Thursday, November 13, 2014

Marvel's Phase 3 Road Map: How the Next Nine Films Might Play Out

As Marvel's Phase 2 comes to a close next year, the studio will begin Phase 3, it's most ambitious yet, with Captain America: Civil War before giving the fans an epic denouement with Avengers: Infinity War, Part 2. After the jump, I'll take a look at how Phase 3 might just shape up.

Of course, I'm just a fan, like all of you and I have never had one bit of inside information about a film, so what follows is just speculative fun on my part, probably fueled, in part, by things I'd like to see unfold on screen rather than what's likely to actually happen.

A look at how Phase 3 might turn out has to start by speculating about the fallout from Avengers: Age of Ultron. It's been widely reported that the events of the film will be devastating, both to Earth and to the Avengers. Devin Faraci of Badass Digest has had his finger on the pulse of things for quite some time now and has frequently spoken about the idea that Steve Rogers will be putting together a new team of Avengers in the wake of the battle with Ultron. It's clear that the differences between Rogers and Tony Stark that will come to a head in Captain America: Civil War have their beginnings in Avengers: Age of Ultron, as the leaked clip below shows

And that clip sets up the basis for the rift between the two that will lead to the Civil War. Faraci has mentioned that Cap's new team might include newbies Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and the Vision, along with his buddy Sam Wilson, Stark's buddy, James Rhodes, and possibly the Black Widow. That list has changed a couple of times and may yet again, but what's more interesting are the names not on the list.

We've seen plenty from Avengers: Age of Ultron to cue us in that Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner won't be so in control this time around. While it seems that early on he's deeply affected by the mind-bending of Wanda Maximoff, what isn't clear is if/when he shakes it off. It's long been the rumor that the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron would see the Hulk sent off planet, whether intentional or not, and though it's been denied over and over again, it still seems to make a lot of sense and be a very convenient way to explain why we almost certainly won't be seeing Hulk choosing sides in the Civil War. I know that James Gunn has denied a Planet Hulk movie and a even a Guardians of the Galaxy team-up, I believe him 100%. It's important to remember that the only part that was actually reported as "fact" was the launching of Banner/Hulk into space; the rest of it was just speculation built upon speculation. Needless to say, there are plenty of ways for Banner to get home, if he does end up in space, that do not involve the Guardians of the Galaxy, but I truly do not expect to see Banner involved in Captain America: Civil War.

It's also highly unlikely that we'll see Thor involved in the events of a Midgardian Civil War, likely because he'll have his hands full dealing with his own kingdom. We know from the clip above that Thor leaves the Avengers to work on his own after their encounter with the Scarlet Witch. It's possible that whatever dark vision Wanda puts into Thor's mind sets him on the path back to Asgard. My initial response is that Thor's vision may reveal Loki's treachery to him and while I think he'll obviously return and help the Avengers defeat Ultron, I won't be surprised to see Avengers: Age of Ultron end with Thor sitting on the throne in Asgard, having banished Loki. We know we'll see Asgard, or at least Asgardians in Avengers: Age of Ultron, as Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba have recently been revealed as cast members, so it's certainly not unreasonable to speculate about Thor being off-planet for a while during that film and why he will likely be absent during the events of Captain America: Civil War.

While Ant-Man is sandwiched in between Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War, it's not entirely clear what direct impact, if any, it'll have on the ideological clash between Stark and Rogers. It will certainly give the MCU another hero with an entirely different set of powers from what we've seen until now and Scott Lang will almost certainly be forced to take a side at some point and it's possible that his mentor, Hank Pym, will be involved on some level as well. Depending on the stability of their relationship at the conclusion of Ant-Man, it's possible that the two men could find themselves on opposite sides of the Civil War.

I've begun to believe that, in one sense, Dr. Henry Pym will be partially responsible for the creation of Ultron. A lot of attention has been paid lately to the idea that Ultron is a computer program found in the rubble of New York following the Chitauri invasion. While a lot of people are choosing to read that as Ultron being an alien computer program, I'm reading it differently. It's possible that Tony Stark and crew discover an old, abandoned SSR/S.H.I.E.L.D. facility that Pym used to work in and uncover a very primitive version of the Ultron program that Pym designed. A peacekeeping computer program is just the sort of thing Pym would design and not the Chitauri. Stark is just the guy to update it and upload it into his suits, giving the Iron Legion drones that we know will be present in the beginning of Avengers: Age of Ultron. I think this is a very clever way to connect Pym, and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s past, to the larger picture of the MCU.

