This article contains Avengers: Endgame spoilers. We have a completely spoiler free review right here.
Well, that’s that. Avengers: Endgame just brought the 22 movie cycle known as the Infinity Saga to a close. Over a decade of storytelling, dozens of mid and post credits scenes (which this movie does not have, opting for something else entirely), multiple successful franchises, and countless dollars in box office domination, and Marvel Studios has done what no other franchise has ever done (or likely ever will again). So, of course, the first question on everyone’s mind is…what will they do for an encore?
It’s a time of change and upheaval in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The conclusion of Avengers: Endgame definitively closes the book on Iron Man, and more or less does the same for Captain America. Thor may stick around in some capacity or pop up in other franchises. Black Widow is dead. New stars like Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, and even Valkyrie have connected with audiences and are set to carry the torch set down by Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and others. But then there are all the new projects that have been announced, from film to TV, all of which are going to explore different corners of this brave new MCU.
And to complicate things further, Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox means that finally, the fan dream of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four joining the MCU can come true. There are plenty of variables in play for the future of the MCU Phase 4. We’re here to lay it all out for you. Of course, keep in mind that many of these dates are not confirmed, and Kevin Feige, Disney, and Marvel are likely to announce even more projects (and lock down some dates) in July at San Diego Comic-Con. But until then, this is what the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe looks like.
What’s interesting is that there’s only one project on the books that feels like a straight up superhero movie, and that’s the next Marvel Studios movie that we’re going to see…
Spider-Man: Far From Home
This is the easiest, most straightforward entry on here, right? Well…not exactly. In theory, a sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming should be a gimme, just pick up the following year of Peter Parker’s high school career, keep the easy comedic chemistry flowing, and show a Spider-Man who has both been tempered and humbled by the cosmic wonders and horrors revealed to him in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. No big deal, right? Well…
Spider-Man: Far From Home is going to have do something no Spider-Man movie has ever had to do, which is deal with major story fallout from one of the most massive cinematic events of all time. It’s hard to truly consider Spider-Man: Far From Home the beginning of MCU Phase 4. Instead, like Ant-Man & The Wasp, it’s likely to be more like a coda to what has come before, something that dials the stakes back to something slightly more human and recognizable.
But even with that in mind, half of Peter’s classmates are going to have to deal with the trauma of realizing that half of their friends and loved ones are five years older, and that the world has moved on after experiencing something almost incomprehensible. That’s heavy stuff for a Spider-Man franchise which has so far been at its best when keeping the “neighborhood” in “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”
Despite all of that, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio isn’t exactly the kind of cosmic threat we’ve seen with Thanos, and the return of Nick Fury, hopefully taking as active a role as he did in Captain Marvel, should offer a lot more context for what the new shape of the MCU will look like. Fury must have a reason for wanting to keep an eye on Peter Parker, and it’s likely the fact that since Spidey proved himself courageous enough during the battle of Endgame, Fury wants to start grooming the next generation of heroes. Or drafting them. That’s something to look out for as the MCU continues to evolve.
Could Nick Fury’s reintroduction in Captain Marvel be a sign that he’s going to take a more prominent presence in the MCU during its next phase? Because if so, there are a couple of other projects spinning directly out of Endgame where it would make sense for him to show up…
Black Widow is the next Marvel movie to begin filming, with a start date set for late Spring. Cate Shortland is directing. Scarlett Johansson scored herself a significant payday to headline this one, but there’s one little problem…Natasha Romanov died in Avengers: Endgame. And she died in such a manner that it seems unlikely that she’ll be coming back.
In other words, expect the Black Widow movie to be a prequel. Of the core Avengers, Natasha has always been the most prominent to not have an origin story fully explored on screen. We know she has “red in her ledger” and that something important happened in Budapest. We also know she had a horrific training period to become the badass that she is. Marvel was able to score a billion dollars at the box office with a female fronted prequel in Captain Marvel earlier this year, so there’s no reason to believe that they can’t aim for similar success with Black Widow, especially after Johannson’s terrific performance and Natasha’s dramatic sacrifice in Endgame.
