Death is coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but while some of the original team will be bowing out in Avengers: Infinity War or its sequel, Marvel's thankfully already set up the perfect new line-up of characters for after Avengers 4.
Although we've met many characters over the course of the MCU's first 18 entries, it all began with that six-hero line-up first featured in The Avengers. The fates of central characters Iron Man, Captain America and Thor — the only of the original Avengers to anchor their own solo franchises — are up in the air; death is not only expected but Marvel has promised it will stick this time. The shared universe is at its biggest crossroads yet. Fortunately, fans can rest assured that the future of the MCU is in good hands if stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth do decide to step away from their iconic characters.
In fact, in retrospect, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige and his team have done a remarkable job planting the seeds that will allow the MCU to continue to avoid superhero fatigue. As the Avengers is the flagship of the entire MCU, keeping that team an integral part of the franchise is essential from both a storytelling and box office perspective. Here's how the films have set the stage for the next generation of Avengers leads.
This Page: What Avengers Replacements Need
What Made The Original Avengers Line-Up So Good?
The Avengers not only changed Hollywood with its record-breaking box office run, but the film demonstrated what the MCU could be capable of when it draws together characters and stories from different solo franchises into one event film. It's a formula that Marvel has continually tinkered with ever since, combining nearly all its marquee heroes for Captain America: Civil War, bringing Iron Man into Spider-Man: Homecoming and infusing the Hulk into Thor: Ragnarok, for instance.
But there's something extra special about The Avengers. Sure, a part of that air stems from the novelty of it being the first time fans had seen something like this on the big screen, but writer/director Joss Whedon integrated the various narrative threads in a way that felt more natural than even the Marvel Studios likely could have hoped. Although it could have used more diversity, the few ultimately selected as the first Avengers serve as the perfect balance of the various types of stories that would comprise the MCU as a whole.
Before Iron Man hit theaters, the idea of a multifaceted shared universe where literally anything can happen had never been attempted. So Marvel had to be strategic about how they ushered moviegoers (especially those with little to no knowledge of the comics) into a place where a powerful purple cosmic being coming to Earth just felt like a natural progression of what had come before. So, with each of its headlining Phase One heroes — namely Iron Man, Captain America and Thor — Marvel introduced moviegoers into a different aspect that would later develop into a major component of the MCU.
Naturally, the most grounded of these three came first, with Iron Man opening the door to stories exploring science and technology (an arena also occupied by The Incredible Hulk early on). Then, Thor — in the riskiest move of Phase One — began to establish the cosmic side of things, in part so that the MCU can introduce otherworldly threats like Loki and Thanos. Finally, just before The Avengers, Marvel used the World War II period adventure Captain America: The First Avenger to bookend the story to date, reflecting Cap's own adjustment from the simpler era of his heyday to the more morally complex modern day in Marvel's first foray into the political ramifications of superheroism.
What Avenger Replacements Need
So where does that leave the MCU, as far as new Avengers leads? Well, with the Big Three potentially eyeing the exit doors in either Infinity War or its untitled sequel, new additions would have to ensure that the scientific, cosmic and political sides of the MCU remain in play going forward. This would give the franchise the ability to continue building on its own canon, an especially vital approach since a straight-up MCU reboot likely isn't in the cards.
Moreover, incoming heroes should also be able to bring something new to the table, finding new wrinkles it can weave into the fabric of the MCU and heretofore untold stories it can reveal. Take, for instance, how Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy managed to take the scientific and cosmic groundwork performed by earlier films and essentially create a heist film and a space opera out of them. That's precisely the kind of variation that will keep the MCU — and, in particular, the Avengers team itself — thriving possibly for decades (they have 20 movies planned for after Avengers 4), just as it has in the comics.
Thankfully, Marvel Studios has expertly laid out its long-term plans. It should serve as no surprise, considering how the Avengers lineup has consistently changed on the page, that Marvel is playing the long game here. In fact, the studio already has an analog in place for each of the three new Avengers leads as well as exciting possibilities for new additions to the lineup, ensuring continuity even if Iron Man, Captain America and Thor permanently depart the franchise.