The recent D23 Expo was a chance to unveil some new projects on the Disney slate. The audience were given first looks at family fare such as Maleficent and Cinderella, as well Marvel projects Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World. Not to mention zero updates on Star Wars: Episode VII.

Marvel President Kevin Feige talked to Empire Magazine about those still-unknown films slated for a 2016 and 2017 release, the expanded role two characters will have in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the status of the movie rights to a certain Marvel aquatic character.We know that Marvel’s long-term vision includes films planned out at least as far as 2021. The Phase Two releases are all lined up at this point: Thor 2 later this year, then Captain America 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 leading into the sequel to The Avengers in 2015We have speculated about what those 2016 and 2017 movies could be and what that might mean for the still-mysterious Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but when asked, Feige could not provide any hard news, saying:

“Next spring is when we really sit down and start to decide what we announce for 2016 and 2017.”

Note Feige’s wording there: start to decide WHAT to announce – this indicates that Marvel is outlining a lot of potential projecs, probably with a certain amount of pre-visualization completed or at least planned.

We do know that Namor the Sub-Mariner will not be among them. It was speculated that perhaps the movie rights to Namor had reverted back to Marvel, but Feige answered definitively: “That’s at Universal.”

One of the highlights of 2012’s The Avengers was Mark Ruffalo’s performance as Bruce Banner and his “green rage monster” alter ego, the Incredible Hulk. Feige knows that the revitalization of the Hulk after two underwhelming attempts to bring the character to the big screen, stating:

“I think we have something special with our Mark Ruffalo Banner, and we’d love to see where we could take his stories.”

This interestingly-worded remark may be a hint that one of those as-yet-unnamed releases could be a stand-alone Hulk movie – maybe even the rumored Planet Hulk project. Ruffalo’s scene-stealing performance (and his multiple picture contract) certainly makes the notion of a solo Hulk film viable, but either way he’ll definitely have even more to do in Age of Ultron.

According to Feige, Bruce Banner will play “a significant role” in the 2015 sequel.

And he’s not the only one. Feige said that one of the most underused character in The Avengers, Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton/Hawkeye, will have a much more expanded role in Age of Ultron. Said Feige:

“Joss has a great storyline in mind for him that shows a deeper side and further fleshes out our favourite archer.”

Renner is an engaging presence, but his character in the first Avengers was under-utilized, except as a walking plot point. Renner himself publicly groused about the portrayal of Hawkeye in the first go-round, so giving him a reason to be involved in the plot of the sequel will hopefully keep things from slipping out of control, story-wise.

Given the inclusion of the evil robot Ultron in The Avengers 2 and not in that film’s successor and Phase Three kick-off, Ant-Man (whose titular character invented said evil robot in the comics), many fans are still wondering if Ant-Man/Henry Pym (and maybe The Wasp) will be introduced in Age of Ultron as a way to usher in the next phase in a somewhat organic way.

However, Feige nixed that idea and reinforced just how much Marvel has on the stove at this point:

“There are three or four slots. We’ve got six or seven things going. We’ve got to choose which four will go. It’s a Battle Royale!”

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy will be the best early gauge of how much potential these more obscure properties (like Ant-Man or Dr. Strange) will have on the big screen. While the next two Thor and Captain America movies are taking a tonal shift from their predecessors, these are established characters, and as the roaring success of Iron Man 3 proves, the audiences are willing to follow their solo adventures.

Of course, knowing that these standalones are stops along the way to more team-up films certainly doesn’t hurt.

As ever, stay tuned for more news on Marvel’s plans for their Cinematic Universe.

Thor: The Dark World releases on November 8, 2013; Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens on April 4, 2014;  The Avengers: Age of Ultron will be in theaters on May 1, 2015; Ant-Man on November 6, 2015

Source: Empire [via Comic Book Movie]