The cast also includes Emma Watson and Florence Pugh, who may be villains or potential rivals for Natasha. Or perhaps one of them could become a character who Natasha in some form passes the torch to. It’s all too early to tell. David Harbour is also in the cast. Could he be playing Natasha’s father, Ivan? Might we see more digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, further filling in the gaps of the development of SHIELD? Your guess is as good as ours.
There’s no release date for Black Widow yet, but expect this to arrive in late 2020. Natasha’s best pal isn’t done, either…
Marvel has promised that their Disney+ TV offerings are going to be more tied in to the main events of the MCU. For all their talk about how “it’s all connected,” shows like Agents of SHIELD (which returns for a sixth season on May 10 and has already been picked up for a seventh season) and the assorted Marvel Netflix efforts have always operated a pretty far remove from the core MCU. But the Disney+ shows will feature the stars from the big screen playing the characters they made famous in stories that will matter.
Clint Barton, haunted everyman Avenger, is going to get his own series on Disney+. Hawkeye will focus on Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton passing on his title to a promising young archer by the name of Kate Bishop. Hopefully this one will take come cues from the incredible Matt Fraction and David Aja comic book series, keep Hawkeye (mostly) taking on neighborhood level threats, have plenty of Kate Bishop being thoroughly disrespectful to Clint, and have an adorable muttly dog named Lucky stealing at least one scene (and some pizza) each episode. Sorry, folks, Pizza Dog is not optional.
No release date has been set for Hawkeye. You can read more about it here.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier
Perhaps no story spinning out of Endgame matters more than Sam Wilson taking over the mantle of Captain America from Steve Rogers. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan are both on board as Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes. But as this series isn’t called Captain America and The Winter Soldier, it’s likely going to be about Sam coming to terms with what it means to be Captain America before he can put on the red, white, and blue. Of all the announced Marvel shows on Disney+, this is the one that sounds like it has the potential to have the most impact on the shape of the MCU going forward.
No release date has been set, but The Falcon and Winter Soldier will likely arrive in 2020. You can read more about the series right here.
The ol’ U.S. of A isn’t the center of the MCU anymore, and there are plenty of international plans afoot, too…
Black Panther 2
Everyone you loved who survived the first movie and the events of Infinity War and Endgame will be back for Black Panther 2, including director Ryan Coogler. That’s great news.
The first Black Panther movie was as relatively isolated from the wider concerns of the MCU as Wakanda was from the rest of the world. But just as that film ended with T’Challa vowing to bring Wakanda into a more central role in the world community, so will Black Panther 2 need to position T’Challa as a face (if not the face) of the MCU going forward, and a potential leader of any New Avengers roster that may pop up down the road.
Just as Black Widow will likely show us new sides of the government agencies that operate in the shadows of the MCU, Black Panther 2 may be the movie that gives us the broadest picture of what the world actually looks like and how it functions in the wake of the five year time jump of Avengers: Endgame.
Marvel has Feb. 12, 2021 reserved on the calendar at the moment for one of their movies, and considering how well the first Black Panther movie did in that slot, don’t be surprised if its sequel slides right in there.
Marvel’s master of kung-fu is getting his own movie, with Destin Daniel Cretton directing from a script by Dave Callaham. Here is Marvel’s opportunity to apologize for Iron Fist, and finally deliver something that approximates a genuine martial arts movie, albeit with all the opportunities that the MCU brings with it. Expect a celebration of culture and representation akin to what we got with Black Panther. Like Black Panther 2, Shang-Chi could give us a broader picture of how the world of the MCU actually looks and works, while also offering more opportunities for SHIELD and other secret agencies to take a more active role.
No release date has been set for Shang-Chi, so don’t expect it before late 2021 at the earliest. You can learn more about Shang-Chi here.
Looking at all the above projects, you would think that Marvel is scaling back from some of the more supernatural or high-powered aspects of its universe. You would be mistaken, though…
Doctor Strange 2
The first Doctor Strange movie, while spectacularly ambitious visually, spent a little bit too much time on its rather traditional origin story to distinguish itself. What’s more, it had to establish the rules of magic in the MCU, and get Strange up to full “Master of the Mystic Arts” level in time for him to square off against Thanos in Infinity War.
All of that baggage is out of the way now, so hopefully Marvel will allow Derrickson and co. to truly explore the stranger, darker corners of the MCU. Marvel desperately needs to diversify its tone a little, and there’s no better opportunity on the schedule right now to explore something a little more horrific than with Stephen Strange and pals. Let’s see if they do it.
