomed.
Boy, were we wrong! In 2008, Kevin Feige & Co. came out of nowhere with a snarky, real-world take on Iron Man, and to our collective surprise and delight, the Marvel team didn't stop there, unspooling hit after interconnected hit. To date, Marvel has released eleven films (not including Ant-Man) within their Cinematic Universe, and nine more have been scheduled as part of the studio's Phase 3: More Cap! More Thor! More brooding bromance! More racial diversity! More gender diversity? More female superheroes(!!!)! Strange tales! More Web-head! More talking raccoons on top of semi-talking tree gods! More close-ups of Josh Brolin's chin! It's a veritable buffet of badass.
Truly, Marvel's film-making accomplishments are unprecedented. As we recover from Age Of Ultron, process its implications, and realize that only Paul Rudd's tiny tuchus stands between us and Phase 3, it is clear that Marvel is pioneering realms unknown in the cosmos of entertainment, proving that comic book films can appeal to Marvel lifers and the common denominator alike- and making enough money to build their own Stark Tower along the way. The clobbering that Marvel just delivered with Age of Ultron (the film cleared $187.7 million on its opening weekend in the U.S. alone) has not gone unnoticed, and rival studios are already suiting up to grab some of that blockbuster magic. Fox Studios is reviving the Fantastic Four this August and winding up for a biblical beat-down with X-men: Apocalypse next May. Longtime Marvel rival D.C. is racing to build their own cinematic universe, going for broke next year with the hero-on-hero Dawn of Justice and the villain-ensemble Suicide Squad, both scheduled for next summer. Check out these sweet trailers if you haven't done so already:
Meanwhile, superheroes are becoming more and more a part of our culture at large. They don't just appear in comic books & movies anymore; now the Arrow & the Flash are on television with more characters to come, and gamers can step into the thigh-highs of a hero in video games like DCUO and Marvel Online. Spider-Man even has his own damn musical on Broadway. In short, the world is getting used to superheroes on the big screen, and the upshot for Marvel is some Stiff Competition. Marvel can't rely on the sort of ambush tactics they used with Iron Man and, more recently, Guardians of the Galaxy. For moviegoers, a great Marvel film is no longer a surprise- it's an expectation. Clearly, Kevin Feige has elaborate plans for the studio in the five years to come, full of long-awaited titles and moves calculated to appeal to a wider audience- but what then? Is Phase 3 the end of the Marvel trilogy? Considering A) the success that Marvel has enjoyed/earned so far, and B) the number of new characters debuting in the upcoming slate of films, I'm strongly inclined to say that it won't be. After Thanos has been vanquished, the world/galaxy/universe will still need saving, so let's discuss who we want to be saving it and what we want them to save it from!
I'll start by throwing out some of my personal favorite heroes, villains, and storylines- I am by no means the consummate Marvel expert, and this is not the objectively definitive list of best Marvel stuff. Studio rights, continuity- none of that needs to apply in this hypothetical conversation; the question is "What do you- the fans- want to see?" First let's ask some important questions:
- Assuming that Infinity War will climax with a battle against Thanos (which it will, duh), who will survive to appear post-Phase 3? Will actors with expiring contracts pass the torch to a younger generation, or honorably hang up their capes/shields/purple shorts?
- What storylines have already been drawn from? Does this make them off-limits for the future, or do they still offer material to adapt?
- Does Phase 4 need another Big Bad, a la Thanos? Will a new nemesis require another three phases to set up?
- Will we see more cases of studio cooperation, the way Sony & Disney have worked together to bring Spider-Man to the MCU? What could this mean?
The Kree & The Skrull
As two of the longest-running, most influential forces in the Marvel galaxy, the Kree & Skrull empires would be a great way to up the ante for Marvel's space based heroes like the Guardians and Captain Marvel. They are the political & military superpowers of Earth's space neighborhood; the author of the original Avengers arc, Ray Thomas, said that he envisioned "two galaxy-spanning races ... would be at war in the far reaches of space, and that their conflict would threaten to spill over onto the Earth, turning our planet into the cosmic equivalent of some Pacific island during World War II."
The Kree are an imperialistic, territorial race of warriors who worship a giant computer made of all the brains of the Kree who have died. I know, right? After millennia of low-tech feudalism, their home planet of Hala was discovered by the Skrulls, who gifted them with technology and spaceflight. Within a few decades, the Kree developed space-faring capabilities to rival those of their benefactors, and their expansionist outlook sparked a war between the two races that has lasted for thousands of years. Remember Ronan, the angry blue hammer-dude from Guardians who had a ship like a grilled Twizzler? That guy was a Kree. More importantly, Kree technology plays a major role in Carol Danvers' transformation into Captain Marvel, and the blue guys were even responsible for creating the Inhumans- who have their own movie set for 2019 and are being heavily foreshadowed on the Agents of SHIELD series.