By the time Captain America: Civil War begins, lines will have already been drawn in the sand and it's possible that some of the exposition for this film will take place during Avengers: Age of Ultron, allowing for the film to start off with the audience already informed of the rift, getting into the action sooner rather than later.

From what we can tell, this Civil War, unlike it's comic book counterpart, is not going to be about secret identities, which just don't exist in the MCU, but about control. With the number of "gifted" individuals on Earth increasing, who is "in charge." The wheels set in motion by Project: Insight in Captain America: The Winter Soldier will escalate here and the revelation that Bucky, while under mind-control, killed Stark's parents will be the nudge Stark needs to go after "unregistered" supers. While Stark won't be looking to use Hellicarriers to blow up potential super-powered beings, it's exceedingly clear that he has no problem identifying them and likely that he's going to be pushing to have some sort of oversight on them and their activities.

It's interesting to speculate a bit further here on the potential involvement of Hank Pym in all this. Given we know a portion of Ant-Man takes place in the past with a young Pym, Howard Stark and Alexander Pierce, it's fair to ponder whether or not Pym might have had a hand in developing Project: Insight with Zola and, if so, that he might be helping out the son of a man he knew from his younger days.

At any rate, this film is going to center on a battle of heroes and, at some point, someone is going to go too far and become the villain. In the comics, the death of Bill Foster was the spark that ignited the all out war and it's fair to expect something like that might happen in this film as well, forcing Rogers team of heroes, who will most likely be operating as Secret Avengers, to come out and battle Stark and (this is interesting) whatever people make up his team.

Just who is left to make up Stark's team in Captain America: Civil War. If we go by the heroes that have already been established and accept the possibility that Banner and Thor will NOT be present, that leaves Stark with few options. You'd hope, with Ultron behind him, he'd recognize the danger of an A.I. team of drones, so who is there? Hawkeye and Lang? Hill and Fury? We know T'Challa will be a big part of this film, but will he be on Stark's team? Even so, it's certainly not enough to take on the team Rogers will have assembled. It's worth wondering just how big this film is going to be and if we won't see the introduction of several other characters ahead of their own films, including Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel, and the potential inclusion of characters like Luke Cage and Danny Rand crossing over from Netfilx. All those characters, with the exception of Captain Marvel, were either non-players or anti-Registration anyway And what about the Winter Soldier? Will he be in play during the film, or as it was in the comics, will he be in the background, revealing himself only after the events of the Civil War have concluded? Could we see Stark assemble a team of Thunderbolts to battle the anti-Registration heroes?

Of course as all this is happening, the true villain of the film will be working in the background. Frank Grillo's Crossbones will be back in this film and while he's a great villain, he won't be working alone. Will this film see the return of the Red Skull? Will Doctor Faustus be making an appearance and doing some work on Emily Van Camp's Agent 13? Could we see Thomas Kretschmann's Baron von Strucker come back and push some buttons? Whatever the case, there will be an actual villain in this film and, as of now, I still expect this one to end with Steve Rogers on a slab, temporarily, and with Bucky leaving the shadows to take up the shield. It's also quite possible that, as a result of the death of Rogers, Tony Stark hits the bottle or otherwise, as a result of his cumulative failures, takes himself out of the hero game for some time. Keeping track, this removes 4 original Avengers from the fray and they are likely to stay out until Thanos brings the Infinity War to Earth in Avengers: Infinity War, Part 2. This sort of thinking lines up nicely with the rumors that Faraci and others have heard that the original Avengers will be absent from Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1 and that the film will be a little more Cosmic-based.

Keep in mind that this film is scheduled to be shot beginning in April of 2015, just in time for a post-credit scene to Avengers: Age of Ultron to be shot, so I'm going to be paying attention to the additional casting for this film with the idea that some of them may show up in a stinger similar how Baron von Strucker appeared in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Whether or not we see the Sorcerer Supreme on screen in Captain America: Civil War, we know for sure that we'll see Benedict Cumberbatch taking us into the realm of mysticism on November 4, 2016 when Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange hits theaters. The plot of this film is tough to crack, especially absent a synopsis, because it's been frequently relayed that this will not be an origin story and it's the first film to take place in the aftermath of the Superhero Civil War. That's just fine because I'm not sure Strange will have a huge role, if any, in the Civil War as he mostly stayed out of it in the comics, and I don't expect this to be a traditional superhero movie because Strange is not a traditional superhero.

