As we all know, Marvel’s current slate of films has fans counting down the months and weeks until the next picture, Thor, hits the screen next year. That’s then closely followed by The First Avenger: Captain America, and then Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.
With these big hits, along with pre-production underway of a re-boot of Spider-Man, as well as X-Men: First Class currently before the cameras for release next year, the evolution of Marvel as a cinematic force is surely all but complete. It’s built on the already-impressive foundations of Iron Man, and is now in the process of putting a series of linked movies together.
We know already that The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, The First Avenger: Captain America and The Avengers are all linked, with each film giving fans little easter eggs and teasers towards the shared continuity of the Marvel Universe. Whether it’s the Cap’s shield in Iron Man, Tony Stark in The Incredible Hulk, or little elements such as geographical pointers given by S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury in some deleted scenes on the up and coming Iron Man 2 disc (that show Atlantis, Wakanda and maybe Latveria), a shared cinematic universe with these characters is coming together.
But what then? What about the other Marvel characters that have been licensed to other publishers, long before the firm put together its own cinema strategy? And why on earth is Marvel looking to reboot films less than a decade old (we’re looking at you, Mr Hulk)?
Well, obviously it’s really for financial reasons. But outside of that, we’d wager that it’s also keen to get its intellectual property back from other studios. (There’s a reason why, for instance, Columbia has rushed Ghost Rider 2 into production, just before its rights would have lapsed.) However, could there be an alternative motive for these quick turnaround reboots that everyone is pushing ahead with? Is Marvel’s big, long-term goal to have a shared universe going into the next decade and beyond?
The head of Marvel has been hinting at conventions recently that Marvel Studios ‘has plans’ for the next ten years as far as movie output is concerned. So, maybe (and this is where the speculation starts) this movement to regain and kickstart properties on the big screen is part of that plan. Are we, then, heading towards a giant movie featuring all of the company’s big names at some point in the future? Granted, that’s going to be tricky, what with Sony and Fox unlikely to surrender Spider-Man and X-Men anytime soon. But could the long game be some sort of ‘Ultimate’ movie?
Much of the work going on, whether directly controlled by Marvel or not, does point in that direction. Work is currently underway on a new Spider-Man film, with the studio replacing the doughy figure of Tobey Maguire (and his amazing emo walk) with a younger Andrew Garfield, essentially setting Spider-Man back to high school. That’s just as Brian Michael Bendis did a decade ago with Ultimate Spiderman.
It also looks like Fox might be rebooting Fantastic Four (which again, would keep the franchise away from Marvel’s direct control), with rumours abounding that a whole new cast will be recruited, and, thankfully, a CGI Thing.
This is also happening too with X-Men: First Class, which, from the look of it, is being set in a James Bond-inspired 1960s spy setting (kinky boots and all). This complete reboot of the X franchise seems to be ignoring the first trilogy of films altogether, taking out major characters such as Cyclops, Storm and Jean Grey to delve a little deeper into the X mythos. Characters like Chamber, Havok and Emma Frost have all been mentioned as having roles in this Matthew Vaughn-directed movie.
This historical setting, younger Professor X, Magneto and such, and the lack of more recognisable ‘key’ characters does seem to play towards a future Marvel masterplan (even if it’s Fox that is shaping the X-Men films right now). It also ties into the fact that X-Men Origins: Wolverine played on characters that were not that well known to general non-comic reading members of the public, to lay the foundations of a potential franchise.
Could this all be deliberate? Will it be that the timeframe of these two movies’ action will be set around the same time, in the late 60s to early 70s? Will this lead into Wolverine 2, and potentially other X films, moving towards present day. All to the point where they can do another movie, aging characters like Professor X and Magneto, while keeping Wolverine and his healing factor the same, at the same time adding in more recognisable members of the team such as Cyclops.
Could, ultimately, Marvel and the studios that hold the rights to some of its characters be working towards a bigger master plan?
If so, a long-term idea of creating a cinematic Ultimate universe with a teen Spider-Man, Ultimate Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four could tie into other movies, too. Ryan Reynolds, for instance, is still circling a Deadpool film, and he too could be on board for a future team-up movie. As too could a new, better version of Dr Doom, rather than the dull Julian McMahon version we got in the Fantastic Four movies. Or what about a Black Panther and Namor film, all of which tie into the geographical areas I mentioned before? It might just all be beginning to take shape.
So, what do you think? Is Marvel slowly leading its fans to a huge multi-film cross-over somewhere down the line, where the teams and characters of the Marvel Universe take on a bad guy of such magnitude that it would take numerous teams and numerous films to defeat? Will it be Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet (which supposedly makes an appearance in Captain America)? Will it be the Red Skull and Hydra with a cosmic cube (again, another hint is given in the scenes already in the can for Captain America)? Or will Loki be the villain as he was in the final Mark Millar Ultimates story that had the entire legion of heroes trying to stop the Asgardian trickster from literally unleashing Ragnarok on the world.
Maybe this is the plan, or maybe I have too much time on my hands to think about conspiracies that are not there. But, whatever the outcome, seeing Marvel characters on screen over the next few years is something I can’t help but look forward to…