When “Spider-Man: Far from Home” by Marvel Studios premiered in cinemas early this July, it signaled the end of “Phase 3” for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film series. Said Phase also concluded the long-running general myth arc that was first established in the first “Avengers” film back in 2012. The over-a-decade-old franchise, which encompasses movies and series on both broadcast and digital TV, has followed a set of characters and a loose but defined storyline since 2008, but the question now is: “What next”? This weekend, on the hallowed room of Hall H in the 2019 San Diego Comic Con, Marvel Studios showed the immediate future: MCU Phase 4.
In one of the most anticipated panels for this year’s San Diego Comic Con, the Marvel event held July 20 at the usual spot – Hall H of the San Diego Convention Center – revealed what fans can expect for the next period in the franchise life of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Hollywood Reporter has it that no less than five MCU films have been announced with release dates, along with five series debuting on the Disney+ streaming service. At least two years, 2020 and 2021 now have their minimal coverage of Marvel related media releases.
First on the MCU Phase 4 movie schedule is “Black Widow,” directed by Cate Shortland and starring Scarlett Johansson, who has played the role since “Iron Man 2” in 2009. Despite the character apparently perishing in “Avengers: Endgame” this year, the movie would be possible if it were a sequel as hinted by the lead actress, though Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige has neither confirmed nor denied that. It is scheduled for May 2020. Next comes “The Eternals” in November with director Chloe Zhao and an ensemble cast led by Richard Madden (from “Game of Thrones”) and Angelina Jolie. Both these movies are currently filming.
The other three MCU-4 films are currently in pre-production: “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness,” and “Thor: Love and Thunder.” The latter two are sequels for MCU films from the “Infinity Saga” Phases 1-3, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Hemsworth reprising their titular roles. “Shang-Chi” is a new hero production starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina and veteran Hong Kong actor Tony Leung, under the direction of Destin Daniel Cretton. All three are scheduled to premiere in February, May and November of 2021.
To further sweeten the deal of subscribing to the exclusive-content Disney+ digital platform, five MCU series have been announced for it, the earliest arriving in August 2020. That would be “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” followed by “WandaVision,” “Loki” and “Hawkeye.” All feature characters from the films, to be reprised by their respective actors. That means Anthony Mackie (Sam/Falcon), Sebastian Stan (Bucky/Winter Soldier), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda/Scarlet Witch), Paul Bettany (Vision), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), and Jeremy Renner (Barton/Hawkeye). “Loki” takes off from the “Avengers: Endgame” scene of Loki escaping with the Tesseract/Space Infinity Stone, while the events of “WandaVision” will apparently lead into “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.”
But the reveals have only just begun. Also included in the Phase 4 package is “What If…?” also on Disney+. This one is an animated series based on Marvel Comics’ one-shot alternate-history anthology series that explore divergences in existing storylines and how they might play out. This show will also focus on alternate narratives that spring from changed circumstances in the canon MCU films, with all franchise actors and actresses cued to voice-reprise their characters. Lastly, a MCU version of “Blade” the vampire hunter is being developed, with Mahershala Ali proposing to take the role.
With all the announcements finally out of the way, Kevin Feige then chimes in that there was still more to come in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He teased some elements that he originally did not want to involve the franchise in, but can now do so thanks to the Disney acquisition of 20th Century Fox: integrating “Fantastic 4” and “X-Men” into the MCU timeline. It will probably take another Phase to get to that, but the wait will certainly be worth it for fans of the long-running franchise who have allowed the MCU to become part of their movie-watching lifetime.
Image from New Straits Times