We're in the final build-up to Captain America: Civil War; we've just seen the trailer for Doctor Strange; and we've been told the title of the next Spider-Man film (Spider-Man: Homecoming, for those of you who've been living under a rock). But where is the Marvel Cinematic Universe going?
What are the next movies?
Excluding Civil War, Phase Three now contains the following movies:
- 2016 - Doctor Strange (November)
- 2017 - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May), Spider-Man: Homecoming (July), Thor: Ragnarok (November)
- 2018 - Black Panther (February), Avengers: Infinity War Part I (May), Ant-Man and the Wasp (July)
- 2019 - Captain Marvel (March), Avengers: Infinity War Part II (May)
Inhumans has been shifted to July 2019, and looks set to kick-start Phase Four. We can also expect more changes - I seriously doubt we won't see a second Spider-Man film between 2017 and 2020, for example.
Everything is heading for Avengers: Infinity War!
Infinity War is the biggest thing Marvel have ever attempted. Since Captain America: The First Avenger, we've been seeing mysterious items of tremendous power - and we've since learned these are the Infinity Gems, sought after by Thanos. In the comics, the Infinity Gems come together into the Infinity Gauntlet, giving the bearer power on an unimaginable scale. We know that Thanos is preparing to pursue these Infinity Gems, and this will inevitably lead him into conflict with the Avengers (after all, the Vision is one of them!).
Infinity War is the first time Marvel have done a two-part movie. Ironically, I don't think most fans have realised just what that means. The Marvel Cinematic Universe works by putting things in a chronological order; so the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron form a context for mentioning the Sokovia Accords in Ant-Man. Marvel are planning to release Part 1 in May 2018, with two movies - Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel - set before Part 2, a year later, in May 2019.
Although the two films have to tie together strongly enough to be Part 1 and Part 2, a year will pass between them. That means that Part 1 has to somehow change the broader context of the MCU, creating a temporary status quo that forms the backdrop for the next two movies. I'm not expecting anything too dramatic - Ant-Man and the Wasp still needs to feel like a sequel to Ant-Man, after all. So I seriously doubt Part 1 will end with a universe ruled by Thanos. My actual prediction is that, at the end of Infinity War Part I, the Avengers will head off into space in pursuit of Thanos. The following two films will be set on an Earth without Avengers, and Infinity War Part II will take the Avengers into space for the final battle with Thanos.
This would fit with what Anthony Russo told i09:
“The movies [Infinity War Part 1 and Part 2] are very very different from one another. It’s not a part one and part two scenario, necessarily. They’re just two different expressions. I think it creates a misconception that we’re shooting them at the same time.”
The Russo brothers chart a course
Here's where it gets interesting; we're all focused on the cosmic arc, but the Russo brothers may have their eyes set on something else. Again, to quote Anthony Russo:
“For us there’s a through line from Winter Soldier, through Civil War, right to Infinity War. In our mind, the storytelling arc moves that way.”
So Captain America: Civil War is, in a sense, the second part in an arc. But what can that arc be?
Captain America: Winter Soldier was about authority and oversight. It brought S.H.I.E.L.D. to its knees, destroying the organisation that had assembled the Avengers and policed the world's superhumans. Civil War logically follows on from that, with the world's governments rejecting the idea that superheroes should act with unlimited power and without supervision. This tears the Avengers apart, turning friend against friend.
How will Civil War change the Marvel Universe?
Just as in the comics, there are really two characters who are going to be radically transformed by Civil War. There's Captain America himself, and of course Iron Man.
Complicating this picture is the question of Chris Evans' contract. It's an open secret that he's considering hanging up his star-spangled shield, and he told Variety that he reckons he'd be done with superheroics by 2017. One way this could work, of course, is if Captain America were to die in Civil War. After all, as comic book fans will note, Cap was killed at the end of Civil War in the comics.
Contradicting himself, Evans later told Collider, "If Marvel wants me, they've got me." Now, interestingly enough, even if Captain America were to die in Civil War, he wouldn't necessarily be written out of Infinity War. Thanos is obsessed with death, and the Infinity Gems contain power over reality itself; it's quite possible dead heroes could be resurrected at some point to fight alongside the Avengers.
In case you think this is unlikely, don't forget that Aaron Taylor-Johnson was signed up on a multi-picture deal for the part of Quicksilver. That's always seemed rather odd, but might make sense with this idea in mind.
Meanwhile, in the comics Tony Stark wound up front-and-centre of the Marvel Universe. He took charge of S.H.I.E.L.D., he ran the world's superhumans, and - most significantly - he aggressively hunted down superheroes who wouldn't play by the government's rule book. It's entirely possible that Civil War puts Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark in a similar position, where he's running the world's superheroes, and actively pursuing some of his fellow Avengers. I'm imagining the dialogue between Tony Stark and Black Widow in the trailers is from the end of the film - Tony warns Black Widow they're coming for her, and she in turn tells him to watch his back.
Such an idea makes sense of Spider-Man's début. Although Spidey is on Team Iron Man, if he were to change sides during Civil War then he'd be hunted as a vigilante. That would fit with the fact Spidey's never been particularly popular in New York City - J. Jonah Jameson has led many a public campaign to persuade the city that he's a "menace".
If I'm right, Civil War will leave the Avengers shattered and on the run from one of their own. In Infinity War, the superheroes will face a threat that forces them to reunite. That seems to be a pretty logical progression, and fits with the comments from the Russo brothers.
Some surprising anomalies
Whether I'm right or wrong in my theory, some other comments by Kevin Feige are pretty surprising. Discussing the build-up for Infinity War, he told io9:
“Much of the groundwork has already been laid. That’s the truth. Doctor Strange will lay some more. Thor: Ragnarok will lay some more—but I think the majority of it is already there.”
Surprisingly enough, Thanos isn't going to make an appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Although he could still make a surprise appearance in Thor: Ragnarok - pursuing an Infinity Gem in Asgard - it looks likely that the Mad Titan won't appear again until Infinity War. Doctor Strange is going to add sorcery into the MCU, and is also likely to feature another Infinity Gem; there's some more groundwork for Infinity War there. Meanwhile, it's no surprise that Thor: Ragnarok will lay even more -this movie will see Thor headed off to Asgard to work out what's going on with the Infinity Gems in the aftermath of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Still, that does mean Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Black Panther will be expected to stand on their own two feet a little bit more. Given the strength of the Spider-Man brand, and the success of the first Guardians film, that isn't entirely surprising. I admit to being surprised at Marvel's confidence in Black Panther, though; especially since he makes his first appearance in Civil War this year, while his solo movie won't be out until 2018. I'm expecting Marvel to reinforce this new brand with a few Black Panther cameos, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he's one of the Avengers to cameo in Spider-Man: Homecoming. (For the record, I'm also anticipating Iron Man to guest-star - in an antagonistic role.)
I have no real way of knowing if my predictions are right - not until I see Civil War in a few weeks' time. Until then, it's tremendous fun to look at what we know, make deductions, and speculate on the long-term game-plan of Marvel Studios. One thing's for sure - this is going to be a wild ride!
What do you think of my observations? Do you believe I'm on the right track? Or do you have some theories of your own? Tell me in the comments!