While promoting the home video release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier nearly two years ago, directors Anthony and Joe Russo told me on the Screen Rant podcast that there's definitely room for multiple teams of Avengers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And that's exactly where we find ourselves in their followup film, Captain America: Civil War.
With more Avengers than ever in a single movie, even without Thor and Hulk in attendance, and the group split into two opposing teams, where does that leave Earth's Mightiest Heroes for the rest of Phase 3 after the Civil War conflict?
NOTE: The following contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War may not be as game-changing as its predecessor, The Winter Soldier, in terms of drastically altering the MCU, but on a personal level the impact is certainly felt. Where Hydra surfaced and took down S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first Captain America sequel from the Russos, the three-quel instead pits the heroes against each other, digging deep into the characters' pasts and relationships to tear them apart from the inside.
Before we discuss the future of the Avengers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, let's look at how Captain America: Civil War's story resolves compared to the source material and where it leaves the actors - since it's the realities of filmmaking (i.e. signing talent, schedules, etc.) that can make or break future movie possibilities.
Where 2006-07's Civil War crossover event in the comics written by Mark Millar was followed immediately by the death of Captain America and Tony Stark quickly enlisting Bucky Barnes to pick up the mantle and join the Avengers, the film adaptation doesn't take the consequences of its similar conflict that far. Instead, the film reshuffles its characters leaving the door open for all of them to come back further down the line in Phase 3, albeit some of them transformed.
While some viewers have commented that the stakes of the film weren't high enough as a result, the reality is that it's simply too early to kill off main characters in the Marvel movie universe. Captain America: Civil War is only the first time viewers meet Black Panther and Spider-Man for instance. The teams and heroes are still very young in their superhero careers - especially compared to the comics - so killing off key characters before the likes of Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel are even introduced would be killing off great opportunities for the future. Would Avengers 5 be better with Steve Rogers bouncing dialogue off of Carol Danvers, or would it be better without the former even being alive? Would it make sense and honor the comics to never have those two meet? Of course not. Do characters need to die for the sake of Marvel being able to prove they can kill off characters?
After the increasing success of Marvel's recent non-Avengers branded movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and now Captain America: Civil War - not to mention the warm welcoming responses to the introductions of Black Panther and Spider-Man - many of Marvel's top talent in front of the camera are thinking they should stick around for as long as possible. That's especially true for Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Robert Downey Jr. who have been unable to open blockbusters on their own outside of the MCU. The current Hollywood climate favors big branded franchises over actor names, and with Marvel they have a good thing going. How can they top it elsewhere? Evans changing his tune from one of "retiring" from acting to now riding "the wave" of success in the MCU speaks volumes - and he now wants to extend his contract.
We're bringing that up as a reminder that it is very much a possibility that towards the end of Phase 3 - when Avengers: Infinity War (or whatever it's re-titled to) opens in theaters in 2018-19 and beyond on Phases 4 and 5 - that the franchise's current top stars could still be around to continue leading future sequels to their own sub-franchises, or even serving as supporting characters in new properties and team-ups Marvel could launch in the future.
Now let's look at where we're at after the first film of Phase 3...
Post-Civil War Avengers
The Avengers have disassembled by the conclusion of Captain America: Civil War. The majority of the 12 superheroes involved in the film's largest battle have not signed the Sokovia Accords - or did and then operated against them. Even Tony Stark himself broke that agreement in the final act of the film when he flew to Siberia by himself to help (and then confront) Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes. But that's his little secret.
As for the other characters on team Iron Man (pro-registration):
- Black Widow betrayed them in helping Cap escape and that was reported to Secretary of State Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross by T'Challa.
- James "Rhodey" Rhodes is partially paralyzed and may not be able to operate the War Machine suit again.
- T'Challa isn't part of the Avengers team and doesn't traditionally involve himself in non-Wakandan affairs. And he's secretly housing Bucky...
From a legal standpoint, the active Avengers team, as officially sanctioned by the United Nations, is currently comprised only of Tony Stark, Vision, and Peter Parker. That's it. This opens the door for Stark to ideally recruit new Avengers throughout Phase 3, making the next few years a smart time time for Marvel to launch new character movies which is exactly what they are doing with Doctor Strange (later this year), Spider-Man: Homecoming (which features Tony Stark as a mentor in a supporting role), Black Panther (more on this shortly), Captain Marvel, and the Ant-Man and the Wasp (introducing another key female Avenger).