Fusing Body-snatchers paranoia with space opera and "no-way-dude" power match-ups, The Skrulls (known for their green skin, shape-shifting powers and Brolin-level chin game) started out as puny little lizard people- that is, until the Celestials got involved (more on them later). Having been empowered by the titans of creation, the Skrulls left for the stars, where they built an empire by disguising themselves as other races and subverting their governments from within (sound familiar?) Recently they were featured in the Secret Invasion story line, wherein they infiltrated the Earth's population, neutralized everybody's powers with drugs and then tried to take over. The 50's B-movie practically writes itself, but because they can copy the memories and even the superpowers of those they turn into, a Skrull arc in the MCU would bring strong levels of distrust, espionage, and crazy lizard dudes with ridiculous powersets. Imagine an alien who's made out of rock, and is super stretchy, and is invisible, AND catches on fire. And has a Thanos chin.
Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan
The story of Kamala Khan would have been good if it were just a commentary on racial & ethnic dynamics, or if it were just an empowering coming-of-age story about a young woman. The truth is that Ms. Marvel is both of those things- and she's a kick-ass superhero as well, which is more awesome stuff than your average Avenger gets in their backstory. As Captain Marvel's biggest fan and sidekick, Ms. Marvel fights crime and the bad guys with her "embiggening" powers- she can grow, expand, or stretch any part of her body. Kamala continues the Marvel tradition of normal people with extra-normal powers and adventures, making her a natural successor to characters like Spider-man or Daredevil, who also have to maintain a secret identity and civilian lives. Plus her costume is terrific.
On a personal note, I know many women who believe that their bodies and their proportions are sources of shame; the constant struggle to be "perfect" produces despair and self-loathing far more often than we admit. The fact that Marvel has made this into a superpower for Kamala is, I think, a huge step in the direction of self-acceptance for young women. I often hear the rhetoric that movies need to appeal to the stereotypes held by the widest possible audience in order to be successful, but movies are also partly responsible for creating those stereotypes. If Ms. Marvel shows up in the MCU, she will be a positive example for young women everywhere.
I know, I know- this won't literally happen, for two reasons:
- Fox owns the rights to the Silver Surfer.
- Universal owns the rights to Namor (sort of).
- "The Defenders is already the name of the Netflix miniseries starring Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. Three reasons.
I get all of that. But this is a Hypothetical Discussion, where anything goes! The Defenders is a (very) loose alliance of some of Marvel's more misunderstood heroes that serves as a darker alternative to the Avengers- they deal with the nastiest of the nasty, the ugly underbelly of evil. Founded in 1971 by Dr. Strange, The Hulk, the Silver Surfer and Namor the Submariner, the "team" often did battle against supernatural adversaries, like Lovecraft-ian Old Gods, techno-wizards, and thunderclouds (just roll with it), as well as their individual nemeses like Dr. Strange's Dormammu or the Hulk's Leader. The Defenders had a rotating lineup like many other super-teams, and were notable for having many female team members such as Valkyrie (an Asgardian like Thor) and Hellcat (think Catwoman plus Cheetarah), who happens to be appearing in the upcoming AKA Jessica Jones- tie-in, anyone? They are the first line of defense against the evilest evil in the Marvel Universe- finally, someone Hulk can just smash without worrying about the consequences.
The Celestials & The Eternals
What do you do when you've already done the biggest, most galactic villain conceivable? You go bigger, of course! Remember those Celestials we were talking about with the Skrulls? The ones who turned lizards into the Romulans overnight? Yeah, they're pretty important. Turns out they're the all-powerful engines of creation, they made, well, everything (except themselves), and they look like this:
These Celestials are a pretty big deal. Originally created by comics legend Jack Kirby upon his prodigal return to Marvel, the titanic Celestials are directly responsible for The Universe.
Remember that floating space head from Guardians? That belonged to one of these Celestials. They return to Earth every few thousand years to monitor humanity's evolution... and, potentially, to end it. To safeguard the planet while they were away, the Celestials created these guys:
The Eternals are the immortal beings created by the Celestials to defend the Earth and those who live upon it. Having been around for thousands and thousands of years, they have been worshiped by many human cultures as deities- including the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Hindus, and the Inca. Many of the Eternals actively fight evil as superheroes, including Ikaris (or Apollo), Makkari (or Hermes) and Sersi (or Circe), who was a member of the Avengers- but more importantly, Thanos himself was an Eternal, (albeit one with a genetic defect) and he has a brother named... wait for it...
Anyway, the Eternals are godlike badasses and carry huge ramifications about the nature of the Marvel universe- if Kevin Feige is struggling to come up with a bigger movie punch than Infinity War, he need not look further than The Celestials and their creations.
That does it for my ideas, but I want to hear from you! What do you think? What do you want to see at the cinema?
Who deserves a spot in the MCU?
Go crazy in the comments, but remember- keep it civil. Please be respectful and leave the war part to the professionals: