1. The Constant Seems to Be Change
It certainly seems that each of the 3 core Avengers that has a Phase 2 film will undergo some big changes. Iron Man 3 set the template: not only was Tony Stark's home destroyed, he also done blowed up all of his suits and had the shrapnel and arc reactor removed from his chest.
Despite all the changes, however, we were assured, as Stark left the main narrative, that despite all those changes, he is Iron Man. And certainly, when we see him again in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, suit or no suit to begin with, we now know just who Tony Stark is without the suit: a hero.
In Thor: The Dark World we saw the invasion and partial destruction of Asgard. By the end of the film, Thor's mother is dead and Thor believes Loki has joined her in the afterlife. In reality Odin is MIA at best and Loki, impersonating the All-Father, sits upon the throne of Asgard while Thor has left to protect Midgard and be with Jane Foster.
Despite being even further away, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is a little bit easier to plug into this category.
It's been reported that the chase scene embedded above involves Nick Fury, commander of S.H.I.E.L.D., on the run from authorities. We know that this movie is going to take Cap, Black Widow and Sam Wilson/The Falcon, and turn the tables on them. The organization they work for, as it turns out, isn't all it seems to be. Is it the fallout from the way Fury dealt with the Council in The Avengers? It's been said that this movie is the most direct link to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Cap is already "the man out of time." He, and Black Widow for that matter, have nowhere else to turn. What happens to them when the organization they work for turns on them? Where do they have to turn?
In my head this is one of the themes of Phase 2 and, at the end, it leaves at least 3 of our Avengers (Stark, Cap, and Widow) without a "home" and with a reason to head to Stark/Avengers Tower...good thing Tony was making all those improvements:
Change remains theme in another way. Iron Man 3 let us know that Marvel Studios won't be afraid to take chances reshaping characters, story arcs and origins. Their controversial take on the Mandarin was received poorly by fans who mostly ignored the changes made to the Extremis story. We know that they will alter the origins of the villainous Ultron in the Avengers sequel by making Tony Stark, and not Hank Pym, responsible for creating him. While a good deal of fans have been frustrated with these changes, it serves to keep us on our toes. Those of us who are well-read in the comics can't just assume that the stories we know are going to be the stories we see on screen.
2. There Will Be New Blood
We know that the Phase 2 movies and the Avengers sequel will bring back the core members: Cap, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hulk, Hawkeye and Nick Fury; however, Phase 2 is also going to to be about adding to the roster with Agent 13, Falcon, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver all confirmed to be added to the mix. Fans of the comics also know that the Winter Soldier, though initially a bad guy, is not a bad guy. Feige and Whedon have commented on how part of the fun of the Avengers is being able to shuffle the roster; with the names they are adding, they certainly will have that option.
Rumors also have circulated that longtime comic book Avenger, the Vision, may help save the day in Avengers: Age of Ultron and they may not be entirely unfounded. The personality of J.A.R.V.I.S. has evolved quite a bit over the 4 films in which we've see him and A.I. technology is certainly going to be a central theme of Age of Ultron so it isn't a stretch to think that, like they are with Ultron, they might change the origin of the Vision and have J.A.R.V.I.S. morph into the synthezoid Avenger.
With the addition of all these characters, Stark Tower might start to get a little cramped. Good thing the contracts of some of these guys are running out!
We also get a host of new baddies to run up against our Avengers. We already met, and presumably saw the last of, Aldrich Killian and over the course of the next two movies we will meet Malekith, Kurse, Baron Strucker, Crossbones and Batroc: some of those boys aren't just fodder. Given those villains and the fact that we know the Winter Solider and the mutant Maximoff twins will start off giving our heroes a hard time, it's safe to assume their will be plenty of action in Phase 2.
3. Going Cosmic
The mid-credits scene in the Avengers may have been the biggest game-changer of any one scene in the MCU: it opened the doors to the entire Cosmic corner and introduced Thanos, the ultimate nemesis of the Avengers and the rest of the Marvel Universe. We learned, in that quick scene, that it won't be long before Thanos turns his attention to Earth and when he comes, he will come to destroy it.
