I've spent an inordinate amount of time the past few months of my life doing what I do most: thinking. Now I can't say that I should have spent as much time thinking about what Marvel Studios are planning for the future, but I can't change it now nor get back the time I spent thinking while doing mundane things like showering, vacuuming, and running.
I've had, for a while now, a feeling that Kevin Feige, the MCU shepherd, has a much larger plan for the big picture of the MCU than what any of us have been thinking. I've been doing a lot of reading and research and speculating lately and all that has led me to do nothing other than continue to believe that Kevin Feige plans to grow the MCU beyond anything most of us comic nerds really ever thought possible.
The Avengers was a monumental success. It was a bold move to invest in it up front, beginning with the after credits scene in Iron Man. Once that was set in motion, the rest of the Phase 1 films were meticulously planned and strategically placed (and retconned in typical comic fashion) to cross-reference one another while building their own characters and setting up the epic crossover event we've all watched one or two times. For most fans The Avengers was the realization of a dream we had as kids, teens and even adults: a unified cinematic universe in which our heroes co-existed in full awareness and collaboration with one another. We thought we had climbed to the apex of fanboy happiness...well, we need to remember the guy who calls the shots is a fanboy too and, quite possibly, may have bigger dreams of much taller mountains he wants to climb.
We are now seeing the beginnings of Phase 2 and the films are still Avenger-centric. We got more Iron Man and we're getting more Captain America and Thor and we know that, in 2015, we will get another Avengers movie complete with Ultron, the human-hating robot that you really can't kill. But then, right in the midst of all this Avengers build up, we get Guardians of the Galaxy and it is clear that it doesn't fit in with what we have had and are going to get. One of these things is not like the other...Guardians is the first step in a new direction for Marvel Studios, one that will lead down a path that splits off many ways and gives us a more massive MCU than what we have now and one that is not always Avengers-centric.
Feige is a smart guy. He built the Marvel brand with the big names and the Avengers. Now he build the Marvel universe knowing people will flock to Marvel movies and he can always fall back on what has worked IF things go wrong and we know that there is going to be a third Avengers film, probably in 2018 but we can't be sure, not just yet at least, that that Avengers film is going to be THE big payoff that finally pits Earth's Mightiest Heroes against Thanos. That third Avengers film, it may not be just an Avengers film afterall. As mighty as they are, the Avengers cannot take down the Mad Titan by themselves.
They'll need some help...a lot of help and it may come from some of these other places that Feige is daring to take us now. Why introduce the Guardians of the Galaxy? To give us an new side of the Marvel universe and the Guardians aren't meant to be the only Cosmic players. I believe we'll see Nova, Adam Warlock, Captain Marvel, the Kree empire and more. I absolutely believe an Infinity-based mega-team up is going to happen at some point, combining the Avengers and some members of the Cosmic corners. But then what? It's 2018. Is Marvel Studios done making movies? We know that's not the case and that they already have plans up until 2021, which would be four phases of films. What comes next in a cinematic universe where the Avengers have protected Earth from Thanos?
Tony Stark can live forever but Robert Downey Jr. can't. Someone needs to replace him and, as of now, it makes no sense to kill off or reboot Iron Man. It does make sense to see if you can't find your next 10 year centerpiece and that's exactly what Feige has plans to do. 2 phases of Avengers-centric films gives Marvel Studios a lot of cache with the casual fan...enough to take a chance on GotG and Ant-Man and Doctor Strange. People have voiced their doubts about Guardians of the Galaxy on forums and boards and comments sections for a long time citing a talking raccoon and a list of unknown C or D-list heroes for a long time; now it's the most hyped CBM out there for next year. Ant-Man has been on the way forever and for years people have bahsed the Ant-Man film without knowing the premise, just that Ant-Man will fail because he has "dumb" powers. I'm willing to bet, will make a whole lot more than what most doubters and haters think. Those two films aside, the biggest risk Marvel Studios is making is with Doctor Strange. Feige wants Strange to be the cog that spins the wheels of Phases 3 and 4, the replacement centerpiece when Tony Stark steps out of the spotlight. If Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man misfire it's just one film. If Doctor Strange misfires...it's potentially the future of the MCU.
Feige isn't about to let that happen. Just as Guardians of the Galaxy started appearing on toy shelves and in Avengers: EMH you can bet that Doctor Strange will be popping up in Avengers Assemble and that his role in the Marvel comics will continue to expand. Feige will get feedback while force-feeding fans. Feige has game and he will not let the MCU derail. I'd offer up that he listens to the fans a whole lot more than we think he does and that he will be very in tune with what he has to do to make Doctor Strange a success. Why go Doctor Strange? Why take that chance to fail just for a solo film? Feige plans to open up the door to mystic Marvel and he is not meant to be the only mystic player. I believe we will see Doctor Strange lead a team of heroes against large scale mystical threats in the Defenders. And that means we need Defenders.
In rereading some older interviews with Feige and finally reading the Immortal Iron Fist, I've determined that somewhere, Iron Fist fits into Marvel film plans. Is Iron Fist any less likely to work than Iron Man was? Remember that, before the film was a huge hit, Iron Man was not an A-list hero. Sure he is an original Avenger but he was not the face of Marvel that he is now. Marvel has had tremendous luck during their ascent to the throne of CBMs...but chance favors the prepared mind and I'm guessing Kevin Feige is pretty damned prepared. The Immortal Iron Fist story line, even after it's adapted to fit the screen, will absolutely capture people's attention. Danny Rand can be made into a great big screen character and the historical perspective and the grandness of the Immortal Iron Fist story line will taste like Indiana Jones, The Mummy, The Last Dragon, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and 13 Assassins all got shoved into a pot pie. I really don't know when we will see Iron Fist but I can tell you I cannot wait. And if we get Doctor Strange and Iron Fist, and we've already had Ant-Man and the Hulk is already in the MCU, is it really that far-fetched that we might see a Defenders film? I really don't think it is.
These are big plans. I have no idea if a single one of these movies I speculated on will ever get made. Maybe in 2018 the Avengers beat Thanos and then we never see another Marvel Studios film again...or maybe the Avengers were the foot in the door to bring the impressive and expansive list of characters and teams to the screen, not in place of the Avengers but alongside of them. I know we will see the Avengers again and again; I just can't believe that they are the only team we will see. Not now, not after seeing how well and far down the road Kevin Feige has planned. The MCU is about to go through its own Big Bang and expand beyond what a lot of use could have ever dreamed of...except for Kevin Feige, the biggest fanboy nerd of us all.