While there’s no release date set for Doctor Strange 2, Marvel does have Nov. 5, 2021 reserved, which is right about where the first movie did solid business, so perhaps that’s where the good doctor will land. You can read more about Doctor Strange 2 here.
And speaking of magic…
This is potentially the most offbeat project Marvel has planned at the moment. WandaVision will tell the story of the domestic life of Scarlet Witch and the Vision. The problem, of course, is that Vision died in Infinity War and wasn’t returned to life in Endgame. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany will both reprise their roles for this.
Oh, and apparently the series will take place in the 1950s. Wanda seemed pretty annoyed at Thanos in Endgame, and unleashed a terrifying barrage of power. In the comics, she has been known to rewrite reality as she sees fit from time to time, so perhaps the key to all of this is in the title, and WandaVision will be a hallucinatory exploration of an ideal world Wanda has tried to create for herself with whatever remains of her android lover. That’s…far more speculation than I promised myself I would engage in here, so maybe you should just disregard all of that.
No release date has been set for WandaVision, but expect it between 2020 and 2021. You can learn more about WandaVision here.
Don’t worry, there’s plenty of cosmic Marvel action on the way, too…
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
This is a tricky one, given where Endgame left the team. James Gunn has long said he conceived the Guardians saga as a trilogy, but how much of that trilogy included the detour through Infinity War and Endgame that we saw? And it’s tough to imagine that even his most optimistic projections included Thor joining the team for that third installment.
Still, without the shadow of Thanos over the team, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 should be able to tell a more complete story, and seems unlikely to spend any time setting up any broader MCU concerns. One thing we’re quite likely to see, though, is the arrival of Adam Warlock, a massive piece of Marvel’s cosmic mythology, and a foe of Thanos who was conspicuous by his absence from the events of Infinity War and Endgame. Beyond all that? There’s no point speculating. James Gunn knows what he’s doing.
However, Gunn first has to finish The Suicide Squad for Warner Bros. before he can begin work on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Don’t expect this one until late 2022 at the earliest, and we’re likely to have to wait even longer.
One of the many headachey questions left after Avengers: Endgame is the question of Loki’s very existence. Did the God of Mischief croak at Thanos’ hands in Infinity War? Absolutely. But do we now have another Loki running around from a branched timeline thanks to the botched Tesseract heist in Endgame? Ummmm…probably? And this is probably the mechanism by which the Disney+ Loki TV series will be made possible.
All we know about Loki is that it will be a kind of anthology series where Tom Hiddleston’s roguishly charming semi-evil bundle of fun will appear at various points in history to influence human events. Maybe Peter Quill will find a way to ditch Thor somewhere in the course of this…but probably not.
Chloe Zhao will direct The Eternals movie, which is currently set to star Angelina Jolie and Kumail Nanjiani. Expect Eternals to be as cosmic as Black Widow is grounded in the darker corners of the MCU. Created by Jack Kirby upon his return to Marvel in the 1970s, the Eternals are offshoots of the Celestials (remember Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2?), who created them during their visits to Earth during our pre-history. Think of this as Kirby’s “ancient aliens” saga within the Marvel Universe, where the seeds of superhuman life were planted here in the distant past.
But more recent comics have grounded the story of the Eternals a little more firmly in recognizable Marvel Universe concepts. Notably, in recent Avengers comics by Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness, it turns out that the reason superhuman life proliferates on Earth more than on some other worlds is because an ancient Celestial died here, and as his massive form bled out, he literally “seeded” the world. Could the Celestials and Eternals be the vehicle by which the concept of mutants are introduced to the MCU? Maybe. Are the Eternals concepts perhaps a little too cosmic to be brought down to Earth enough to connect with a mass audience? Probably, but then again, Marvel Studios managed to make a talking raccoon and a monosyllabic alien tree into the centerpieces of some of the biggest movies of the last five years, so anything is possible.
No release date has been announced, but Marvel has set aside May 7, 2021 for one of their projects, which seems like a good fit for a colorful cosmic epic like Eternals. Considering this is likely going to begin filming before the end of the year, it’s a possibility.
Now, as for the questions that are really on everyone’s minds…
When Will We See the X-Men in the MCU?