Thanos isn't headed to Earth just yet, however. He's going to play a huge role in what will be Marvel's riskiest film to date: Guardians of the Galaxy. Guardians of the Galaxy will see Marvel Studios go away from it's tried and true strategy of making movies out of bigger name heroes. Sure Iron Man was not an A-lister before the first film, but a whole lot more people recognized the name than Guardians of the Galaxy. This film, which has generated substantial buzz through the footage shown at SDCC, could be a huge step for Marvel in expanding their cinematic universe if it is successful; however, if it stumbles, it could put a hitch in the giddy-up and force Marvel to re-think it's future plans.
Chances are very good that this film will not stumble but, in fact, be extremely successful. The combination of craftmanship of director James Gunn, the charisma of Chris Pratt who is playing the lead role of Peter Quill/Star-Lord, and the simple fact that, as of now, the Marvel brand is solid gold should add up to movie that has a big opening weekend and does even better with word-of-mouth recommendations. If so, be prepared for the further invasion of Cosmic characters like Captain Marvel, Nova and the Inhumans in Phases 3 and 4 which will run through 2021.
4. The Collector Will Be Watching (and Collecting)
The current worst kept secret in the MCU is that Taneleer Tivan, one of the Elders of the Universe, who will be in Guardians of the Galaxy is also going to pop up in Thor: The Dark World. Tivan, also known as the Collector, is basically immortal and spends his time collecting species to preserve them ahead of large-scale extinction type events that he forsees. One such event in the comics was the invasion of Asgard by the Lord of Muspelheim, Sutur, the fire-demon. Don't be surprised if this turns out to be the scene that Benicio Del Toro, the actor who signed a multi-picture deal to portray Tivan, filmed for the Thor sequel.
The Collector is not in the MCU just to tell Asgard they have a fire-demon problem, however. He is also a huge part of two stories which dealt with two of the great Cosmic threats in the MCU: Thanos, the Mad Titan and Korvac, a human from the future who traveled through time and wreaked havoc on Earth. It is his connection to Korvac that has me the most interested. After forseeing the threat of Korvac, Tivan sends his daughter, Carina, to spy on Korvac. This is really the only important role Carina has ever played in the comics; therefore, it is interesting that she will most likely be in Guardians of the Galaxy and likely be portrayed by actress Ophelia Lovibond. Will Korvac eventually find his way into the MCU? If so one of the great Marvel Comics cross-over events will unfold on the big screen and really make audiences question their views on exactly what makes someone a hero. The Collector's biggest role in the MCU may just be introducing us to his daughter.
5. It Ends With Ultron
When Joss Whedon stepped on stage this past July at SDCC and showed the footage embedded below, nerds like me messed themselves. I had, for some time, assumed that Ultron was the clear choice for Whedon in the Avengers sequel, despite the introduction of Thanos. Thanos is too big a threat for the current Avengers to handle alone. Honestly the MCU needs to be further developed and have more characters added to it before a team of heroes capable of defeating Thanos can be assembled. This is not a negative by any means. It's actually great news because that means we get more films in the MCU and more time to get to meet more of the great characters still on the bench.
Ultron is the perfect threat at the perfect time for the Avengers sequel; while the first film allowed each member of the team to play to their strengths, Ultron will exploit their weaknesses, giving Whedon a chance to deconstruct the members of the team and challenge them in ways none of them could have imagined. The film will likely see the death of at least one team member and though Ultron will ultimately be defeated it will come at quite the expense to the Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes will be shown to be weak and fallible. They will be exposed...and it will come at the hands of the creation of their leader, Tony Stark. While the film will end with Ultron's bodily demise, his consciousness will survive, and I doubt we see the happy-happy-joy-joy ending of Avengers.
Phase 1 put all of our protagonists in a bad spot and then showed us how they fought their way out to become heroes. Phase 2 seems to be about taking those heroes and turning them on their heads. Avengers: Age of Ultron will likely be the ultimate example of that. After each hero is brought low in his individual film, we will likely see the whole team brought down by the work of one of their own.