We've all heard the news: Marvel's slate of films has changed, with The Inhumans pushed back. This time round, Marvel Studios haven't even given us a release date! Why has this happened? Here are six reasons...
1. There have been too many major changes to the slate!
In October 2014, Marvel Studios announced their full Phase 3 slate. It included the launch of three whole new franchises - Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and The Inhumans. But there were two massive changes that would need to be made.
The first was the unprecedented success of Ant-Man. That particular movie had been plagued with problems, most notably when director Edgar Wright quit. Even Marvel Studios seemed less than confident in their pint-sized superhero - but the final film got extremely positive reviews, and performed fairly well at the box office. Marvel Studios ultimately chose to commission a sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, which meant their plans for Phase Three had to change.
The second, of course, was the Spider-Man deal. As we learned in the Sony Entertainment hacks, by October 2014 Sony Entertainment had turned down Marvel Studios' Spider-Man approach. But the hacking exposed the sheer disorganisation at Sony Entertainment, making it pretty clear they didn't have a clue how to handle a franchise like Spider-Man. Their parent company, Sony, exerted pressure for Sony Entertainment to return to the negotiating table, and soon Marvel Studios were in a position to work Spider-Man into the MCU. Naturally, this meant they needed to slot Spider-Man: Homecoming into the Phase Three slate as well.
With two new films entering Marvel Studios' Phase Three plans, something had to give.
2. The Inhumans are a hard sell!
When you look back at comic sales, the Inhumans have rarely performed well. Sure, they've had some iconic runs, but the very idea of the Inhumans seems to have been a hard pitch for most comic book writers. Marvel Comics have been working to increase the Inhumans' presence since 2007, with their biggest push - putting them at odds with the mutant race - in the last few months. With a higher profile than ever before, Diamond sales figures still estimate only 32,256 sales of Uncanny Inhumans in March (contrasted with Uncanny X-Men's 46,105). By its fifth issue, its sister book All-New Inhumans only saw estimated sales of 26,075, a pretty shocking figure.
My point is this: since 1965, comic book writers have continually tried to work their magic with the Inhumans. Precious few have succeeded. This surely raises the awkward possibility that film writers could struggle just as much, and that Marvel Studios need to take their time and find just the right pitch to make the film work.
3. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is actually a problem!
Complicating matters still further, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 introduced the Inhumans into the MCU. The Inhumans have swiftly become the series' main focus, with the "Secret Warriors" plot and the introduction of Hive. It's clear that the Inhumans will remain a major part of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. going forward.
In theory, this should be good; in reality, it's awkward. Firstly, this means that most of the key ideas behind the Inhumans are being spelled out before a film writer's even been hired to write a script. From the history of the Inhumans to glimpses of Inhuman / Kree technology, all these pieces have been set in place.
Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson to you and me) even suggested that this may cause a massive change in Marvel's approach to the MCU. As he told Digital Spy:
"The Inhumans movie I suspect will be its own cinematic version. That writer and director will have free reign to do what they want to do with the Inhumans, but hopefully there'll be some way that our Inhumans connect to that. It'd be too bad if that was wasted."
Matters will have been worsened by last year's shake-up over at Marvel. Marvel Studios boss #KevinFeige now reports directly to Disney. Marvel Entertainment - who run Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - are in a separate department, still reporting to Marvel's reclusive boss Ike Perlmutter. Although the films and TV series are still in the same universe, this no doubt means office politics are a real problem. That's more likely to affect The Inhumans than any other part of the film slate.
4. Captain Marvel is a higher priority!
Marvel Studios are unlikely to shuffle around their Infinity War chapters, and Black Panther's inclusion in Captain America: Civil War already means there's a strangely big gap between his first appearance and his solo film. That means they have limited wriggle-room; only two films can really be shuffled around, Captain Marvel and The Inhumans.
Carol Danvers' Captain Marvel is a superhero the MCU needs. She's tremendously popular, with an extremely loyal fan-following in her so-called "Carol Corps". What's more, she's also the MCU's first female lead superhero. If Marvel Studios can do this film right, they have the potential to establish Captain Marvel as their answer to DC's Wonder Woman - a strong, powerful female superhero who can become a symbol of female empowerment. What's more, Captain Marvel's ties to Marvel's cosmic stories make her a natural fit for the Infinity War films.
In contrast, the Inhumans don't have a fan-base so strong, and are a much more awkward fit - adding the Inhuman royal family into Infinity War, for example, would insert a worrying number of characters into an already jam-packed plot. Captain Marvel is simply a bigger priority.
5. Disney have another franchise to (re)launch!
The reality is, the final straw to all this was another Disney announcement. When Lucasfilm set the release date of Indiana Jones 5 as July 19th, 2019, they were giving The Inhumans some stiff competition. The July 12th release date simply looked unreasonable, overshadowed by far stronger competition. So Marvel have chosen to move the release date. It makes sense.
6. Marvel aren't ready to announce Phase 4!
Assuming that The Inhumans will still happen (and that still seems most likely), it actually makes sense for Marvel not to announce a release date. When they announced their Phase 3 slate, it was to a massive fanfare. They're no doubt planning a similar Phase 4 announcement, and - if they're sticking with the idea of doing this two years before the phase begins - we should expect that next year.
Before we start to react to the apparent absurdity of this idea, let's not forget that we don't even know what the next chapter of Fox's X-Men franchise will be called yet. Most studios aren't planning quite so long-term as Marvel, so the level of detail we have for films as far off as 2019 is rather unusual. It's entirely reasonable for Marvel to hold off on the Phase Four announcement for now.
So there you have it. The sad truth is that The Inhumans isn't high on Marvel's priority list, and that's unlikely to change any time soon. I'm not expecting to hear more on this film for quite some time.