After Dark Phoenix hits theaters in June and New Mutants arrives…on whatever format it’s going to arrive in 2020, the 20th Century Fox era of X-Men storytelling will officially be over. Don’t expect to see any live action mutants for quite some time. Marvel Studios is acutely aware of how audiences perceive endless strings of reboots, particularly those that are close together. Sure, they only took two years from the smoke to clear after the generally reviled Amazing Spider-Man 2 to bring Peter Parker back to the big screen in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but that was a different situation, where they had a brief opportunity to strike a deal with another studio to share arguably the single most popular, recognizable character in the entire Marvel Comics stable. That isn’t the case with the X-Men, who are now owned completely by Disney, and whose characters and concepts can presumably be introduced at any time in whatever manner Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios see fit.
But let’s just use that two year number as an arbitrary benchmark for the moment. After Spider-Man: Far From Home, there are no additional Marvel Studios movies on the schedule for 2019. Assuming the long troubled New Mutants actually sees the light of day in 2019, it will be late in the year, so let’s start the clock in early 2020 for a Marvel Studios X-Men project to get put into development. The final currently announced date on Marvel’s schedule is July 29, 2022. Even assuming that Marvel doesn’t shift its other dates around (and they almost certainly will), this is the absolute earliest we’d likely see a new X-Men film. 2023 seems more likely, which is, coincidentally, the point at which “our” universe will finally once again line up with the MCU timeline after the five year jump of Endgame.
But these are all practical concerns. From a purely storytelling standpoint, Kevin Feige knows that the X-Men franchise is so well established in the public consciousness that any attempt to clear the decks too soon runs the risk of being met with resistance. And one of Marvel Studios’ many strong suits is their ability to manage objections. It’s far more likely we’ll see teases of various mutant concepts (or even characters) introduced in other movies over the next few years than we will a full blown X-Men movie. And don’t be surprised if you have to wait even longer before Marvel Studios attempts to cast their own Wolverine. Hugh Jackman casts a long shadow as Logan, the likes of which few superhero actors ever have, and replacing him too soon is only going to cause headaches.
The wild card, of course, is Deadpool. Disney has gone out of their way to welcome Deadpool into the fold, and Deadpool’s relationship to whatever state of “continuity” the X-Men franchise has found itself in over the last few years has always been a little sideways, at best. And given Deadpool’s canonical status as a character who is thoroughly aware of the unreality of his adventures, there’s no reason that a Marvel Studios Deadpool movie (whatever concerns about violence, language, and ratings aside) shouldn’t be able to keep the backstory of the previous movies and still slot right in to whatever the larger plans for mutants may be within the MCU. If Deadpool doesn’t care, why should you? Plus, Deadpool’s status as a relatively midbudget superhero franchise would position Deadpool 3 (whatever it ends up being called) as a likely contender to make one of those 2022 slots on the calendar.
Where are the Fantastic Four in the MCU?
Ah, but the Fantastic Four are another story entirely. Having lain fallow since 2015, it’s safe to say that the flames have died down since Josh Trank’s disastrous effort to reboot the franchise with 20th Century Fox. The Fantastic Four have always seemed uniquely suited to the lighter tone and quippy dialogue of the MCU, and it’s easy to imagine someone Disney giving someone like Jon Favreau the nod to finally create the definitive live action version of the team that created the Marvel Universe as we know it. Like the X-Men, the earliest we’re likely to see an actual Fantastic Four movie is summer of 2022, and it’s more likely that this won’t happen until 2023 or beyond. Just expect Marvel to be a little less cautious and shy about the return of their first family.
This doesn’t mean that we won’t see characters and concepts from both the Fantastic Four and the X-Men start quietly making their way into the MCU. Just because Avengers: Endgame didn’t have a post-credits scene, doesn’t mean that tradition won’t return immediately with the next MCU movie, and that’s where we’re likely to get our first hints about the status of mutants, the existence of a place called Latveria, and maybe, just maybe, a team of cosmically irradiated super scientists. It took some doing, but we’ll soon be living in a world where the entirety of the Marvel Universe (give or take a character or three) exists under one banner. Disney are going to need them it if they ever plan to top the visual and emotional spectacle of the Infinity Saga.