We know that Kevin Feige has had a great deal to say about how the magical, mystical world that Doctor Strange inhabits will work in the MCU. When the Doctor Strange movie was officially announced on October 28th, Feige told the crowd that in the supernatural in the MCU "involves everything from quantum mechanics to string theory. The idea of this film is to open up a whole new corner of the cinematic universe. We want to enter, through Strange, the world of parallel dimensions." That's not the first time we've heard Feige talk about making magic less mystical and more scientific. In an interview with Devin Faraci in March, Feige had similar things to say when asked how Marvel Stuidos was going to introduce magic into their very science-based world: "Are you watching the Cosmos series?" asked Feige. "That’s magic, [the quantum physics]. It’s unbelievable. If somebody knew how to tap into that stuff, what’s the difference between that and magic?" In an interview with Screen Rant, Feige brought up The Cosmos once more as a way to explain Strange's abilities., "I just watched the Neil deGrasse Tyson ‘Cosmos’ series, which is amazing, and which may as well be an acid trip. It is mind-bending and it’s all based in physics and based in quantum mechanics. We’re going to play a lot with the notion of that as an explanation for how the sorcerers do what they do." So while it seems that Doctor Strange's powers might be similar than what we are used to, there will be an explanation for them rooted in science. Strange will, it seems, be able to manipulate the laws of Physics to create "magic" and visit parallel dimensions.

The original script for Doctor Strange was an origin story and was rumored to feature classic Strange baddies Baron Mordo and Dormammu, but that script is gone and will be replaced by Jon Spaihts' screenplay. While it's likely we'll see some sort of explanation of how Strange became a sorcerer, we really don't know what role, if any, Mordo and Dormammu will play in this film, though it's hard to imagine they won't show up. At this point, given the proximity of the Infinity War and the large role Strange will most certainly play in it, it's fair to speculate on whether or not we might also come across the villainous Mephisto (a big player in the Infinity Gauntlet comic) during the course of the film and if Doctor Strange's magical dealings and cross-dimensional voyages don't bring him into contact with either another Infinity Stone or Adam Warlock, another magical being who is sure to be involved in the fight against Thanos.

One thing is for certain about this film: Benedict Cumberbatch will have a busy few years filling the role of Stephen Strange because while he may sit out the Civil War, Earth's Sorcerer Supreme will be on the front line of the battle against Thanos.

If we don't meet Adam Warlock in Doctor Strange, we have to meet him in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel...right? I just feel so certain that James Gunn and Kevin Feige know how important the character is as a foil to Thanos and the repeated teasing of his existence in the MCU in Thor: The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy makes him seem like a near certainty. His ties to the Soul Gem, one of the Infinity Stones yet to surface in the MCU, make him a key player in helping defeat Thanos.

With the film over two and a half years away, it's unsurprising that we know so little about it, though we do know that James Gunn has plenty of ideas and that the film is likely to bring Thanos, Nebula and Yondu and his Ravagers back as well as adding at least one new member to Quill's team of Guardians. Gunn has said he'd also like to introduce some more females to the cast, though he says Carol Danvers is NOT one of them. Those 2 comments really leave a lot of room for interpretation as there are several members of the Guardians that weren't in the first film, some of which were females. There's almost no point in guessing at just which characters will be added, but aside from Adam Warlock, I'd love to see characters such as Mantis, Phyla-Vell and Moondragon added to the mix and I think anyone that's been here before knows I'd also love to see Richard Rider join the MCU, though the fact that the Nova Corps aren't powered by the Nova Force makes his inclusion as a Cosmic top dog a lot less likely. James Gunn has also mentioned his love for the original 1969 Guardians team which leaves the door open for appearances by Vance Astro or Starhawk, two beings who have done quite a bit of time traveling and would make for great additions plus give a convenient intro for the Time Stone, one of the missing Infinity Stones in the MCU.

