[Update: The reports were right: Inhumans movie is dead and it's now becoming an ABC-IMAX partnership series.]
Clark Gregg is hoping that his Marvel Cinematic Universe character, the dead-but-not agent-now-director Phil Coulson, of the it-still-exists S.H.I.E.L.D. organization will return to the big screen. After being killed off in Joss Whedon's Avengers for the plot to unite Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Coulson returned from the dead to star in ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., helping launch Marvel TV's own separate universe where viewers are witnessing the introduction and unraveling of the mysterious lore of the Inhumans.
Introducing the Inhumans to the MCU via TV first was a big step for the franchise since it represented the first time the TV side takes the lead on setting up a major segment of the universe that the movies would expand upon later. But just like actor Vin Diesel awaits for a "dope" Inhumans script and director choice, so to will Clark Gregg have to wait for the Inhumans to even exist on the film side for his ABC television show to connect with it, because the whole thing sounds like it's dead in the water.
The news broke last week when Disney and Marvel Studios officially removed Inhumans from its release slate where it was previously scheduled for July 12, 2019. It wasn't too much of a surprise considering that Disney had recently claimed the following weekend, July 19, 2019, for Indiana Jones 5 so Inhumans was going to move regardless. That's why a week prior to the Inhumans being undated, Marvel Studios president of production let slip that Inhumans was going to be delayed during an interview promoting Captain America: Civil War. He did make sure to point out however, that it's a matter of "when" and not if, implying that Inhumans is simply coming later. That doesn't seem to be the case though.
Since October 2015 a few publications have had it on good authority from sources within Marvel that Inhumans was on the way out, that it was "deprioritized" at Marvel. Bleeding Cool specifically called out that Inhumans would be delayed, and eventually removed, and both of these things came true. They learned this from conversations at New York Comic-Con, from what we can assume are sources within Marvel's New York HQ (where the Marvel TV and publishing divisions are located) and that's the most telling revelation of all because it fits the larger narrative of a growing divide between Marvel Studios and the rest of Marvel.
Of course, at the time, outlets including Hitfix, HH, and BMD, posted obligatory denials from studio reps and "inside sources" who were all playing the public relations game. As it turns though, Bleeding Cool was right despite the rampant doubters and the Inhumans movie was shuffled and eventually removed the schedule. And to be clear, the movie wasn't rescheduled or moved to one of Marvel's other already-claimed three dates in 2020. It was completely taken off the schedule, and done so at a time to minimize attention to it (late Friday, during Civil War buzz). That's a sign of killing the project, especially since it's happening now, over three and a half years before it was set to release. This seemingly makes it clear that Inhumans is not currently part of the plans. Inhumans, as of this moment in time, is dead.
Bleeding Cool and HH both reported as much in updates this week despite HH reporting the opposite in October and here's why...
Why Was Inhumans Announced In The First Place?
Inhumans was announced and then unannounced due to the same reasons: politics. Marvel HQ in New York, where the publishing and TV divisions are located, and their leader Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter were reportedly responsible for pushing for Inhumans to be added to the movie slate in the first place, and Marvel Studios president of production Kevin Feige, agreed in exchange for him being allowed to add Captain Marvel to the slate as well. The publishing side has been pushing Inhumans hard in recent years to service them as a quasi-replacement for the X-Men since a rival studios owns those film rights. That's why Fantastic Four were canceled, why they and the X-Men were removed from Marvel licensing and encyclopedias and the 75th anniversary cover, etc. The "conspiracy" was real. Despite all attempts though, the Inhumans just aren't as popular as Marvel's mutants though.
Since that time, when the original Phase 3 schedule was unveiled in October 2014, the Marvel landscape has changed. And we're not just talking about Spider-Man: Homecoming and Ant-Man and the Wasp being added with 2017 and 2018 release dates, respectively, forcing some shifts in the larger plan. But during that time as well, Feige was able to take full control of the film side with Disney's backing, pushing Ike out of the movie mix entirely. Ike now runs TV and publishing separate from Marvel Studios, and that growing divided between the teams is now bigger than ever.
Ike and Feige had reportedly been feuding for quite some time, which had affected the line-up of movies unveiled in October 2014 (one that included Inhumans). Just prior to Marvel's October 2014 event to announce their plans, Variety - who had the scoop on Robert Downey Jr. re-signing for Captain America: Civil War - reported that the deal almost didn't happen, and it was because Ike didn't want to pay Robert Downey Jr. more money, even ordering writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely to write Iron Man out of the Captain America 3 script. It was Feige who kept working on negotiating and made it happen though. That of course, eventually led the the Marvel Studios Creative Committee being dismantled less than a year later and Ike being pushed out of Marvel Studios, where Feige is now in fully charge. Hence, happier actors who all are now willing to re-sign for more movies. Note the changed tunes from Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr..
No Longer A Shared Universe?
While Feige having full autonomy over the film franchise he's carefully managed, this does presents a big problem for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole since the continuity issues are growing in size and scope within the shared universe. How can Captain America: Civil War tell a story about controlling/registering enhanced vigilantes, when a pile of them are secretly serving within a U.S. President-approved agency which can seemingly travel and operate anywhere around the world without UN approval and using enhanced Inhumans as field operatives?
Similarly, how can an enhanced vigilante wearing bright a red and blue costume (looking at you, Spidey) earn headlines and celebrity status across YouTube and social media without the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. intervening? That same argument can of course be applied to the Defenders universe as it expands on Netflix and introduces more super-powered heroes. It's either a shared universe or it's not, and if the Inhumans movie is really as dead as everyone claiming to be in the know says it is, then it's not... but it's pretending to be.
We already know the Marvel movie filmmakers weren't paying attention to the happenings on the TV side. Peyton Reed, James Gunn, Anthony and Joe Russo, etc., all don't watch and don't know what's happening on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (some aren't even caught up on Daredevil) - which means to them and their stories, they literally aren't even relevant.
And the fear is that when Thanos comes to pay a visit to Earth, not all of Earth's heroes will be stepping up. That's probably why the Russos said in December that including the Defenders in Avengers: Infinity War is "complicated" because they're controlled by a different team, and not at all by Feige. There's no one person overseeing the MCU, just people overseeing the movie side and TV side independently. A shared universe cannot operate that way.
Of course, before that, there were rumors that the Defenders could appear in the second part of Infinity War, but at this point no one knows for certain. It's possible the Defenders team-up on Netflix could tie-in to Phase 3's movie happenings in some way too, and we suspect that come time for Avengers 3-4, all of the TV shows will feel some sort of impact of the changing MCU regardless. They obviously all don't need to directly rely on each other to tell their own stories.
It's early though and anything can change. Surely, the creative minds behind all of these properties are listening to feedback and that's a big reason Sony was convinced to work with Disney-Marvel on sharing Spider-Man and merging their universes together. We suspect it's inevitable at this point that something similar will happen between Fox and Marvel to share the Fantastic Four and/or their related cosmic characters. And so we wouldn't be surprised either if there's a time when the movies pay tribute to the happenings on the TV side.
In the comics, many of the Defenders characters served as Avengers, so wouldn't that be neat for Phase 4 of the MCU when new heroes are needed. As for the Inhumans, if Marvel gets to work with any of the Fox-owned properties, there's less of a need for them, but they're always available for later in Phase 4, Phase 5, or beyond. But in the meantime, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are building towards nothing if fans are not going to see the Inhumans royal family and their main city of Attilan. There is however, a tie-in planned for season 3's final episodes for Captain America: Civil War and it'll be quite telling in how connected this universe really is.
Captain America: Civil War opens in theaters May 6, 2016, 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.