(Warning: The following contains giant, hulking plot SPOILERS for 'Captain America: Civil War', as well as theoretical ones for future entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Proceed with whatever level of caution that suggests to you is wise.)
So. Captain America: Civil War.
After years of seemingly interminable waiting, it's finally here — and, thankfully, it's pretty much everything we were collectively hoping it would be. Smart, fast-paced, and full of more heart than your average offal shop, Civil War looks set to prove a rip-roaring success both critically and at the box office — all the while offering up a deeply fan-pleasing continuation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's overarching narrative, and a terrific beginning for its Phase 3.
As it turns out, though, there might be even more hiding within its running time than we think.
Captain America: Civil War Might Just Tell Us A Whole Lot About Marvel's Phase 4
As in, the phase of Marvel movies that are expected to begin arriving in 2019/2020, when the current third phase comes to a conclusion.
Some of the most intriguing hints?
(Note: This is where those aforementioned SPOILERS begin in earnest.)
5. Origin Stories Look To Be On Their Way Out
With Civil War introducing both Spider-Man and Black Panther to the MCU without so much as an origin-explaining flashback, it seems we're now firmly in the midst of Marvel's long-planned post-origin story era. Now, sure, it seems likely that both Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel's solo movies will be fairly origin-centric, but there's a pretty good chance that the rest of Phase 3 is going to emphasize continuity over subtly different character beginnings.
If that trend continues, it's entirely possible that Phase 4 could do away with origin stories altogether and instead opt for a whole new approach — perhaps one centered on the gradual rise of a whole new generation of heroes. Speaking of which...
4. There's Suddenly An In-Universe Market For A Whole Lot Of New Heroes
After all, with the vast majority of the Avengers ending the movie operating outside the law — and the Sokovia Accords — it seems likely that the US government (to say nothing of other, less-Avenger-affiliated countries) will be looking at some alternative options. Now, there's a pretty solid chance that we'll see those alternates turn up in Phase 3 — the Thunderbolts, anyone? — but the impact of that change could be felt most in Phase 4. After all, once new superhero teams start showing their faces, it's pretty tough to send them packing.
Phase 4, then, could well be defined just as much by Civil War's legacy as it is Infinity War's, with a whole lot of new superheroes (and superteams) stepping in to support — and perhaps even replace — the Avengers.
3. Bucky Barnes Could Have A Big Role To Play In Phase 4
After all, with Captain America: Civil War both largely redeeming — and temporarily shelving — Bucky, it seems that the hero has quite the future ahead of him in the MCU. An appearance in Black Panther seems likely, as does a role in at least one of the Avengers: Infinity War movies, but that would still leave three movies in Sebastian "Bucky" Stan's rumored nine picture deal for Phase 4 to play with.
Could we perhaps finally see Bucky take up Cap's mantle, as he did in the comic books? Or, alternatively, have him act as a gloriously snarky sidekick to Sam "Falcon" Wilson, if he takes on the role instead?
2. We Could Finally See The Cosmic Marvel Universe Join Up With The Terrestrial One
After all, the Vision no longer seems likely to stick around on Earth for too much longer, and with Avengers: Infinity War seemingly set to bring the two halves of the Marvel Cinematic Universe together for the first time, it's looking increasingly possible that Phase 4 will see a whole lot more character exchange than Phases 2 and 3.
The likes of Star-Lord, for instance, could well find themselves on Earth for a spell — though it seems more likely that we'll see a handful of Earth heroes take to space. Could Captain Marvel see a space-set sequel, perhaps, or someone like Hawkeye or Ant-Man find themselves surprisingly recruited to join the Guardians of the Galaxy? The Vision may well be the one to lead the way (along, it seems, with Hulk and Thor in next year's Thor: Ragnarok), but more heroes and villains will surely follow.
1. We Could See A Phase Entirely Free Of Avengers Movies
Now, to a certain extent this one depends on how well Captain America: Civil War does at the US box office in the coming weeks, but if it turns out that a superhero-stuffed Captain America movie can make close to as much money as an Avengers sequel — which is currently looking likely — then there's a pretty solid chance that we could see Marvel's premier supergroup be benched for Phase 4, and given time to let our collective hearts grow fonder in their absence.
After all, if Avengers-level money — and, notably, spectacle — can be achieved without having to actually make an Avengers movie, then there's certainly an argument in favor of bringing a new set of heroes, and teams, to the fore. Could Phase 4 be the moment that the Young Avengers, or even Marvel's long-in-development-hell Runaways, finally get the chance to shine?
We'll find out — in just a few short years.