The Mighty Avengers
With Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) in hiding and S.H.I.E.L.D. still non-existent on the film front, this era of the MCU may be the closest we get anytime soon to something similar to the comics when Tony Stark actually served as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.. At the moment, by the end of Captain America: Civil War he's essentially forced to lead the Avengers going forward if there are any global catastrophes since everyone else in hiding - unless he calls in Rogers using the phone sent to him at the end of the movie.
For Marvel Comics readers, this should immediately scream "The Mighty Avengers" because that seems to be what Civil War has led to. In the source material, The Mighty Avengers were an officially licensed team led by Iron Man and Carol Danvers after the events of Civil War - the same Carol Danvers headlining Captain Marvel in 2019.
When Avengers 3 opens in theaters in 2018, it may only be Iron Man and the officially licensed Avengers serving as heroes at the beginning, and that means it's possible Carol Danvers appears onscreen there before her solo movie debut (I'd expect this anyway) in 2019, but as Ms. Marvel first. That would certainly match the hints from the Russos last week that Captain Marvel would appear in Avengers: Infinity War and would be a way to honor the character's evolution in the comics.
As for the unlicensed team...
While The Mighty Avengers served with the legal authority of the government in Marvel Comics as part of "The Initiative" after the events of Civil War - an idea some pro-registration heroes came up up with to ensure every state in the U.S. had its own superhero protection - there were other Avengers who considered themselves the real team who served in secret, led by Steve Rogers. Their comic book series was titled Secret Avengers though they did not refer to themselves as that, and interestingly enough, it's that version of the Captain America costume that was featured in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (the cool all-blue and silver strike suit).
In the MCU, basically everyone who helped Captain America in Civil War and who didn't sign the Sokovia Accords (or went against them at the end like Black Widow and Black Panther) have collectively become the Secret Avengers. From the mid-credits scene of Captain America: Civil War we learn that T'Challa has taken in Steve and Bucky, offering to help Bucky find a cure for his Hydra brainwashing problems and letting him stay there in cryosleep. It's not explicitly shown, but we can assume it's also Black Panther who helped Steve Rogers covertly get to and infiltrate The Raft to free Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Falcon, and Scarlet Witch from imprisonment - all of whom are "criminals" and must remain in hiding. Add in Black Widow to that mix and we have a full team of Secret Avengers under the command of Steve Rogers at the ready for when Tony Stark makes the call in a time of need.
It's possible Captain America and his team pop-up between now and Avengers: Infinity War, but if anything, it seems now likely that the Black Panther movie could feature Bucky and Steve. Much like Spider-Man: Homecoming will feature Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark (a Team Iron Man/Mighty Avengers movie, if you will), so to could Black Panther feature Team Cap members.
Many of the Marvel Studios movies going forward could be structured as similar team-up "event" movies to help ensure their marketability and appeal (and those toy sales!). Thor: Ragnarok co-stars the Hulk after all, and the Ant-Man sequel is titled Ant-Man and the Wasp. Perhaps the only traditional origin tale in Phase 3 will be Doctor Strange for its focus on expanding the MCU to alternate dimensions and the realm of magic. It makes one wonder if Captain Marvel will feature other Avengers or even the Guardians of the Galaxy...
All we can say for certain is that the Avengers have disassembled and there remains two separate teams and other solo heroes who all will be forced to regroup when Thanos comes to Earth...
And can someone please recruit the Defenders?
Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War finds Steve Rogers leading the newly formed team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. But after another incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps—one led by Steve Rogers and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark’s surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability.
Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War stars Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Emily VanCamp, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd and Frank Grillo, with William Hurt and Daniel Brühl.
Anthony & Joe Russo are directing with Kevin Feige producing. Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Patricia Whitcher, Nate Moore and Stan Lee are the executive producers. The screenplay is by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely.
Captain America: Civil War is now in theaters, and is followed by Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man: Homecoming – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; Avengers: Infinity War Part 2– May 3, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on July 12, 2019, and on May 1, July 10, and November 6 in 2020.
- Captain America: Civil War (2016) release date: May 06, 2016