While we can expect Thanos to be in the film, it's likely he'll be in the background again, leaving the true antagonist of the film up in the air. While I've gone over this in my mind a million times, Gunn's freedom to drastically alter the characters' origins and importance makes it really hard to try to guess what he has up his sleeve. If Warlock is in the film, The Church of Universal Truth makes for a very interesting enemy, one that would fit Gunn's sensibilities quite well. It's also possible that the Guardians might find themselves up against the entirety of the Kree Empire after having wiped out one of their elite Accusers in the first film. Whatever the case, I certainly expect Gunn's sequel to vastly expand the Cosmic side of the MCU and continue to set in motion the events of the Infinity War. When this film ends, it might end with Quill's team being very aware of Thanos' ultimate game plan and the next time we see them should be in Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1 trying to stop Thanos' grand scheme.

As stated above, the event of Avengers: Age of Ultron might lead Thor back to Asgard. Whether it's as the film starts or during the course of it, I fully expect we will FINALLY see King Thor in this film, but that his reign will be short and see the destruction of Asgard. Despite the large number of fans out there that expect this film to be about Thor's clone on Earth, Christopher Yost, co-writer of Thor: Ragnarok, has explicitly stated via his Twitter that "Raganarok is the end of all things", which means we are going to see the mythological Norse apocalypse and a lot of death.

While many are hoping to see Loki's redemption in this film, it's almost certain that he will enter into a partnership with Surtur that will see the destruction of Asgard. I know a lot of people want Thanos to jump into this film, but there's really no reason for him to do so. From his point of view, he can watch as Asgard burns and then send a crew to pick up the valuable pieces in Odin's vault.

I expect this film to end with Thor, and a lot of other Asgardians, in Hel and Loki, who still to answer to Thanos for his failures, either dead or indentured to the Mad Titan. Certainly we'll see the Odinson work a deal to escape Hel in time to rejoin the Avengers for Avengers: Infinity War, Part 2, but the events of this film should provide enough of a distraction to keep him from Part 1.

When Kevin Feige broke the news that a Black Panther film would hit theaters November 3, 2017, he made me, and thousands of other fans, very happy. It seems that we'll be officially introduced to Wakanda in Avengers: Age of Ultron as Ultron and Ulysses Klaw, played by Andy Serkis, work together to get Wakandan Vibranium, to cover Ultron in his final form. If I'm reading the tea leaves correctly, T'Challa will not be King of Wakanda during the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and possibly not even as Black Panther begins, as Kevin Feige said, "He’s a bit of a prince, he may even become a bit of a king, but it’s all about how this isolationist country meets the world. Maybe it goes well, maybe it doesn’t." 

Fans of the Black Panther know that, in the comics, Klaw kills T'Challa's father, T'Chaka, leaving a young T'Challa on the throne. It's likely that T'Challa's origin as Wakandan King will be a little different here and that he might even be king during Avengers: Age of Ulton, but what's important is that it seems Marvel Studios is NOT going to change the core characteristics of T'Challa and that's ultimately all that matters. Feige has set up this film as a Wakanda meets world film and the comics have gotten a lot of mileage out of T'Challa's willingness to go against Wakandan tradition and interact with the outside world. I'm not sure that Klaw is the antagonist of this film or not, but a huge part of me hopes not because I'd love for this to be the film in which Marvel introduces Namor. T'Challa and Namor have a long, complicated and incredibly interesting relationship, but introducing Wakanda and Atlantis in the same film might prove to much.

It's more likely that we'll see something along the lines of T'Challa leaving Wakanda to become involved in a political situation elsewhere, evoking passionate emotions from the Wakandan elders and stirring up trouble at home. Any number of Wakanda's enemies could try to take advantage of the absence of its king, forcing T'Challa to return home to a fractured house. While we'll see Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa long before this film, it's in this film that I hope we get a full characterization of the kind of man T'Challa is and that mainstream audiences are given the opportunity to appreciate the complexities of the Wakandan King.

6 months after we get an entirely Earth-bound film in Black Panther, we'll head back to the Cosmos for Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1. It's likely that this is the Thanos-centric film Kevin Feige has referenced in the past and that it'll will show us Thanos and his minions (his recent Black Order would make for an incredibly bad ass group) collecting the remaining Infinity Stones and assembling the Gauntlet. We'll likely see Peter Quill, his Guardians of the Galaxy, including Adam Warlock, and some other Cosmic heavy weights go up against Thanos and take a bad beating. Part of me wonders if that might not take the team, or part of it, to Earth in search of an ancient race, engineered by the Kree, powerful enough to help stop Thanos: the Inhumans. Of course, they might also meet up with Tony Stark when they get there and begin the reassembling of the original Avengers.

It's not clear when we'll first see Carol Danvers, much less when or how she'll become endowed with the powers that make her Captain Marvel, but it's clear that her inclusion among Earth's Mightiest Heroes will be important in trying to defeat the omnipotent, omnipresent Gauntlet-weilding Mad Titan. One of Marvel's most powerful characters with a traditional set of "super" powers, the direction of the Captain Marvel solo film will be very interesting. As Kevin Feige said, "Her adventures are very earthbound, but her powers are based in the cosmic realm." Will we see an adventure with Carol on Earth given all that's going on in space? Perhaps, like in the comics, Carol will be in charge of a group of Earthbound Avengers and this film will be about her leading them, maybe Bucky as the new Captain America will join her for the ride. Perhaps this film will see her more deeply explore her origins by heading into space and meeting up with the Kree. This one is a LONG way off, but it's very exciting to see Carol enter the fray.

I'm very curious because it's becoming increasingly obvious that while we won't get an Inhumans film until 2018, we're going to be introduced to the Inhumans well before that. The seeds seem to be sown in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Kevin Feige has said we'll be getting Inhuman Easter Eggs sooner than we think.

Feige has said that this film will "introduce dozens of characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe." He also said that this film will "refine what that universe (The MCU) is about."
This film seems to be the transition point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, bridging what came before with what comes next. While I expect the Inhuman Royal Family to play a large role in the Infinity War, it also seems that Marvel plans to use this diverse group of characters to move into Phase 4 and beyond.

While I feel this film will have a self-contained story and is likely to prominently feature the relationship between Black Bolt and Maximus at the center of its plot, it's also likely that as it ends, the Inhuman Royal Family will have to face the idea of revealing themselves to the world in order to help save it.

This is obviously the culmination of what will have been 11 years and 21 movies worth of collaborative effort for Marvel Studios. Expect it to be epic and glorious on a scale that we've never seen. Steve Rogers, Hulk, Thor and Iron Man will be back, leading a massive team of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and will join up with Peter Quill and his Guardians of the Galaxy. We could see characters from all parts of the MCU show up to help defend Earth and to take on Thanos in space. While much of the Infinity War will be Cosmic, Thanos will certainly head to Earth at some point. What takes him there in the MCU isn't important. How the Earth responds will be.

Whatever heroes and possibly some villains are left in the galaxy will be joining forces to stop someone they can't stop. I hope at some point early in this film, or very late in Part 1, some sort of Cosmic entity will make contact with Doctor Strange and alert him to the threat of Thanos. I hope many parts of Jim Starlin's Infinity Gauntlet make it directly from page to screen, in fact. I hope to see Chris Evans' Captain America, reborn somehow, stand toe-to-toe with the Titan and deliver his famous line:

I know many of the characters will be different, but Marvel has shown they are happy to replace them to keep key story elements alive. In truth, whatever heroes and villains assemble, it won't be enough as a fully-empowered Thanos will be far too powerful. We know that, in the end, Thanos will lose, undone, as always, by himself.

What's truly interesting, and so far off that we can't even imagine, is what the heroes will do when Thanos is defeated. Will Warlock take the Gauntlet? Will some of the heroes, in secret, divide the Stones among them for protection, forming the MCU version of the Illuminati?

Certainly this film doesn't mark the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; Kevin Feige has it planned through at least 2028 even now. Just as The Avengers ended with the world aware of alien threats, Avengers: Infinity War will end with the heroes of the universe aware that such power exists that could wipe them from existence at any moment and aware of an entire universe full of heroes and villains and god-like beings. How will the universe respond to a group of Earthbound heroes strong enough to venture into space and take on Cosmic entities? Whatever the case, the possibilities for Phase 4 and beyond are endless, but you have to wonder how Marvel tops the Infinity War or if that's even possible. Could we see a Kree-Skrull War? Could Kang the Conqueror come into play? What about the next version of the Avengers? Certainly Marvel Studios has a plan and, as usual, it's much grander than anything we can imagine.